No-one can take that away from us
No-one can take that away from us
– erscheint am 4. März 2020
bei Hoffmann und Campe
Extract 1: Pages 166-184
In the meantime, I had become fairly used to tracks through fields and forests. Even when they went over roots, uphill or downhill, Charlie-boy no longer out-distanced me so quickly. But today a route was on the agenda that – when I close my eyes – I can still see in all its detail in front of me.
Once we were back on the main road. Charlie-boy drove up and down for quite a while to find the right turn-off. Amongst piles of tyres stood farmers with all sorts of bags, pouches and rucksacks, probably waiting for the next dala dala. We went past them several times until Charlie-boy finally discovered the turning-off for his path, between the trees right behind them. Half-way through the people waiting he stopped; some wanted to delay him, it was a dead end, it went no further. So, where did he want to go? Charlie-boy wanted to get to Mahonda. As soon as he made that known, everyone talked at him at once: he would just have to drive quite a way back down the main road in the direction of Bububu and then… At that, Charlie-boy just drove off.
The track narrowed rapidly, a bright crimson ribbon between coconut palms, banana trees, bushes, telegraph poles. Soon the telegraph poles disappeared and shortly after it was little more than a red dirt track snaking through thick green undergrowth. The sky above us shone through for only brief spells. The path consisted entirely of diverse narrow curves and demanded full concentration. Despite that, the back wheel of one or other of us skidded intermittently. No-one came towards us; there was no-one to overtake. Once Charlie-boy stopped at a column of ants cutting straight across the track; another time because he had to disappear briefly. I looked all the way up into the tops of the palm trees and thought that only in paradise, or hell, could it be so desolate.
Then came the high point: a village in the middle of the jungle. The usual huts of mud and reeds, some covered with corrugated iron, everything all neat and tidy, almost too perfect. And still. We stopped in front of the only shop there, made a stupid remark which the shop keeper ignored and helped ourselves to peanuts and small clusters of sesame seeds baked in honey from the big glass sweet jars standing on the counter. We showed the shopkeeper every cluster we had just taken before we ate it; only with hindsight it became clear to me that he found our appearance neither funny nor appropriate. In front of us stood three pretty girls who didn’t react to us but concluded their shopping unperturbed. In silence they left without once turning around to look at us. Only then it was our turn, although we had already eaten half our purchases. We bought a further four small cokes and sat down on a tree trunk beside the shop. The second bottle cap gave a real pop and flew off into the bushes. A few houses further up a man came out of the door and photographed us with his mobile phone.
“Da schaugst mit die Augn – now that’s got you wondering!” said Charlie-boy quietly in his direction.
As soon as the man noticed that we had discovered him, he disappeared again.
Then Charlie-boy became quiet and serious: This is exactly what he wanted to show me – his favourite place on the island. “Apart from you and me, no foreigner has ever been here.” Together we remained silent. Charlie-boy had that glassy stare, as a precaution I laid my arm around his shoulder. Suddenly he didn’t want to sit like this in the shade any longer and wanted us to leave.
“You know…when you die, you touch the shade.”
As ever when it was a matter of life and death, he tried to speak his best possible high German.
“Nonsense,” I dismissed it. “And anyway, you’re not dying!”
“But I can already smell the shade.”
Things always moved very fast with Charlie-boy – up one minute, down the next, in no time at all. Never in my whole life have I met anyone like him who so unreservedly abandoned himself to his mood swings. He lived as he rode his ‘silver piglet’, full throttle, full brake, full throttle. And at first that’s how it continued through the jungle, until an unexpected cyclist rode towards us, whom Charlie-boy only just managed to miss by riding through the undergrowth.
Shortly afterwards the track led out of the forest and through a wide expanse of sugar cane fields. Here the earth shimmered in a darker red, almost the colour of oxblood, and the sweet smell of fermentation hung in the air. The path branched off and got completely lost amongst the fields. We drove simply by cardinal direction on narrow dams between the fields, through some surprisingly deep puddles in their midst. Some of the fields had been harvested; deep furrows in the dark red earth stretched to a horizon marked out by single bushes and trees. Then another path emerged which broadened into a track. At the point where it crossed a further path, you could see tyre tracks and big black marks on the earth where the freshly cut sugar cane had been flung down just here and the dark molasses had run out. A little later we reached a road, at the southern end of Mahonda.
Quite. Great route! Charlie-boy raced through the place always bearing east. Next up he wanted to show me a beach hotel. It was called Sultan Sands Island Resort, four stars, surrounded by a wall on three sides and ‘round the back’ it faced the sea. A short route led downhill from the road to a gate some three metres tall, the massive iron doors of which were locked. As we rolled up the gatekeeper in a brightly coloured fancy uniform emerged from his little hut and planted himself, legs apart, in the middle of the gate in front of us.
“What’s your name?”
To my own surprise I heard myself saying loud and clear: “Me Simba One, he Simba Two.”
“Auf Deutsch: Mir san mir – in German: we are what we are,” muttered Charlie-boy.
The gatekeeper looked at him then back again at me, he didn’t know what to make of us and whether to let us in. We were caked in red dust from head to toe, sprayed with mud and obviously not longer in full possession of our wits; on the other hand, whites. So, what was our profession?
“Me president” I answered, “this vice president.”
‘Me king of Fulalu,” Charlie-boy added, “and this king of Hakuna matata”.
The gatekeeper did not find that funny and turned to me once again: So, what did we want?
“Du deppata Depp – you complete douchebag!” Charlie-boy interrupted. “To look round your shitty hotel of course!” Because we might possibly want to return with our harem.
We had to see firstly, I explained, whether there was a presidential suite.
And a vice presidential suite, added Charlie-boy.
What the gatekeeper thought of us did not show on his face. He went into his hut to phone. He was probably taking advice from the hotel manager. The conversation dragged on. Charlie-boy took the opportunity to signal his respect with a slight lifting of the chin, “Hundling – Top Dog,” and then to high-five me.
“Und jetz schau ma moi – now we’ll see what we can see.”
At long last, the gatekeeper approached us, indicated with a flick of his wrist – a gesture which evidently everyone in Zanzibar had mastered – that we should get down and follow him into his little guard house. There we had to enter our names into the guest book. Charlie-boy did so as Simba Two, me as Simba One. The gatekeeper instructed us to park our scooters neatly in the car park immediately behind the entrance. Then he opened one of the gigantic iron gates held it with his body weight and waved us through.
We roared at full throttle to the car park, past the car park and through the whole hotel grounds. Sitting around everywhere were pale figures in brightly coloured bathing suits waiting for dinner time. Almost all of them wore slippers; some also held a cocktail in their hand. By an empty pool was an empty bar; on a large meadow were table tennis tables, on which no-one played and an empty children’s playground. Behind the empty restaurant followed an empty business centre with computers. Behind that, a small diving shop. Riding past I also saw fishing-rods in the shop window. We were so loud that everyone lifted their heads and looked at us horrified; but we were also so fast that we were always out of earshot by the time they expressed their outrage. Judging by what they shouted at us they were mainly Germans enjoying themselves here on package holidays. We rode to the end of the resort and from there back in a loop on the beach path. The Indian Ocean had almost retreated to the horizon and looked indescribably desolate. At full throttle we drove through the middle of the little houses in which the real hotel business took place and on in the direction of the entrance gate. Some small buses with tourists were just being let in, the gatekeeper stood by and we rode out unchecked.
Quite. Great hotel! We were jubilant and honked our horns for quite a while to let others share our joy. First, we went south along the coast, then straight through the interior countryside back in the direction of Stone Town. On a field track of course, this time through kilometres of wild undergrowth, far from picturesque. Charlie-boy rode like a mad man. Where the shrubbery suddenly gave out and broad fields, scattered with single palm trees lay spread out in front of us again, he was standing by his ‘silver piglet’, wanting to hug me. He had tears in his eyes.
I had suspected it and now it was confirmed: he had spent a holiday in Sultan Sands twenty years ago – without Kiki. At that time the gate had been a lot smaller and you stayed in reed covered huts where now the proper little houses were. There were theme evenings and live music; if a guest had a birthday, the waiters carried a cake to his table and sang him a song – incredibly depressing. He sat around for the first few days like the sad figures of today. Then he hired himself a motorbike and rode up and down the island. That’s how he had explored it the first time. And exactly how he had finally got to know even the last beaten track in the course of many further visits from Dar es Salam. That’s how it became his island.
Now he was bawling his eyes out in my arms, soundlessly and long. Like a small child he was shaking in distress. Then he manned up: we still had tomorrow and the rest of today.
He was definitely deceived in that. But it put him in the mood to get back on his piglet and take off. After Bambi we each took a bloke with us to the next village. The two of them had quite nonchalantly blocked our path. Normally Charlie-boy would have scared them away with Bavarian total-charm and joke-Swahili. However today he was visibly more restrained than usual. It had already struck me at the gate of Sultan Sands, perhaps it was only for that reason that I had taken the lead. His strength was running out.
And then, 18.15 pm, we arrived at the outskirts of Zanzibar Town and at a police control.
We were singled out, waved out of the traffic and directed to two officials in khaki coloured uniforms, who without messing about came fairly abruptly to the point: what hotel were we staying at and what were our names?
“Relax brother!” I heard Charlie-boy immediately wanting to take the heat out of the situation in his usual way: “We are cappuccino!”
That just didn’t cut any ice at all with his policeman, who, although certainly very dark, was however Indian, and accordingly felt himself lighter skinned than even the lightest black man. That’s how Charlie-boy explained it to me later: racism in Africa was much worse than in Europe or the USA.
He had asked for his name, insisted the policeman. Not only was he Indian but also most magnificently decorated and wearing the most ornate epaulettes: he was the boss. Above all he was convinced that we would be unable to produce any driving permit for Zanzibar. Embodying the strongest possible state power, he was forcing us into compliance waiting for the moment when he would offer to waive locking us up in return for a certain fee.
“Jetzt beisst’s aus – now I’ve run out of juice,” mumbled Charlie-boy. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him boring into his ear with his little finger before going on to sniff it immediately. He had forgotten what name was on his driving permit and therefore what he was called.
“Heavens Jörg,” I called out to him with forced jollity, “What’s up?”
I pressed my Zanzibar driving permit into the hand of the policeman questioning me, a young Arab, and left him standing. I walked the few steps across to Charlie-boy while already calling out to the boss that my friend barely spoke English and had certainly not understood him. If he wanted to know his name, he was called Jörg Wolter and of course he had a driving permit for Zanzibar.
The officer was visibly disappointed that his ‘mouth would not have to be closed with money,’- as the Tanzanian expression so delicately puts it – grabbed Charlie-boy’s driving permit out of his hand only to give it straight back to him with barely a glance. And then he waved us through with a flick of his wrist.
After that we needed firstly a glass fresh from the sugar cane press. And then a barber.
For this evening Charlie-boy wanted to do a little “tinkering with our partnership look”. He had decided to have his head shaven like mine, beard off, silver mane off. To go with his turban, he now needed a bald head as well.
Around the corner from the Slave Market was the hotel manager’s regular barber, the Together Hair. Cutting Saloon. We waited outside on two tiny stools and watched a man going around offering coffee from a coffee pot which he poured into tiny cups. For the shopkeepers nearby he even had sweetener.
The longer you were in Africa Charlie-boy stated, utterly pale, the more strenuous it all became. Even just sitting still you broke out into a sweat.
In actual fact his T-shirt was sticking soaking wet to his body – he even had sweat stains on his trousers. Slowly I began to get worried about him. Then the coffee pot was empty, and the man collected the cups back up in order; we couldn’t see how he was paid for this. We were invited into the Saloon, which was twice the size of the dining room of the Zakinn Zanzibar Hotel. Its mirrors were mounted flush next to each other so that they ran as one continuous band of mirror across three walls. On the ceiling several fans with wide rotating blades were scraping round, additionally there were floor fans beside every hairdressing chair and table fans on the counter. Without exception, they were all working and creating a pleasant draught, a pleasant humming. The barber who was to shave and crop me, beat the shaving foam in a screw top lid until it was thick and creamy. Then he applied it with a sponge. He had hardly completed the first strokes in the foam with the razor blade, when the electricity cut out.
It took until everyone who worked there had visited the fuse box one after the other. The people who had just been conducting animated conversation across the whole room now talked in hushed voices. An enchanted atmosphere had gripped the whole gigantic Saloon; the clients sat in the dark and quietly bided their time. Only at the fuse box was the solution sought in the light beam of a mobile phone, totally discreetly and calmly. After two, three minutes the light blazed on again, the fans whirred, the radio music started gently…and I just dozed on. I’d probably had too much sun that day, too much dust and mud and fun: I could feel a slight headache directly under the top of my skull.
To finish off, the barber spread aftershave over my whole head, rubbed it into my skin with both hands like a lotion, bent down and whispered “Finished” into my ear. With a flourish he pulled the hairdressing cape from my chair, bowed, “My name is Frank.” He asked for double the price he had named. I laughed at him gently, just gave him a little more than agreed; he thanked me and laughed too.
Charlie-boy was not finished by a long way. When his mobile phone rang, he winced and was nicked by the razor.
“Ois easy – easy, peasy. Ditto…”
And to the barber who was stemming the bleeding with a styptic pencil: “Babu wazombi. No problem.”
When he finally stood in front of me, a Charlie-boy completely without beard, completely without silver mane, I got a fright. He had become someone else. It’s true he looked considerably younger, more like upper fifties. But even more haggard, emaciated than before; like someone, a marked man, who had got himself this far with the last of his strength. He looked completely empty and extinguished, as if his humour too had been shaven off and a deep underlying gravitas had risen to the surface. Especially when he grinned, his head appeared in all its nakedness like a gruesome death-skull, with a grotesque huge hooked nose, thin jug ears and sunken cheeks furrowed with wrinkles. I would have preferred to console him. But of course, he wanted quite the opposite, to be admired, and so I admired him.
Did I want to stroke it?
I did it carefully across millimetre-long stubble like the bristles of a brush, Charlie-boy turned his eyes inwards, remaining like that for a little while and letting the air escape between his teeth. It felt prickly he decided, not bad.
First the cloth then the barber. What had got into him? Was he already taking his leave? From his island, now from himself? We stood a long time in front of the wall of mirrors in Together Hair. Cutting Saloon and studied both our reflections.
We are fundamentally more similar than the same, Charlie-boy summed up, now you can see it.
His old enthusiasm returned when I had the idea that, back at the hotel, he should put on the Kilimanjaro Marathonfinisher-medal. He clapped me on the back with his hand:
Damn! Now I had really arrived, one more reason to celebrate. Wouldn’t I like to wear one of his shirts? That would certainly impress Princess Pat. So, which one did I find most beautiful?
He paused in front of the hotel, I had to promise him that tonight I would finally tell him my story. The Mara-story. Then the final hours of his farewell round commenced.
We didn’t want to eat Kingfish again, so we went to the Forodhani Gardens. They were situated on the sea-front directly in front of the Arab fort and were loved on account of the grill shacks which set up there in the evenings. Immediately the touts fell on us and led us to the most expensive spits with lobster and all sorts of exotic fish that probably all tasted of old dry sad tuna.
“Polepole” said Charlie-boy, he almost whispered it.
“Piano” I translated somewhat louder.
We bought samosas, pizza, sweet potatoes and lemon-juices – there was no beer – sat down with it on a stone park bench like the natives and watched the many cats immediately creep up around us, mewling. Charlie-boy threw them a few crumbs every now and again. Then the flies arrived too, and we hurried to transfer to the Livingstone Beach Restaurant. On the tables there were old tin-cans with spirals emitting anti-mosquito smoke to amazing effect.
Charlie-boy introduced me to Princess Pat as Simba One and himself as Simba Two. Princess Pat acted as if scared of me, but she was in fact really scared of Charlie-boy.
Why? She just said again and again, why? And drew the tip of her index finger over the wound on his chin, shook her head.
Just because, said Charlie-boy. And since she wasn’t satisfied with that: Because, baby. Relax. Smile. Please.
Only then did she beam at him with her many teeth. I was a little jealous, her smile would always appear so big and wide and genuine for him.
Yet this evening Charlie-boy did actually look a little to be feared: the turban wrapped round his head in such a way that only the top of his freshly shorn skull was visible, accompanied by the white rivet-studded shirt and the finisher-medal around his neck. The baggy jeans held up by the broad heart braces, the cowboy boots so pointed that even hestumbled over them. A skeleton that had disguised itself as a scarecrow. And alongside him was me, in an equally dubious outfit, except I was wearing Charlie-boy’s sweaty, pink frilled shirt. Now I even smelt like him, for at least this evening.
Women go mad for it, he told me when I complained about the smell: it would make them sniff their way to ecstasy.
Although his rivet-studded shirt had been to the cleaner’s in the meantime, he smelt the same as ever, the ancient trusted smell of male sweat under a thin top-note of fresh soap. The show on the beach had long since finished and even the last beach boy had disappeared. The guests were busy with eating and drinking and each other; only one little boy pointed his finger at us and gulped with excitement. He ran after us to our table without being called back by his parents, remained standing there for a while and stared at us, silently.
The fan is the white man’s best friend, Charlie-boy declared, perhaps he had just been thinking of our visit to the barber’s. Then he added: the most interesting towns are the ones in which there are no sights to view. In the course of the first beer he singled out further peculiarities as they struck him. I ask myself what was going on with him in this short half hour. I had never known him so introspective. As if he were sitting all alone at the table and was talking to himself. Was he sifting through his assembled knowledge along with all his corny and bad jokes one more time with the last of his strength, a kind of summary? Maybe he had already zoned out? Or maybe he, like me, had simply had a bit too much sun? And the helmet had again fitted too tightly?
Even in a dark tree, there sits a colourful bird now and then.
The Land-lord is your shepherd.
Alcohol solves nothing, sleep everything.
Eastern smut and Western smut.
Nothing is more boring than the truth.
Cordiality is just another form of bargaining.
Too much of a good mood creates a bad mood.
Even in a colourful tree, there sits a dark bird now and then.
Seeming with this last remark to return to his real self he turned to me abruptly: “Please, Hansi. Don’t keep me waiting so long.”
Ah, he had just been killing time. While he waited for the Mara-story.
It won’t be told so quickly, I warned. Charlie-boy was already completely all ‘earin-oko’, I only had to open the two fresh bottles of beer. That went so well that the little boy returned.
And so, to the Mara-story. Charlie-boy shooed the little boy away with a flick of his wrist just like a native. The boy obeyed immediately without complaint.
To tell it, I had to make a very big digression, I warned, and really start from the very beginning.
He had expected nothing else, said Charlie-boy. Please, Hansi.
I took a gulp and said something like: At the age of fifteen, sixteen, I had already completely understood that I would die. It was a shock and could only be cured by falling unhappily in love. At the age of 61 I understood it all over again. My mother had died, and also one or other of my friends, acquaintances, colleagues. Others had been diagnosed with cancer. This time the realisation was less romantic, it was grey and naked and abrupt. It was time for me to do the things that I had always wanted to do. To do those things that I had always avoided, although I knew I could not put them off for ever. That’s why I was here. I had to go to Africa one more time before I died. I wanted, at the very least, to bring our journey to its proper conclusion…
I had noticed that Charlie-boy was only listening to me with half an ear the whole time. When a song came up that could only come from Mudi’s USB-Stick, he knew that Princess Pat was playing music for him and he was no longer to be held back. He jumped up from his seat, as if with the first beats the strength which had increasingly failed him today had flowed straight back, and ran towards Princess Pat who was just re-emerging from the restaurant with a freshly loaded tray, and grabbed her and danced with her as soon as she had finished serving. Bare foot in the sand, under palm trees.
After he had stumbled back to our table breathing heavily, I made a mistake. Instead of simply picking up the thread of my Mara-story and continuing to tell it, from the point where Charlie-boy had left me, I got up and asked Princess Pat if she would dance the next one with me. To be precise, I didn’t ask her, just seized her by the hips Charlie-boy-style and just pushed her around in front of me in time to the beat, she had just enough time to smile at me.
When I think back to that evening it is this one dance that I regret most deeply. Today I still fundamentally don’t know why I cut across Charlie-boy; I certainly had no intentions towards Princess Pat. Or did I? She danced the way she walked, she had rhythm not only in her blood but in every part of her body – even in the tips of her hair and fingernails. She was rhythm; without ever making a single movement too many, exaggerating or just overdoing it. She danced exactly on the cusp – this far it was perfection and eroticism, beyond, it would have been a crass come-on. I could have just watched her all the rest of the evening – and missed nothing. Charlie-boy, condemned to spectate from a completely different perspective, was extremely alarmed and roused into give a running commentary. His shouts sounded more like an animal howling than roaring. As I returned to our table with Princess Pat he was grumbling along like a tired old lion. Princess Pat leapt away like a scared antelope and the evening was wrecked.
Something had got into Charlie-boy, and maybe come between us, during these last few minutes, and had mobilised his very last reserves of energy. I was sufficiently familiar with these mood swings by now but that did not help me get him back on the rails. As far as my attempt went to justify my dance with Princess Pat as a mere whim, yes to excuse myself for it, he stonewalled me. “What a damn fine spectacle,” or, “it’s fine, you young boppers can’t do it alone.” When we drank, he admonished me all the time to slow down, “Polepole”, yet there was never enough for him. “So, night owls, it’s show-time!” he shouted out to the other guests “let’s go wild,” as if he wanted to speed up fate. He only let the bottle out of his hand when it was empty or when he wanted to dance with Princess Pat which he wanted to do so often that she hardly managed to do any serving and the guests, who at the beginning had still clapped or cheered him, complained.
I was wary of exchanging a word with Princess Pat. Again and again Charlie-boy explained to her that he reallywouldn’t bite, “me no Simba, me little cat”, then back to me who really was just a minor figure or even just the his supporting act, “amongst the castrated the monorchid is king”. Forcing a laugh about that, there was something horrible, merciless about him as only befits someone utterly desperate. If I hadn’t known a completely different side to him, I would have got up and left long before.
So, I bided my time until he was so drunk that he could be taken home. No actually, until he had collapsed. With hindsight I have to confess that I knew instinctively what would happen. And yet I didn’t consider any means of preventing it. I was as if paralysed. The drunker Charlie-boy became, the more excitedly he hopped around, long since without Princess Pat who now seemed really scared of him and remained hidden inside the restaurant for most of the time – a wild wriggling and jumping and fluttering that should have been hilarious and was actually dreadful. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to throw himself headfirst into the sea like a beach boy, just to impress Princess Pat or finally to win her heart or not to lose it utterly and completely, what did I know. He certainly acted as if he was turning cartwheels or doing handstands for her, “You’ve either got it or you haven’t,” whilst posing like a faun who wanted to be looked at. “We’re top dogs,” forever young. Suddenly his turban un-ravelled and he couldn’t manage to grab hold of the end of the cloth hanging down the side of his face. He would look at the end of the cloth, grab to one side of it again and again, perhaps he just couldn’t get it in focus. Finally, he teetered back to our table let himself drop onto a chair beside me, gasped for air, exhaled heavily, glanced into space for two, three, four seconds and slumped very slowly onto the table.
Aus die Maus. Game over.
Extract 2: Pages 223-244
The first thing I fell in love with was her voice on the answering machine. We had already known each other by sight, or rather by looking past each other, for a few years; the literature scene is not so big that a woman like that could escape me for long. I would never have dared to speak to her, for she was too beautiful, too self-assured, too desirable. When we happened to run into each other at an event, I would turn in the opposite direction. When I stood near her, I avoided even glancing at her. If I lost sight of her, I scanned every corner until I had found her again. She was unapproachable, with a casually rebuffing manner. Anyone who, despite that, took it upon himself to be introduced to her was turned away with a cool comment. She was famous for that too. She worked as press agent at a small Hamburg publisher. Once, she was featured on the cover of an industry magazine. It wasn’t even a particularly good photograph of her, but everyone who visited me in my Munich apartment around that time and saw the publication spoke to me about it. And congratulated me that my publisher happened to be in Hamburg too; that would certainly offer ample opportunity to get to know her.
One day it was brought to my attention that she had said to some person at some occasion that I was “just another of those macho-men.”
“You, Hansi? A macho-man? A so a Schmarrn,” Charlie-boy interrupted, “What bollocks.”
We got to know each other at the bookfair, October 1992. She had just turned 31. Her publisher’s stand happened to be directly beside my publisher’s, so we couldn’t avoid each other. ‘I hear that you take me for a macho-man…’ was how I greeted her. Was she serious?
Very serious, she countered with a professional smile. I wanted to turn away as coolly as possible, and then…time stood still, and memory fails. Now, I just know that for two whole days up until my departure, we sat and talked at her publisher’s stand without interruption. Even on the train journey home, I couldn’t have told you anymore what we talked about. But what I could recall, to the point of hallucinating, was her amazing presence. Why had she not dismissed me politely after a few minutes and turned her attention to the next person? She missed her appointments with journalists and authors; I missed my interview appointments. One of the critics who had waited half an hour for me at my publisher’s stand, with only a bookshelf separating us between the two stands, discovered me while hurrying past to his next meeting.
“You’re sitting at the wrong stand!” he reproached me as he came up to me.
“I’m sitting at exactly the right stand,” I answered.
A few weeks later after I had fixed a meeting with my publisher, I phoned Mara – we had arranged to continue our conversation when next an opportunity arose that would take me to Hamburg. But she never picked up the receiver. I just listened over and over again to what she said on the answering machine. I did not dare call her at her publishing house; I feared getting through to someone else first and immediately being teased as a new admirer. Evening after evening I dialled her private number; soon I was simply calling to hear her voice on the tape. Then on one occasion, she lifted the receiver and I was so confused that I immediately messed up.
My appointment in Hamburg was on 4th December 1992, a Friday. Today, it still remains a special day for me; every year I am happy when it is over. After the meeting at the publisher’s, my editor brought me by car to Marinehof, where Mara had arranged to meet me. When he found out who I was actually sharing an aperitif with and then who I was walking a few metres further with to dine at Rialto, his head spun round to face me and without a word he gazed at me in such wonder, that I feared for a moment he would lose control of the steering. Congratulations, he said finally, congratulations.
When we wanted to have a smoke, she always put two cigarettes in her mouth, I gave her a light, she took a drag and passed me my cigarette. The barman of the small dive in St Pauli where we ended up was so pleased to have a woman like her at his bar that he poured us one shot of B-52 after another. Again, there was no end to the amount to be discussed. But not only that. Already by our next meeting we decided to get married, mid conversation and rather offhandedly, “OK then, we’ll just get married.” At the one after that we bought rings. We wanted to carry them around for a year in our trouser pockets before putting them on – Mara mine, me hers. Several times a day I got out her ring and let it spin on the table. When it tipped over and lay in front of me, I was always amazed at how small it was.
The year with Mara consisted of all-night telephone calls, train journeys and any number of drinks and cigarettes. A year later, I couldn’t tell you what we did or discussed; but what I do remember to this day was her unbelievable presence. Why had she not dismissed me after a few weeks and turned her attention to the next person? Quite the contrary we were already planning my move to Hamburg and looking at various areas of the city to decide whether we wanted to live there in future. Together. And we were planning our first holiday. Naturally it had to be something special. A little hotel on a Greek island would certainly have served us better for that, yes quite, or a tiny guest house where we could have locked ourselves away, or otherwise something boring with a beach. But no, we wanted to discover something new, discover it together, we wanted to go where neither of us had been to date, to Africa. And once there, immediately circumnavigate Lake Victoria in a converted overland truck – the kind of expedition where you had to do everything yourself apart from driving. Pure delusions of grandeur for two people who till then had only ever travelled in the most sheltered parts of the world.
On 27th November 1993 we met at Zurich airport to fly out together to Nairobi. It was the first time that I had seen Mara not dressed in her casually elegant wardrobe. She wore trekking trousers, shirt and boots with a rucksack which was much too big for her and stuffed far too full. It seemed a bit over the top; today, I know that she had tried to tame her fears by purchasing kit; fears about the hardships of the journey, fears about her fellow travellers, fears about a continent which she imagined to be frightening in every respect. I greeted her with the gift of a red baseball cap with an extra-long sun visor. Mara felt that a cap like that did not suit her, and she packed it away, never to unpack it again. It was the unfortunate start to a very unfortunate trip.
For in fact the entire trip did not suit her either, not the very basic customised truck, not the talkative fellow travellers, and especially me: I did not suit. Her fears were justified even if at the beginning I tried to cheer her up by making fun of them. Even Nairobi intimidated her, with its rich residents entrenched behind high walls and barbed wire and everyone else pursuing us on the streets, at least that’s how she perceived it. At night the geckos chirped in our room like excited blackbirds; there was rattling and squeaking and screaming from the hotel garden as if we were already in the jungle. The next day the trip started, it was damned narrow and hard on the two benches on the truck bed, damned windy and cold on the upper deck over the driver’s cab.
Even on this first day of travel we arrived much too late at our first staging post, a camp at the foot of Mount Kenya. In the dark we put up our tents, made a fire, fetched water, cooked spaghetti, washed up the dishes. The romance of the rough campfire which followed was wasted on Mara, who drank no beer, and didn’t want the toasted marshmallows either. During the night there was snoring in the tents all around; towards morning it became wet and cold. When we tried to get up at first light to collect firewood with the aid of our torches, a horde of baboons had taken over the camp. It took some time before we had chased them off.
And that’s how things continued. We arrived too late every day, our truck had simply too little horsepower to tackle the daily stages within the time allowed. We only ever crawled into our sleeping bags at around midnight and crawled out again at five, five-thirty at the latest, in order to drive off as early as possible. We froze in the mornings, we sweated in the afternoons, we froze at night. Wherever we stopped we were surrounded instantly by natives wanting to sell us something. At the equator a man with a bucket was waiting for us to demonstrate how iron filings in water realigned to the opposite pole, when the bucket was put down in the other hemisphere. He wore a thick padded raincoat, we shivered from the cold, as we walked backwards and forwards across the equator a hundred meters behind him. On the side I exchanged one of my ballpoint pens for a carved rhino from one of the little boys who was also waiting for us there and following us around. Only on reaching the Rift Valley did it get any warmer.
In the course of the following night – we had pitched camp in Samburu National Park – we, Mara and I, talked about all the misunderstandings we had caused each other during the last two days. She had spent the hours-long journeys with most of the others on the wooden planks of the truck bed, whereas I had found a regular spot on the upper deck above the driver’s cab, together with two others who thought nothing of wind, heat and cold: Rod a Filipino from Boston, who always got out his whisky bottle in the afternoon and read to us from his poems, and Brett, a medical student from Adelaide, who guffawed with laughter at every opportunity. Had I really left Mara alone “with nothing but ghastly English girls and extremely overweight American ones?” There was plenty of space on the upper deck, she only had to climb up. Anyway, we had come down from our look-out when it had rained too heavily, and then I sat beside Mara with the group. Why had she not spoken to anyone then? And turned away as soon as I turned to her?
From the wildlife tours in Samburu National Park I only recall a three-legged, long-tailed monkey and the tiny giraffe gerenuks, a type of Bambi, which possibly only survived because it was not a worthwhile prey. Anyway, the photo safaris through the various national parks become blurred in my memory, becoming a never-ending series of missed opportunities. Our truck was much too heavy to be fast enough to reach the really exciting sights which were reported to us over the radio. Also, our tour guide, a 27-year-old New- Zealander, was lacking in energy. He certainly managed to appear authoritative but was completely disorganised and as a result overwhelmed. The trip we had embarked upon, had only been recce’d by jeep before now and adopted fresh onto the programme; no-one had undertaken it with a truck, it was all new territory for him. He realised much too late that the planned circumnavigation of Lake Victoria was barely achievable with this truck. We would pay for that mistake later.
At Lake Baringo too we put up our tents in the dark and because it still had to be done quickly to get to the cooking service in time, we, Mara and I, really applied ourselves. The fact that we did not quarrel that night, unlike all the others, was only down to the hippos arriving to graze on the bank precisely where we had pitched camp. We got into our sleeping bags and held our breath. To begin with, they lumbered backwards and forwards outside, bellowing angrily – we expected one of the hippos to tear down our tent any minute. Finally, they began to eat and there was slurping and grunting all night long.
And that’s how it continued throughout Kenya – whatever we experienced created tension between Mara and me, which we just offloaded all the more forcefully at night in the tent. Our expectations of one another had been so high, now they were reduced so very small. Invariably they were mere trifles that disappointed us in each other; but even trifles mount up in the course of a trip and then transform into much more than the sum of these trifles. Was this still the same woman who turned heads on the streets of Hamburg and Munich? She let the trip pass her by without participating, silent, insecure, at times helpless, making herself scarce at the end as quickly as possible at every opportunity. Was she avoiding me? Her gestures, her glances, her ironic, cool commentaries, had all vanished and been replaced by mundane, mechanistic behaviour. Even her beauty was no longer the same, she hid herself under a sunhat with a wide brim which would have been perfect on the sea front at Nice, but here, created an unfortunate contrast to her khaki shirt and looked ridiculous.
But we loved each other, didn’t we? We were probably still living our illusions and didn’t dare to get to the bottom of things together. We were probably too proud to take the first step and approach one another – like the earlier years when we ignored each other as arrogantly as possible.
In motorboats we traversed Lake Baringo straight through the middle of a herd of hippos, bought fish from a passing boat to feed the white-tailed eagles – and of course Mara became scared when one of the eagles flew up very close to her. It seemed to have hit her with a beat of its wing. She cried out loud and instead of simply taking her hand I was embarrassed.
Then two hippos got into an argument on the bank and bellowing, snapped at each other. One jumped into the water and under the surface aimed straight for our boat, the other one in pursuit. Mara emitted another little cry and clung to Patrick, an Irishman who happened to be sitting beside her and who immediately put his arm around her. He still held her tight long after the two hippos had passed under our boat and, snorting, resurfaced far away.
At the lodge in the evening I drank beer with Rod and Brett, who still laughed at every opportunity, instead of sitting down beside Mara who remained alone in front of a fruit cocktail because she was being avoided by the ghastly English girls and the extremely overweight American ones and by their men, quite rightly, because in any case everyone knew that she was with me. Whilst, strictly speaking, she was no longer with me during these weeks. When I finally entered the tent, she reproached me with everything, in order, that had tormented her since our departure. As soon as she stopped for breath, she turned over to go to sleep.
Every day our truck got stuck somewhere, whether in the swamp of a National Park or on a route through mountains churned up by rain, and we had to dig it out and push. Every meal was arduous, the rain arrived every afternoon and now, a slight irritability occasionally affected the whole group – everything had to take place under pressure of time and yet, always happened too late. Only the hours on the upper deck were accompanied by grand feelings – we sat in silence, wrapped up against sun or wind, and watched the archaic landscape moving past us as if in a film – a landscape in which we would rapidly have perished if left to our own devices. Admiration for the scenery was always mixed with a slight fear too, which of course we didn’t admit to ourselves: an unspoken fear of so much land, of so much harsh, hard, heartless land, a first premonition of the fear of death. Because we were still advancing further and further, albeit far too slowly, this permanently rising fear was countered and surpassed by a defiantly wild joy – the joy of another day survived, yes even triumphed, in this landscape. What hubris, what delusions of grandeur! The land was simply far greater than we could see, immeasurably distant and wild and huge; it waited quietly until it had first enticed us up to its highest peaks and then it would quite casually lead us – me at least – into the abyss.
I did not miss Mara during the hours on the upper deck – silence and wilderness, towards evening whisky and poetry, that was a male preserve. Much later she told me that she had never felt so lonely as she did on this trip. I felt she was far too sensitive and stubborn, felt the rejection that came from her and which drove me all the quicker back to my new friends on the upper deck or round the campfire. Meanwhile she was asking herself why I simply didn’t notice her distress. What I experienced as rejection was nothing other than silent despair. The longer the trip lasted the more often she thought that perhaps we weren’t right for one another after all.
Then 4th December arrived, our anniversary, and as if both of us had willed it, everything turned out to be completely enchanting. Starting simply with the drive through the Rift Valley – herds, shepherds and heat. Heat, shepherds and herds. And steeply uphill to a viewpoint at the western edge of the Rift Valley. There, three bridal couples were just being photographed in front of the panoramic view, with crows constantly hopping into the picture. In Eldoret, in the afternoon, we, just the two of us, went for a walk for the first time – yes, Mara and I, and without having taken long to decide, it turned out to be the most natural thing in the world. We went to the market, then through a small artisan district, chatted to a hairdresser who was taking a break in front of her salon, looked into various pubs which were already pretty full.
And then that evening in the Saiwa Swamp National Park a truck was waiting to take us on from the next day, hopefully faster. Now everything could be good again! That night in the tent we drank a mini bottle of Sekt which we had brought with us from Germany and put on our respective rings, we called it “engagement”. And assured each other that we just had to keep going until Tanzania, more precisely Kilimanjaro. After the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater that would be the final high point of our journey, even if we were only going to drive past – by Kilimanjaro we would almost have made it and earned our journey home.
The next morning, we removed our rings again, we were afraid we’d scratch them. That was certainly a mistake. We reached the Ugandan border by midday and everything which, so far, had just been an unfortunate prequel and fairly exhausting, led us forward to our ruin, gently, gently, without overdoing the pace.
We had barely crossed the Ugandan border, when the streets filled up with refugees. In Rwanda and Burundi there was civil war between the Tutsi and the Hutu; wherever we halted we were surrounded in an instant by people who watched us in silence while we ate. Although we kept an eye on our truck all day and all night, food, equipment, vehicle tool kits, even the fuel cap disappeared.
It was soon obvious that the new truck was not one jot better than the old one: we continued to erect and dismantle our tents in the dark. We set up our first night’s camp on the grounds of a school at Nakalama. Many of the houses clustered around it were in ruins. It was impossible to take a closer look as we were surrounded by a horde of motionless, silent children. The adults built a second circle around our truck, they too looked on in silence as we prepared our evening meal. Mara, afraid of them, slid her camp chair close to the middle of our circle. Everyone else was equally scared and sought to drown it out with brave words.
We were encircled and vastly outnumbered – if it had been the deployment of two enemy forces, we would already have lost the battle. True it was no deployment, and instead a holiday, but did they know that? And would they hold back accordingly? We knew on the other hand that, prior to us, no travel group had stopped here. Were we at all welcome? Until yesterday, what had been a merry campfire, was now the widely visible signal to check whether an attack was worthwhile. What’s more, it threw off ghostly flickering shadows which were not compatible with our mood; but above all it only lit up us, who were squatting around it and not them, who perhaps behind our backs had already moved in a bit closer. We were sitting in the trap.
That night we heard the dark heart of Africa beat, – or rather our own hammering hearts. For hours nothing at all would happen and there was not even the slightest trigger for us to release our tension. Quite obviously they were waiting for us to take ourselves off to sleep in the tents. Could we even consider that under these circumstances? Was it not advisable to sit by the fire and stay awake the whole night? Or on the other hand, was it better to clear the field and allow ourselves to be looted in peace to save our own lives?
When it becomes still in Africa, there is always something in the air, something makes itself felt that can very suddenly explode and engulf everything not brought to safety in good time. My fear of Africa, which had only made itself known to me quietly in Kenya, was suddenly clear to me in Uganda – and from this first night on, the deeper we pressed on into Central Africa, downright obsessively clear. We gave the natives what remained from our evening meal, as if that – and only that – was what they had been waiting for. They accepted it without a word of thanks. Although we had guarded the truck the whole night, the next morning several spare parts were missing and any amount of food. They had even screwed out a rear light.
We were pleased when we could drive off, or, more precisely, when they let us drive off; the silent children, the silent men and women. But the camp the following night was not much better – from the open road we turned off onto a dirt track which led to a slightly overgrown football pitch on which cows grazed. We pitched our tents precisely there, in the middle of the herd. Oh yes, we had seen Lake Victoria, we had crossed the White Nile – on top of a dam – we had passed thick, dark, green jungle in which spiders’ webs as big as parasols stretched between the trees, we had seen the rolling hills for which Uganda is famous, had even been out and about amongst them. But on the other hand we had been pursued by two drug dealers in Kampala, sworn at loudly and narrowly escaped being beaten up because we wouldn’t buy anything – that is Mara and I, for once again we had absented ourselves for a walk away from the group, who were eating samosas in a fast food restaurant – and then we suddenly had to run. It was a scandal which not even whisky could wash away later. The horror that had gripped Mara even before starting the journey had now seized me too and possibly everyone else as well. Even the paradise of the natural setting was nothing other than the beautiful reverse side of horror. Onwards!
The next day we reached the Rwenzori Mountains where my very own story was about to kick off. Twice our truck had got stuck on muddy routes; digging it out again and pushing it out of the mud with our combined strength after laying metal grids in front of the wheels, had cost us an hour and a lot of energy each time. In a gloomy bar we bought a crate of beer; outside someone was playing guitar and singing along. In the foothills of the Rwenzoris we pitched our camp, at Ibanda, in the middle of the rain forest. The beer was warm, we washed in the river, then the rain set in again.
A hike was planned for 8th December to one of the peaks of the Rwenzoris. Of course, our guides and porters didn’t arrive on time, we could only set off at eleven o’clock; much too late, the sun was already stinging. Again, and again we slipped in the mud and when we tried to break our fall, we sank into it almost up to our elbows. After we had gained some height, it became humid and hot and hazy. Our native companions in their rubber boots had left us behind long since – and with them, the supply of Micropur water purifying tablets which our tour leader had given them. He was staying with the drivers by the truck and the tents. A climb up an African mountain almost without water! There would have been plenty of it to fill up our bottles too – we had to cross a river three times. Without having sterilized the water with Micropur, we didn’t dare drink it.
For five hours we struggled uphill through jungle shrouded in mist. We were barely equipped for mountain climbing, and not at all acclimatised. The peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains reach over 5000 metres, ours was maybe 3500 or 4000 metres high. Soon the group was widely spaced out across the mountain. Astonishingly Mara pulled away too so that I could not keep up. She experienced it as liberation, she told me later; she no longer had to crouch in the truck, she didn’t have to pay any attention to the group and could be true to herself. Now it was she who left me behind, alone.
Of all people, Patrick was the only one walking at my speed; in front or behind him I struggled my way uphill. Mara was long since out of sight. We took in very little of the beauty of the rainforest mountains, how they lit up repeatedly when a view opened up in the jungle. The leaves, with their sharp edges, cut into our flesh; again and again we simply let ourselves fall against the slope and rest for a while, we were so exhausted. I wanted to give up, Patrick had to seize me by the hand and pull me up. I only managed the last stretch because he pulled my arm around his neck to hold me up. Basically, hanging from him like a wet sack, I was dragged up by him. Barely had we reached the mountain refuge, where the porters had spread out our sleeping bags on metre-high pallets, than he had to vomit. He was not the first. I was so exhausted that I immediately got into my sleeping bag.
Overnight, even in the sleeping bag, it got bitterly cold, and colder and colder. There was no question of sleep. All of a sudden, I felt sick, I crept outside to vomit several times. By the next morning I was still being sick, I felt weaker than I had felt in a long time. The others weren’t faring much better – Rod had had to vomit while squatting with diarrhoea over the toilet hole. Before we commenced the descent, one of the porters told us that in the past, the inhabitants of the plain had climbed this mountain to discuss their misfortunes with the Gods at the top.
If we had already been gaunt and over-tired before this hike, now we fell ill, one after another. One of us had an epileptic seizure on the onward journey; after some brief spasms he collapsed very slowly onto the truck bed and lay there for the rest of the day. Another got sores on his hands. A third lay permanently lengthwise on the bench; the mountain tour had so sucked him dry that we had to carry him from the tent to the truck. Almost everyone suffered from diarrhoea, including Mara, who certainly did not want to talk about it. She had exhausted her energy on our walk in the Rwenzori Mountains. She crawled into her sleeping bag at every opportunity.
We went into the Queen Elizabeth National Park via Lake Edward and further in the direction of the Tanzanian border. In a bank we needed an hour to change money: the bank was completely over-crowded, on the tables lay bundles of money piled up quite openly and policemen with guns kept the crowd back. At the edge of the street was a sign “Pepsi Cola welcomes the pope John Paul II, february 1993.” Shortly afterwards we had a puncture. We had hardly crossed the border at Mutukula – I had exchanged a further pen, this time for five tablespoons of peanuts – when we drove into a tsetse-fly zone. We had to abandon the upper deck and then roll and lash down all the tarpaulins to the truck bed so that we sat in a semi-twilight. And still we were attacked by a swarm of tsetse flies. We beat them with hand towels with which we had carefully armed ourselves. It took two hours for us to drive them away.
If the landscape in Tanzania had been hilly and bare of savannah, in Rwanda it was even hillier and a lush, jungle green. Monsoon-like downpours descended upon us, even if only ever of short duration; afterwards I would climb all alone back onto the upper deck, because I had become addicted, because I couldn’t stop looking and becoming intoxicated too by this landscape. The roads were freshly tarred, even with edge and middle road lines marked, and took their course mostly along the peak contours of the ridges of hills so that you could look far into the countryside, onto little villages, onto the slopes, fields, rainforest.
If the streets of Uganda had already been full of refugees, here they formed an unbroken human chain along the roadside. One walked behind another, some of the men dragging large bags, some of the women carrying their belongings on their heads, most of them walking completely without baggage. The situation in Rwanda was muddled: they were probably Tutsi we were seeing, judging simply by their height. Were they fleeing or returning home? Soon we passed the first UN peace-keeping corps and a Red Cross station, where refugees were being looked after.
Time and again on the road embankments men lay beside one another on their fronts drinking beer. When they saw us coming, they raised their bottles and shouted something funny as a greeting. Some fled, others stayed put and drank – were they refugees too? Or soldiers and militiamen, in other words Hutu, who had removed their uniforms after the peace treaty of Arusha until that treaty would be broken too? In any case, the Tutsi rebel army was further away in the countryside – ruling certain parts of it – and would certainly come to blows again soon enough, for which the beer drinkers at the side of the road would be needed.
Our tour leader had received the information from his London central office: the civil war in Rwanda was over, we should continue the tour as planned. I sat on the upper deck and asked myself what exactly I was looking at there. Is that what peace looked like? No, certainly not. War had just taken a break; the great killings and slaughters still lay ahead of the country.
On the 13th December we drove into Kigali. Here too, young men loitered everywhere acting innocent. There was something uncanny on the streets although the shops were open and one of the cafes was even serving pizza. Mara was depressed and anxious and by now worn out physically as well. Here no-one revived the idea of a little walk around the town. We erected our tents at a mission post about a kilometre outside the city centre. Inside there were showers with hot water, where you spent most of your time waiting for the water which then arrived cold. This time there was no campfire. After the meal everyone quickly cleared off into their tents. Almost in silence, Mara and I drank a small bottle of schnapps which we had brought from Uganda. It tasted disgusting and provided no consolation.
The next day we drove almost up to the Volcanoes National Park and pitched our camp at a school in Ruhengeri. Wasn’t the north of Rwanda under the control of the Tutsi rebels? Our camp was guarded by army soldiers, in other words, by Hutu. One of the high points of the trip was on the agenda for the following two days: a visit to the mountain gorillas. The number of daily visitors was strictly limited; we worked out who would visit which family unit, when, during the course of the next two days. Of course, Mara and I ended up in separate groups, but both scheduled for the next day.
It began with drumming and a religious service in the church by our campsite. The choir’s singing was so beautiful that we would have preferred to stay put. But there were already two taxis ready and waiting for us, their drivers standing impatiently alongside, and thus began my comparatively short journey into the beyond.
Whilst half our fellow travellers remained in camp that day, we drove for two hours deep into the mountains on tracks that got wilder and wilder. The driver of my car would spit incessantly out of the window and managed to get his car stuck twice in the uneven road. At some point the taxi with the other group turned off and we were on our own. In a small village, Kinigi, four gamekeepers awaited us, with rifles shouldered. Wednesday the 15th December at 10.00 o’clock, we climbed a mountain for the second time.
First, we went through a bamboo forest then through jungle. The gamekeepers warned us about touching poisonous plants, towards the end one of them had to hack a route out with a machete. And there they were: the gorillas, a first silverback standing two meters in front of me, so completely unexpectedly that I was startled. Only minutes later I noticed that he was missing a hand. For an hour we marvelled at them, plucking and consuming leaves from the bushes, watching protectively over their children who approached us curiously again and again – four silverbacks, one blackback, a female and three youngsters. How silent they were the whole time! In awe we did not stir, made not the slightest sound. On the climb down one of the gamekeepers told us that until a few months ago the group of gorillas had been much larger – some of the animals had been poached. Hunger and war had also reached their tranquil life.
Then a downpour descended upon us which soaked us through to the skin within seconds. A second downpour took us by surprise when we were in the middle of fields at the foot of the mountain. We sought shelter from a farmer who immediately offered us banana-beer. Before we could start the drive back, we had to locate our driver. We found him in a windowless bar; he had settled into drinking so comfortably that he no longer wanted to leave. We could only entice him with the promise of further beers at our camp. He laughed throughout the whole journey and had to stop frequently to take a piss right beside his car. At five o’clock we were back in the camp. The driver swore at us, according to him we should have handed over more bottles of beer; again, he didn’t want to get into his car and drive off.
At four in the night I woke up with pain in my knee. But hadn’t the climb to the gorillas been fairly modest? There was no comparison to the one in the Rwenzoris and that was now a week ago? A little later when I tried to stand up my knee was so swollen that I preferred to remain lying down. Today the other half of our travel group would visit the gorillas, I could make good use of the time in the tent until they got back.
Mara provided me with wet towels to cool the knee. But still, it continued to swell. When you pressed the flesh around the kneecap it wobbled as if a considerable amount of fluid had escaped from the joint. Mara looked at me helplessly.
“We only have to make it as far as Kilimanjaro” I assured her, “and we will make it.”