The bar at The Gateway Hotel wasn’t the plush but aging White Mischief setting that the trio of impostor backpackers expected.
“It’s as dark as a badger’s crack in here,” said Toby. “Hardly the airy colonial ballroom I was expecting.” Undeterred, he headed for the dimly yellow-lit bar with singular purpose. Fred and James surveyed the gloom.
“Now,” said James, “what we want to see is other backpackers. There are a few scruffy types in that corner. Let’s sit near them and ingratiate ourselves.”
“Isn’t it the other way around, James?” Fred asked. “Don’t they ingratiate themselves with us? We’ve got more money for drinks.”
“Have to earn your travel stripes first. And, Freddie, I can’t thank you enough for not wearing your ridiculous colonial bush jacket right off the bat. That would have been the end of our backpacking credibility.”
“That sartorial elegance is reserved for the deepest darkest ‘bunn-do’ or ‘boondoo’ or however you Africans say it. When I’m feeling Hemingwayish. Not for impressing hoi polloi of Nairobi.”
Toby came back with three Tuskers and they sat at a central table not too far from the scruffy types. The backpackers were festooned with bead necklaces and bangles, and were brown and super relaxed. The clothes they were wearing, although clean probably for the first time in a while, were hard worn. While the bracelets and necklaces were attempts at individuality, as were their inventive patterns of facial hair, their general attire was a uniform.
The trousers were all outdoor brands, made for wicking and quick drying, with zips to turn them into shorts and integrated webbing belts to fasten them. Elasticated drawstrings sealed the trouser hems, presumably a defence against mosquitoes. Also functional were the state-of-the-art sport sandals they wore. Their T-shirts were a curriculum travellae, crowing the exotic places they had been:
Mr Stoned at Mr Steven’s– Lake Malawi sat next to Fancy a Jump? – Vic Falls Bungee. On his right was the inevitable scuba diver in the group, his T-shirt patterned with a colourful reef from Hurghada – Red Sea.
Fred leant across to Toby and James. “Just promise me one thing: I don’t mind mixing with these guys – in fact, it will be fun – but we mustn’t become proper travel bores. I was once in Delhi and went to see the Taj Mahal. After wandering around the temple for the morning, we ended up having a few beers and lunch with these been-there-done-that traveller guys and they had all seen a bigger better temple.”
He turned to make sure they couldn’t have overheard him, and leant back into his whisper, “They were all saying things like, ‘This isn’t bad, but it’s nothing like Machu Picchu.’ And then the next guy would say, ‘Machu Picchu’s good, but for sheer scale of building, the Taj Mahal is still right up there, even though it’s really easy to get to. Although the Blue Mosque is also good because the Aya Sofia is just across the road.’
“‘No ways,’ says the last guy. ‘The world’s best temple is undoubtedly Angkor Wat.’
“And I was thinking, what rhymes with Angkor?”
Fred leant back and took a sip of his beer as one of the hairy-faced backpackers spoke out. “You guys just get here?” asked Mr Stoned from Mr Steven’s. He was a South African, the flat vowels unmistakeable.
Fred nudged James and chuckled, “He’s one of you. Didn’t take long for him to sniff you out, did it?” Another nudge. It was bound to bridle James. Having lived in London for eight years, James attempted at every turn to shed the stereotyped rough-and-ready mantle that shrouded the average Saffer. He had done his time, earned his chalk stripes.
He hated to be seen as one of the fresh-off-the-boat invaders who infested London’s south-west and hoarded pounds, all the while complaining about the weather and how much everything cost and how it was always the ref’s fault when the Springboks lost to the Poms. In many ways, James was more consciously English than any of his friends. He drove an old MGB. And when he wasn’t in his muscle T-shirts looking for female attention, but in a more sedate environment (still looking for female attention), he wore a green hacking jacket. Once, he’d arrived at a pub in Clapham for Sunday lunch in a pair of red jeans and a double-cuffed shirt but after an entire afternoon of “I say! What-what, old cock!” jokes at his expense, the jeans found their way to Oxfam and the double cuffs only went to work. He was barking up the wrong tree trying to blend into the London ton though, because James was far too outspoken and unreserved to ever pass for anything other than his naturally base self.
“Our friend is South African too,” said Fred, smiling beatifically at James. James glared back.
“Oh, cool,” said Mr Stoned from Mr Steven’s, instantly sliding down in his chair to appear more relaxed until he was close to horizontal with his head on the backrest. “Where you from?”
“I’m from Cape Town, man. So’s he,” he said, beckoning at the Vic Falls bungee jumper, who himself had become so aloof and nonchalant that to appear any more languid he would have to drift into a trance.
There was a hiatus while they all had a few slow slugs of beer and digested this repartee. They would have appeared utterly unimpressed had an elephant wandered into the room and ordered a gin and tonic.
“Frederick,” hissed James, “if you blow my cover with every group of Saffers we meet along the way, God help you when we come across a bunch of yobbos from Liverpool. I’m going to tell them you support Chelsea because you’re rich.”
Frederick just laughed.
“Where ya goin’?” broke in the diver. An Aussie. Not that it would have been hard to guess; he was typecast. He had curly blond hair and a sunny smiling face. Large arms covered with blond hair and a full chest showed him to be very much an outdoors type. “I’ve just come from up north.”
“We’re taking an overlander down to Vic Falls,” said Fred. “Setting off tomorrow.”
“Really? You’re the third bunch I’ve met that is doing that. So am I.”
“Excellent. We might see you on the way then.”
“You guys got any big plans for tonight?” The Aussie smiled on.
“Well, it’s good that you ask, actually,” said Fred. “Perhaps you’d share your thoughts. The taxi driver who dropped us off here said he wanted to have some beers with us. He’s meeting us here in a few minutes. We don’t mind him scrounging a few Tuskers off us, but how safe do you think it is to go with him to another place?”
“It’s generally cool,” the Mr Stoned drawled, “so long as you don’t get too swazzed, and keep your wits about you. If you want, Carl and I, I’m Zak by the way, Carl and I can come with you. We don’t have any big plans. And it’s always nice to joll with new travellers. We’ve got some good stories from this trip. You may want some info. If we all go along together it’s definitely OK.”
“Sure, why not? You’re more than welcome,” said Fred, avoiding eye contact with simmering James. He would have liked to have added, “Perhaps the word ‘scrounge’ won’t just apply to our driver”, but he was enjoying James’s embarrassment at his countryman’s swift self-invitation too much to quash it himself.
At that moment, Japhet walked into the room. Behind him walked a tall young woman with light brown hair.
“Hello, guys,” said Japhet, waddling over to them with his enthusiastic grin. “I said I would come; now I am here.”
“Hello Japhet,” said Fred.
Fred was the only one who had the presence of mind to greet Japhet. All other eyes were focussed on the radiant girl still standing at the door. She seemed out of place, unexpected. All the stale trappings of the ugly dive in which they sat slid away to usher back in dormant memories of heady times when cocktail gowns swished across the parquet and polite laughter floated with the cigarette smoke.
She peered through the gloom in their direction, one sandalled foot tentatively turned towards them. She was casually dressed in Bermuda shorts and a long-sleeved white cotton shirt. At last she flashed a smile of recognition in their direction and strolled over. Japhet now loomed too large, blocking the delicious view of her leisurely walk. He shook hands with Fred, James and Toby, and they tried to meet his gaze and peer around him in her direction at the same time. James grasped Japhet’s hand and while shaking it enthusiastically fastened his left hand on Japhet’s forearm, in a particularly cordial greeting, and gently but firmly moved Japhet to one side.
Toby wrested his gaze away eventually and rested it on Japhet. “Would you like a beer, Japhet, and anybody else for that matter?”
An eager “yes” from Japhet and a choruses of “yeses” from the scruffy travellers brought Toby into the enviable position of being able to make a natural opening gambit to the girl, now standing next to the Aussie diver, her lips slightly parted, about to speak.
“Would you like a drink?” Toby said.
She looked up at him, and smiled, her strong white teeth lighting her tanned brown face. Toby nearly took a step backwards. It was a smile that warms a room, genuine, eyes sparkling, her head tilted slightly. Her teeth were almost too big, but not horsey at all. They perfectly complemented her large mouth. “That’d be great. I’d love a Tusker please. Hi, Jocko,” she said to the Aussie, ruffling his hair. Just a fellow countryman, not her boyfriend. Please. The prayer went through the minds of everyone with the exception of Japhet, who had ensconced himself in an armchair in anticipation of his beer.
“Hi, Kirsty,” Jocko replied.
“Hi, I’m James and this is Fred and Japhet. That was Toby who’s gone to get the drinks. And this is Carl and Zak, two other guys we’ve just met.” James advanced and extended his hand, closely followed by everybody else with an alacrity that was almost embarrassing. Even Japhet heaved his bulk out of the deep chair to join the procession.
Kirsty was either used to attention or unconscious of her beauty, because her natural smile never wavered and she said, ‘Pleased to meet you’ in her light Australian accent, shook the hand of each one of them firmly and looked them all in the eye as she did so.
Once she was seated in a cracked leather chair, the dynamic of the group changed considerably. The body language of everyone there was somehow directed towards her, with the exception of Japhet – who, despite the restraints placed on him by his chubby neck and the depth to which he had sunk into the armchair, was looking anxiously over his shoulder for Toby’s return with the beers – and Jocko, who was looking smugly possessive. Such was the magnetism of her attraction. The citronella oil on her long brown legs gleamed in the dim light.
James, trying to play it nonchalant, stood up and wandered over to the bar to help Toby with the drinks.
“Jesus, Toby. How the fuck is that? Imagine that chick is on the overlander with us. It’ll be war, man. Outright war.”
“No chance, Jim. None whatsoever. You know the world doesn’t work like that. She would never be going on an overlander. Got too much class and style. And, what’s more, she’s looking couply with that Aussie bloke, so don’t get your hopes up.”
“You’ve just contradicted yourself, china. Think about it syllogistically. He definitely is going on an overlander. If they’re a couple, she’s going too. So only one of your suppositions can be true. Either she isn’t his chick, or if she is she’s going on an overlander. And who’s to say it isn’t ours? There’s still hope, I’m telling you. If she is going on one and it isn’t ours, I’m switching trucks. I’ll abandon you okes like a love-rat from a sinking ship and they’d better prepare for boarders. Unless our truck follows their truck. I don’t care if they’re going to Darfur.” In his increasing excitement while evaluating the possibilities, James thumped his fist against Toby’s arm. “Man, that would make the trip quite interesting. I can’t believe this has happened so soon. I thought we were gonna be starved of genuine quality feminine interest for eight weeks.”
“I’m surprised too,” said Toby absentmindedly, focussed more on fiddling with shillings and wondering whether tipping existed in Kenya.
James looked back at Kirsty and shook his head. “She’s the most gorgeous girl I think I’ve ever seen in the flesh. Not counting magazines and movies and things, you know?”
“Calm down, James. God’s sake. You’re getting carried away. She is lovely, but not like a movie star. Her looks on their own are not the attraction. It’s her big-toothed smile, her warmth. She’s very natural.”
Toby nodded, “She’s the dream girl next door, but a turbocharged version.”
“Turbocharged? Well, maybe she needs some fuel injection, and I happen to know just the person.” James had his fists clenched by his sides and was milliseconds from a bout of pelvic thrusting.
“James! Please. Don’t debase the highlight of the trip so far.”
“OK, sorry, sorry, you’re right. I got a bit carried away with unexpected excitement. Let’s get back with these beers. If we take any longer, Japhet will lose his smile for the first time in his life.”
After several rounds of beers, everyone relaxed. Japhet had his arm around Toby’s shoulders and was telling him a long story about how he had always lived in Nairobi, and what it was like when his grandfather had owned many, many cattle, near here, below the Ngong Hills. Toby had made the mistake of mentioning Out of Africa and how it had inspired him to come on this trip.
The bartender, in an effort to please his obviously irregular clientele, had put on some rap music that was a personal preference of his but not of anyone who could tell rhythm from arrhythmia. The noise level was high, the conversations had fragmented and James was ruing his choice of seat. Kirsty was now facing the Aussie bloke and devoting her attention entirely to him. She had swivelled in her chair and had one long leg slung over the other and her head on her shoulder as she twirled a strand of hair into a braid.
Although James was only listening with half an ear, if that, Fred was running through his exhaustive list of things that had to be accomplished throughout the trip, which was nothing that James hadn’t heard ad infinitum before. Carl had his hands held up in front of him outlining an oval shape the dimensions of a rugby ball to show Zak the size of the burger he was going to eat when they got back to civilisation, Zak having just described a pizza the size of a manhole cover.
“Time to move,” James stood up in frustration. “Japhet, where are you taking us?”
If it was possible for Japhet to swell any more, he swelled into his new role as leader of the team. He led the way through the early evening streets of Nairobi down a few blocks of dusty pavements and cracked tarmac. The sun hadn’t yet set but it was moving quickly that way. With the red dust and vast empty pink sky the city was orange tinted. The shops were still doing a brisk trade servicing the surge of people headed out of the business district towards their homes in the suburbs and townships.
They were selling swathes of textile and basic foodstuffs, haberdashery and mixed unclassified items for uses that Fred couldn’t fathom as he peered into the windows. They bustled down the potholed street after a purposeful Japhet. It appeared to Fred that each store seemed to cram the most disproportionate amount of miscellaneous crap into the tiniest of wardrobe-sized spaces.
They received a few smiles and hellos but no one was particularly interested in their passing. It wasn’t the heart of the tourist marketplace or anywhere near a nest of hostels around which the local scavengers, hustlers and touts would be plying their trade. These were real people living real lives and trying to get a good price on a broom or cooking oil in a day that was already too short to make enough money to look after their families. Hustling a bunch of travellers simply didn’t fit into the agenda.
They passed a couple of ethnic medicine stores, their tangible odours pulsing onto the pavement. Dark caverns were draped with pungent roots and partly recognisable creatures, dried and wizened, hung from the rafters. The shelves were lined with jars of gnarled things and bags of multicoloured aromatic powders. Fred stepped in and had a good look into one of these, gazing with amazement at the twisted shapes that assumed recognisable life forms when he thought about them long enough. He saw a sack bristling with protective black and white needles that he eventually recognised as a porcupine skin made into a bag. A gutted five-foot dried shark hung like a stiff brown curtain next to his left ear. With a start, he saw an impossibly dark man with unblinking dog yellow eyes staring immovably at him from the shadows two feet away, which made him hurry after the group.
Outside, the happy boisterous crowds on the streets and the thinning shafts of setting sunlight plus the beer they had drunk in the hotel imparted a feeling of safety and serenity in the travellers.
Japhet took the group to a backroom bar with thumping African beats. The door resembled an entrance to someone’s home. There was no signage or bright lights to attract them. You had to know what was behind it from previous experience. They wandered along a front room where an elderly man sat mending a shoe. They all greeted him politely as he sat and looked surprised, finally breaking into a toothless smile as the last of them passed him. At the far end of the room from where the sounds of music and chatter emanated, there was a door blocked only by strings of beads, with a dim interior beyond. Toby looked apprehensively at Fred, who patted him reassuringly on the shoulder, shrugged and entered, stooping his head under the doorframe. Carl and Zak appeared relaxed, and so did James. He was hovering around Kirsty to such an extent that Toby almost wished there were a few armed robbers about to distract him.
Once in, it was far lighter than the hotel bar, with a fence of wooden planking serving as one of the walls, behind which they could vaguely make out a courtyard. When they entered the room, all the other drinkers stopped to look in their direction and each gaze crossed the group and settled on Kirsty, the only woman in the place. Japhet smiled and waved at a number of people he knew, proud to be hosting such a large group of foreigners. They were ushered to a table in the corner of the room.
Facing the fence wall, James could see some flickers of movement on the other side. It took him a moment of focussing and twitching his head from side to side, as he had once watched a mongoose on a wildlife documentary do, to make out a number of small children peering through the cracks in the fence, eager to watch the goings on inside the bar. He had done everything in his power to ensure that he was sitting next to Kirsty, but the burly Australian had contrived to get between them, herd her away from the three friends and settle her with her back to the fence, between Japhet and himself. A small arm snaked through a gap in the fence and gently fingered a curling tendril of Kirsty’s chestnut hair.
“Hai!” Japhet shouted and took an ineffectual swipe in the air about a yard from the arm, which was rapidly snatched back through the gap to a chorus of shrieking giggles.
Kirsty looked back with some surprise and laughed, “Jambo, watoto,” she said. She turned in her chair and placed an eye in a gap between the slats and smiled. Her smile received a reciprocal show of many-toothed grins in the gathering gloom on the other side of the fence.
“Cheeky little buggers,” said James.
“They’re cute little kids,” giggled Kirsty, tilting her head back to shake her hair tantalisingly close to the palings.
“They are too naughty,” said Japhet. With that, he beckoned to the hostess to take their order. She was a step ahead of him. A bustling woman with an enormous girth, she sashayed smiling over to them with both chubby hands filled with Tusker bottles. As she greeted them in a deep chuckling voice, she plonked the bottles on the table in the middle of the circle of chairs. One by one she opened the beers, wiping the top of each bottle with a rag she carried and passing each out until everyone had one. Fred eyed the rag with a pained look on his face, but eventually shrugged his shoulders and drank thirstily.
Taking the bottle from his lips, he turned to Toby. “Got to start somewhere.”
“Yup,” said Toby. “I hope my gut flora is ready for the challenge. Might as well get the ‘Delhi Belly’ – hang on, what would that be here, the ‘Mau Mau rebelly-on’, ‘maw maw rebellion’ – anyway, might as well have all that over and done with while we’re staying in a hotel with commodious commodes. By the time we get to the walk-into-the-bush-with-a-spade territory I want to have my alimentary canal on full battle stations.”
Zak said, “Ja, you’ll get used to it. Make sure you only drink bottled water though and you should be OK. Some countries agree with you, some don’t. Yussus, I was sick in Malawi. A bit of drool-stool is one thing, but proper dysentery can fuck you up six-love.”
“You had dysentery?” Fred’s eyebrows were raised.
“No, I’m just saying it can fuck you up properly.”
“Quite,” said Fred.
As they drank their beers, and relaxed in the new surroundings, Fred noticed that several other patrons had drawn their chairs around the inner circle, so that they now had an outer ring like a target, with the central table on which the beers were continually replenished forming a sort of bull’s-eye. It occurred to him that they might be hosting this party. He was about to move his chair across to Japhet to ask him just for whom they were buying beers when he was held back by his shirt tail. He looked back to see James hanging on to him.
“No you don’t, Fred. You’ve got a girlfriend. I was about to make a move across there myself.”
“For Christ’s sake, James, you’re like a teaser stallion,” hissed Fred. “I was going to speak to Japhet.” He turned back, “Japhet old boy, who’s paying for all these beers that are now being handed round to everybody in the bar? Is it the tourists’ party?”
“No, no, no. They will pay,” said Japhet. Except for him, the plaintive look on his face said. “The madam knows who is drinking. She knows how much they drink. She will count and write it down.”
Since Fred was standing there, he couldn’t resist provoking James, so he plopped himself down next to Kirsty. He looked back at James, grinning. James wasn’t grinning. Fred turned to her to find her looking at him looking at James. It was so flagrantly obvious what was going on, and it seemed so childish, that Fred blushed, probably for the first time in his emotionally controlled life. In the heat of the bar with the low lighting and the African night coming down quickly outside, it wasn’t noticeable. But he knew she could sense his discomfort.
Fred struggled to put his finger on why they were all acting like sixteen-year-old boarding-school boys being let loose at their first co-ed social function, and he quickly figured it out. Firstly, they were excited. They were travelling and free, they had no worries, no parking fines to pay, no communication expected of them. Secondly, Kirsty looked deeply into his eyes when he was talking. Her open face waiting to crease into sunshine. Fred knew that the effect was the same on the others. They all felt special, felt that they had a chance. Her direct manner and deep attention might have been challenging had the smile not always been waiting in the wings.
He didn’t think Kirsty meant her attentiveness as a tease, though. It was just her open way and it didn’t come across as contrived. He felt that she knew his thoughts, and it rushed his mind. The translucence of her emerald eyes made them seem so deep and thoughtful. Fred imagined diving into her eyes and swimming through her, immersed in green light and laughter. He almost stuttered as he began to ask her about herself.
It was hard to hold any sort of light chitchat now. The level of conversation between the enlarged group of drinkers, carried out mostly in simplified English, almost rivalled the thudding music. She was from Melbourne, and had finished studying economics at university the previous year. An African trip had been a present from her parents to celebrate her graduation.
To think about her future and to find herself, they had said, rolling their eyes.
Fred laughed appreciatively and over-enthusiastically.
He caught himself. Unlike James, Fred didn’t have it in mind to end up in bed with Kirsty that very night.
There was Eleanor, and he was normally faithful, although it wasn’t out of pure focussed love, but more because he lived his life according to rules and strictures. He was normally pretty moral. His parents had drummed into him the principle of do unto others as you would have done to you, and he would not like her to be unfaithful to him.
That having been said, he was in Africa now and he was supposed to be thinking about his future with Eleanor. It was time, to use a vulgar expression, to shit or get off the pot. If that meant a bit of ‘extramarital’ experimentation, well, he would not go looking for it but would consider it if it came his way.
Also, he didn’t want to waste his evening in competition with James. He knew it would be a waste, because James was so competitive when it came to women that if he felt he wasn’t going to be in the driving seat by the end of the evening, he would rather ruin it for all other competitors. It became embarrassing for everyone. True or not, no one likes to be attributed a dose of chlamydia in public and without warning, and no ploy was beneath James if there was a worthy prize at stake. Fred thought Toby might be interested in Kirsty too, but he was a slow mover and, besides, his self-confidence, after having lost his job and put on so much weight, wasn’t even registering on the scale. Not on James’s scale anyway. Toby was a nonstarter at this point.
Fred was certainly very happy flirting with Kirsty. A boundless wash of freedom had engulfed him. The mildly euphoric emotions he was experiencing with the mixture of steadily flowing cold beer, travel and the unexpected presence of the gorgeous vision by his side had carried him away. It was hard not to be happy sitting in a bar a long way from eighty-hour workweeks with a seemingly endless holiday ahead. Jocko even appeared to have relaxed his proprietorial attentiveness. His feet were up on the low table, and he was leaning his head back occasionally to swig his beer and let the little hands behind the fence grab some of his woolly blond hair.
Some food arrived. They all peered at it. There were pieces of meat, and stiff white maize porridge. Japhet grabbed some of the porridge, squeezed it into a ball and dipped it into the meat dish. He popped the whole thing into his mouth.
“I’m not sure about this, mate,” said Jocko.
“Can we have a plate of chips?” Toby asked Japhet, who signalled to the waitress.
Fred made a ball of porridge and dipped it into the gravy, while Toby watched with wide eyes. Fred shrugged, and raised his eyebrows at Toby, who slowly shook his head.
By now the bar was full to capacity and some drummers appeared. They palmed a heartbeat rhythm on cowhide ngoma drums and rattled an n’dili-n’dili, a drum shaped like a tennis racket with taut goatskin where the strings should be and two heavy little beads attached by cords on either side of the frame. The bar’s music system hadn’t been turned off for this and was providing thumping competition to heighten the fervour of the drummers.
A few minutes into the performance James, unable to help himself, was in the middle of the swaying crowd doing a high-kicking dance that he remembered from the indigenous influences of his youth. With bent knees, arse protruding and arms aloft, he shuffled around in small circles and swung a leg above his head on every third beat. He was dancing pantsula, which literally means ‘to walk like a duck’. He whistled shrilly as an accompaniment. The crowd were rapturous, clapping, pointing and laughing with glee.
Within a few revolutions of the dance floor he was drenched with sweat and the kicks were no more than waist high. He couldn’t escape his performance. The crowd had encircled him and the enormous hostess had taken to the floor, inching along with mini-stamps and ululating her support to the drummers.
She didn’t have to consciously protrude her enormous rump; nature had taken care of that on an elephantine scale. When James came shuffling past she swung her vast bottom at his and connected with a force that blasted him into the howling crowd. The thunderous racket increased. By the second circuit he was ready to ride the mighty blow, ensuring that he was only skidded a foot or two off course, but his kicks were feeble and lower. His face began to look strained. A less fit man would have collapsed several kicks earlier.
Fortunately, the sight of the hostess lavishly performing had enticed several others onto the floor, two of whom were mimicking a few steps of James’s action and falling to the floor with helpless laughter. James put in a couple of despairing kicks as high as he could and tactically moved within range of the hostess’s battering buttocks. True to form, she let out a joyous shout and thudded her flank into him, scooting him out of the circle towards the table, where he slumped into his chair, put a Tusker bottle to his lips and emptied its contents.
He looked up to see his companions laughing with admiration. And, to his delight, Kirsty applauding.
“Nice work, James. Love your moves.” She laughed lightly.
James was thrilled. Not only did she remember his name, but his clowning around had got him some positive exposure. He quickly glanced at Jocko, who winked, raised and pointed his bottle at him before leaning his head back to drain it.
Fred decided that perhaps enough fun had been had. He was worried that it was getting too late to walk through the streets safely. Especially considering the amount they had had to drink. Toby, who had been sitting quietly watching the antics, had developed a bit of a sway to his head, and was periodically laughing out loud at his inner thoughts. Fred leant over to Japhet: “Japhet, we should go now.”
“But we are having fun here. We can stay longer.”
“Yes, it has been fun, but we have a big day tomorrow.”
“Let us dance some more,” pleaded Japhet.
“I think we must go, Japhet,” said Fred. “Please will you find out how many beers we’ve had.”
“I agree with Fred,” said Kirsty. “If we really need a nightcap, we can have it at the hotel.”
That sealed it. Japhet couldn’t argue with her.
He meekly said, “But it’s not dangerous,” he lacked conviction however, and got up to try to catch the by now surrounded proprietress’s attention. She was continuing to bat dancers in every direction, but so closely was she now surrounded by enthusiastic cannon-fodder that it was more an exercise in self-protection that a nuance of the dance.
She extricated herself and shouted something in Japhet’s ear. He came to Fred and said, “Four thousand shillings.”
Carl had by now come forward and shouted back, “Four thousand! Is she mad? We’re not buying the place, just paying for our beers. Not everybody else’s either!”
“That’s fine, Japhet,” said Fred and handed over the notes.
“She’s ripping you off, man,” said Carl. “I’m not paying that price for beers.”
“No, you’re not,” said Fred, “I am. I didn’t see you reaching for your wallet anyway. We’ve had fun here, and I’m prepared to pay for it. It’s not exorbitant. And what’s more, your beers are on me too.”
Carl glared at him. “Thanks,” he paused, “but if you don’t mind me saying so, that attitude is going to get you fucked over in Africa. You’ll also ruin it for other budget travellers.”
“I do mind you saying so. I think I’ll be fine, and the budget travellers can fight their own battles.” He turned to Japhet, who was watching the exchange with undisguised delight. “Let’s go.”
“Maybe I will stay,” said Japhet.
“No,” said Fred. “You can come back if you want. But first, you must make sure we get safely to our hotel.”
Toby nodded slowly for almost a minute. “Yes,” he said. “There’s no way, I’m walking past, I’m not walking past those voodoo shops on my, on my own. It would literally scare the shit out of me, for sure. And I’m expecting the food to do that as it is.”
“No problem,” said Japhet.
As they left the bar, there were many shaking and patting hands and shouts of “very welcome” and “thank you”.
“No problem,” mumbled Toby, weaving through the crowd. “No problem.”