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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2007, vol 3 no 4

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Beverley George

 

Botswana Gold

Warmth is ebbing from the campfire. We struggle to our feet, the legacy of the day's jolting suddenly apparent in bone and muscle.

'Sleep well,' our guide says, cheerfully, 'and do not leave your tents.'

The tents are large, on raised wooden platforms. Each is so widely separated from its neighbour that we can not see or hear our neighbours. Islands, lost in darkess.

'Best day I can remember,' says my wife. 'The big five. We've seen them all.'

Then she remembers her camera, left beside her camp-chair at the fire.

It's only about a hundred metres to where embers still glow red, and the track is well defined. I stride the first fifty without incident, humming. Then my torchlight finds them. Two golden eyes.

I freeze. Keep the torchlight on those eyes.

Is it best to go forward? Go back? Call out? The last seems impossible.

Something locks into my mind. Don't show fear. I move forward, not averting the torchlight from those golden eyes.

When I reach the campfire the distance between me and the eyes has not changed.

I keep the torchlight fixed on them as I circle the ring of chairs, feeling behind me with my free hand. Soon I have it. My wife's camera. But a second pair of eyes has flared beside the first.

Sweat slides between my shoulder blades.

It is more difficult now to keep the light steady as I back slowly down the track, trying to maintain an even pace, trying to show confidence. What if I trip? What is behind me?

I dare not turn around. Must not avert my gaze.

endless journey—
four golden eyes
unblinking

At last the steps to the tent are against my calves. I stumble inside, pallid and shaking. It is hours before we sleep.

First light and an early start scheduled. Groggily we stumble to the camp-fire.

hiss of bacon—
hands warm around
enamel mugs

But our guide is examining the ground nearby. 'Ah, look,' he says, 'two hyenas - no, three - were here last night.'