Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
He took her to Ostrich Farm in Tengo, 45km from the capital city. The resort was built on 200 acres and specialised in rearing ostriches. It was a major exporter of meat, feathers and skins. A guide took them on a tour of the farm where they observed the birds in their natural habitat.
The farm had two different types of ostriches. The Maasai ostrich has streaks of red feathers while the Somali ostrich has strips of blue feathers. Visitors to the farm rode the latter. Sophie had never ridden an ostrich before. She was initially hesitant but after lots of encouragement from Tony, decided to try it.
A short fence enclosed the riding arena. Two strong men held the bird steady as Sophie climbed the fence and mounted. The saddle had nowhere to place her feet so she pressed her legs tightly to the sides of the bird and held onto the wings for support.
She began to slide off her perch the moment the ostrich lurched forward. The attendants seemed to anticipate this however. They grabbed her backside and pushed her back on, then held on to both Sophie and the ostrich as they circled the arena.
“How was it?” asked Tony who had been watching her, laughing the entire time.
“I’m never doing that again,” she declared firmly as her heart rate slowed down to normal, glad to be back on terra firma. “I was terrified of falling off and breaking my neck. How on earth did you manage to stay on it?”
Tony laughed so hard that it took him a while to respond. “I’ve never ridden an ostrich.”
Sophie stopped walking and turned to him eyes wide in surprise. “So what was that back there? ‘It’s easy and fun, you’ll love it,’” she mimicked his voice in annoyance.
“I just wanted to see if you’d go for it.”
She punched him playfully on the shoulder. “You’re such a hoax. How could you trick me like that?” Tony dissolved into mirth once more.
“You should have seen your face. It was priceless. I wish I’d brought my camera.”
“You are so going to pay for that,” Sophie retorted.
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll think of something.” She flicked him a look that promised retribution for his little stunt.
“Would you like to ride one of the horses?”
Sophie looked at him askance. “No thanks. I’ve done enough riding for one day.”
He grinned and took her arm. “Come on, let’s go eat.”
They enjoyed a delicious meal of roasted ostrich meat and chicken with ugali and kachumbari under an acacia tree close to the swimming pool. Sophie was glad to be in the shade after the long walk round the farm. It was a sweltering hot August afternoon. She watched a middle aged man sit at the next table, his nylon shirt sticking to his back, thankful she had worn cotton for the day’s outing.
Her white mid-calf Capri pants, matching spaghetti top and beaded brown flat sandals allowed her skin to breathe. She had styled her hair in the same tousled beehive she had worn on Friday night. Tony too looked cool and fresh in a short sleeved button-down shirt with checked design, khaki pants and brown and cream suede deck shoes with no socks.
“Tell me about your family,” Tony asked after the waiter cleared the table.
Sophie took a long sip of her mango juice and toyed with the straw. “I’m the second born. I live with my older brother Luke. He is 23 and is an accountant at Majiwe Ltd. I have three younger sisters. Winnie and Joyce are in high school. Jane, the baby who is 10 is in Standard 5. In between are the twins Michael and John in Standard 7. My father left soon after Jane was born. I was ten.”
She presented the information in a matter of fact tone but Tony saw the flash of pain that crossed her expression before she quickly erased it. “That must have been hard,” he told her, his voice softly sympathetic.
Sophie nodded. “Mum washed clothes and cleaned houses in the suburbs for a living. It wasn’t a lot of money but at least she didn’t have to worry about our primary school fees. The Sisters of Mercy educated us until Standard 7.”
“And high school?”
“I got a partial scholarship at Kyani Girls but it’s been a real struggle with the others. Every time they were sent home because of lack of fees, mum somehow managed to scrape some money together and convince the school to take them back. I don’t know how she did it. Luke’s job has really helped. He pays for my tuition. Once I finish college and get a good job, I’ll be able to help with fees for the others.”
“Do you miss your father? What was he like?”
She stared into the distance, lost in thought.
“He was really tall. Dark. I remember his scratchy beard when he hugged me. He had this really loud laugh that you could hear from ten houses away. Every so often he’d come home at night singing, really drunk, wake up mum and insist that she cook the meat he had brought. Then he’d wake us all and we’d eat in the dead of night as he entertained us with stories. He was a really good storyteller and always made us laugh, even when he repeated stories we’d heard before. It really used to piss mum off because she’d have a hard time waking us up the next morning to go to school.”
A little smiled curved the edge of her lips and her eyes softened as she reminisced.
“Once a month there would be a movie showing on a big screen at the Kinyani showground. He always took us kids. My earliest memory is riding on his shoulders as we walked to the showground, I must have been around three or four. There was a train in the movie and it seemed to be coming straight for me. I thought it would crash through the screen and hit us. I screamed and hid behind his back. He laughed and laughed and then he explained to me that it was just a picture. But I was terrified. Luke teased me mercilessly for weeks after that. He would suddenly come behind me making a hissing sound like a train and call me a cry baby.”
They both laughed. Then Tony’s gaze became sombre. “Do you know why he left?”
Sophie shook her head. “Mum doesn’t like to talk about him. For a long time after he disappeared, she cried every night after she put us to bed. She could only afford meat at Christmas. Once in a while she brought matumbo. We never went to the showground to watch movies after he left. Mum didn’t think it was safe for us to be out alone at night without an adult accompanying us. It made me angry with him for leaving us. Then when I was old enough to understand just how hard she struggled every day and the sacrifices she made to feed us, buy clothes and put us through school, it made me bitter.”
She had a lost, vulnerable expression in her eyes. Tony reached out and took her hand, caressed her fingers. “Did you ever try to find him?” The silence stretched as Sophie chewed her bottom lip and contemplated his question.
“I thought about it for a little while once I finished high school but what would I tell him even if I found him? We suffered so much after he left. I don’t think I can ever forgive him for what he put mum through.”
Another long silence as she stared at their clasped fingers. “I had this desk mate in high school who was always bitching about her dad. Said he was too harsh, wouldn’t let her go out with her friends during the school holidays. I tried to sympathise but all I kept thinking was ‘you have a father, do you know how lucky you are?’ I envied her.”
“I know what you mean.” Sophie looked up and searched his eyes not comprehending how he could possibly relate. “My mum died giving birth to Grace, our last born. I was seven.”
Sophie stared at him in shock. “Isabella is not your mother?”
Tony shook his head. “Dad remarried nine years after mum died. I was in high school at St Mathew’s.”
“I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
He continued to play with her fingers absentmindedly as he spoke. “When you described how it was like when your father left, it made me think of her. Dad was great and we didn’t have financial problems like you. But I’d look at my friends who had mums, see how close they were and really miss mine. I spent a lot of time at Isaiah’s home over the years and his mum was like a second mother to me, but it wasn’t the same as having my own.”
Never in a million years would Sophie have thought that beneath his cocky and carefree veneer, Tony carried a burden so similar to hers.
“Other than my siblings, you may be the only person I’ve met who gets what it’s like to lose a parent.” She nodded thoughtfully. “Don’t take this the wrong way but…”
Tony pinched his nose, shoulders hunched, brow furrowed in concentration. “Your father is alive. You still have a chance to get to know him. Whatever issues you have with him, isn’t it worth trying to work them out if you can have him back in your life?”
“It’s too late.”
“It’s never too late,” he countered softly, his gaze so gentle and filled with compassion that it brought a lump to her throat.
“Perhaps you’re right. But I’m not ready to face him.”
“Just think about it okay?”
“Okay.” She smiled at him as he brought her fingers to his lips and kissed her knuckles. They changed the subject and soon they were chatting and laughing gaily once more. From time to time however, Sophie looked at Tony with a thoughtful expression. He kept surprising her.
All the stereotypes she had about him had bitten the dust in the short period she’d known him. She was beginning to realise that Tony wasn’t just a spoilt, rich playboy. He had layers that she had barely glimpsed and a hint of a guy that she could actually fall in love with. Scary thought.
They left the resort as dusk set in. Tony drove out of the gate and went in the opposite direction from which they had come. “Where are we going?” Sophie asked in surprise.
“To Ngairo. I know a shortcut. We don’t have to go back through Lavangwa.” The road was not tarmacked but it was a good all weather road which allowed Tony to drive reasonably fast. Within thirty minutes she saw a landmark she recognised.
“That’s Silole Lodge. Wow, that’s a really good shortcut. It’s a five minute drive to my house from here,” she exclaimed.
“Will you let me drop you off at home this time or do I have to park on the highway again?” A smile tugged at his lips as he glanced at her sideways.
Sophie laughed. “You can drop me home.”
She gave him directions once they joined the main highway leading to Ngairo. He parked outside an L-shaped four storey block of 16 flats with red roof tiles squeezed into an eighth of an acre. The exterior of the building was painted brown with a yellow panel marking each floor. Tony switched off the ignition and faced her. “I had a great time.”
“Me too,” Sophie replied with a smile.
“Can I get your number? I’d like to call you.”
Sophie smiled sheepishly. “We don’t have a phone.”
“Oh.” Tony stared at her surprised. “How do I get in touch with you? I know you’re uncomfortable about us communicating while you’re at work.”
“We can talk on the phone, just as long as it remains discreet,” she told him.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” He reached out and wound a finger through a curl falling loosely on the side of her face. Sophie held her breath knowing that he was about to kiss her. Anticipation rocked through her. Desire lit a fire in her belly as he leaned closer, staring at her lips.
His kiss was warm and sweet. His tongue licked over her lips, parted them and stroked inside for a deeper, intimate exploration. Sophie kissed him back with a hunger and fervour that matched his. Tony pulled back at last, fingers feathering over her lips and cheeks. “Good night. Until the next time.”
“Good night. Drive safe.” He kissed her briefly on the lips then released her. Sophie opened the car door and stepped out, then waved as he drove off. She was smiling as she entered the apartment building.