THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

47   Encounter with a camel

At the bottle store they stocked up on brandy and rum and a dozen cans of Coke. Then chicken pies from a café and they were on their noisy way in the mid afternoon heat. The rocky hills gave way to a plain almost bare of vegetation and Henry's eyes became heavy and his head nodded and jerked spasmodically until he gave up trying to stay awake and put his head back and dozed in open mouthed abandon.

He was brought back from sleep with rude abruptness when the car began to bump and shake over gravel and was savagely wrenched to the left. Yissis! The arsehole! He'd been driving on the verge, HIS side of the road! What if there'd been oncoming traffic? How long had he been…? They agreed to change places and pulled up just past the Steinkopf and Port Nolloth turnoff. Birkin lay down in the back and after mixing himself a weak brandy and coke in the can Henry headed the car for the Orange River, eighty-seven kilometres away.

The plains were dotted with rocky hillocks and nothing much else. He sipped from the still cold can, his right thumb hooked over the steering wheel, travelling at a steady hundred and ten. No rush. He wasn't really going anywhere. The warm air blew in through the rolled down window and he felt alone and relaxed. The sun was dropping to the left and he wondered if the night would be cold. It was only August, the worst of winter in Cape Town. Ahead of him was looming a mass of broken hills. He thought idly of his situation. Here he was, walk on, walk on. To sit in the lotus position under a banyan tree for forty-nine days and then pronounce to the expectant disciples those two words… Make it brief enough and it takes on all sorts of deeper meaning. What if he had opened his mouth and said Up yours, up yours? Or how about, Brandy and Coke, brandy and Coke? Would it have meant the same? Made any difference? In the Dockyard he sat on his arse, here he was walking on. The celluloid would come to the end of a reel. This road wouldn't lead anywhere, of that he was fairly certain, but the motion made him feel better. More alive, that's for sure. And of course, he was supposed to be on an important mission. Fully paid.

The road had begun a slow descent through black brown cliffs and huge heaps of boulders. The noise of the engine began to reverberate and developed into a great battle of clattering machine guns. He put the clutch in and revved in long hard bursts.

"Hey, what's going on?" Birkin was sitting up looking befuddled with sleep and alarm.

"Keep your head down, troepie!" shouted Henry, pumping the petrol and blowing the hooter. "It's the total onslaught. The biggest communist impi you ever seen. Ten thousand AK 47's firing, ten thousand pangas dripping blood, ten thousand black cocks, nine inches dribbling for white meat. This is the end! This is the end!" He let up the clutch and accelerated into a bend, tyres screaming. Faster they went. On the next corner the back began to swing out toward the wall of rock and then the car pulled them through and out into the open light. They were onto the bridge, the river below them, Namibia ahead.

"Stop at the motel. For God's sake, are you fuckin' mad?" In the rear view mirror he was white and shaking.

"Okay, okay. Just a bit of a thrill. Better than a five rand fuck, hey? And it was free."

At the motel they sat outside and ordered beers. The air was warm and still and the sun was almost down. On the south bank of the river the line of cliffs was lit up in spectacular colour and they watched the shadow moving and the light changing. The second round was brought and then, unannounced, there sailed onstage a ship of the desert. Henry was so surprised he burst out laughing.

"Ja, man. Didn't you know they got camels here? Camel safaris, and all that crap. Jislaaik but they're bloody ugly things. Look at that nose. And the lips! Yuk!"

The creature had come to a halt directly in front of them, sideways on and not a yard from the table. It inclined its head and regarded Birkin with an unblinking stare.

"Hey, it heard you."

The bristling nostrils quivered and dilated. Then the floodgate was opened and a stream of foul smelling water was released in a vertical torrent that must have lasted a good minute. It quickly formed a muddy puddle and splashed up on their shoes and against their trousers. Birkin sprang to his feet.

"Hey! Hey! Bloody filthy brute! Voetsek! Fuck off! Hey you, boy. Chase this fuckin' thing away. Christ, if I had my gun I'd shoot it. Call the manager!" Then he picked up one of the plastic patio chairs and threw it at the animal, striking it on its hump. It did a clumsy quickstep sideways, let out a braying bellow and lumbered off with undignified haste. The manager arrived and apologised, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of his Hotnot employee, promising to use a sjambok in the disciplining of him. Furthermore he ordered them a drink on the house. To make amends.

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