by Henri Colt
“Oh, God!” Rashel’s outstretched fingers clawed at the gnarled bark of the baobab as I pounded her against the tree’s colossal trunk. I gazed upward through its leafless branches, tapered like the fractal anatomy of a human airway stretching into the sky. Not two feet away, quite oblivious to the teenager’s screams, a hoard of siafu, the vicious red Army ants of East Africa marched single-file toward their unsuspecting prey in the distance.
“Don’t stop,” she said. “Wait, no, no... stop.” She wiggled out of my grasp and slapped her hands onto my chest, pushing me away. “It’s too much,” she laughed. “Time out. It hurts. You have to stop.”
Seeing her flushed cheeks and the way her melted mascara darkened the skin around her eyes made me smile. “You look like a hyena in heat,” I said.
“And what would you know about scavengers?” she said. She leaned against the tree and pulled on her panties, pink, with little white flowers that stood out against her dark skin. “Or maybe, Hmm...”
I hadn’t told her that I won her by drawing straws at the embassy in Dar es Salaam. Nor that I bet we would have sex in each of Tanzania’s national parks. This was trip-day number four, and we were still in Tarangire. With several days to go and only three more parks to visit, my chances were looking good. I pulled up my trousers and looked around. “Your shorts are here, somewhere,” I said.
“Aw, now aren’t you an Eve-teaser.”
She sounded serious, so her words softened me like water in a warm jacuzzi. I didn’t take her homespun Indian-English euphemism for sexual assault lightly. “This was consensual,” I ventured. “Wasn’t it?”
“Let’s put it this way,” she said. “If my dad were here, he would not be happy.”
Now I was worried.
“But...” Then she broke laughing. “He’s not here!”
“Jesus, girl, don’t do that. You had me scared shitless.”
“Yeah. That’s what you get for telling the old man to let me come with you on safari. Oh, don’t worry, I knew I could handle all four of you.”
I never knew if it was the wine or the sustained euphoria from chewing too much khat that evening, or maybe just the shock of having almost died from Dengue fever, but when I first met Rashel at the embassy, I was mesmerized. Within seconds I lost any sense of decency that could have prevented me from seducing an eighteen-year-old.
Truth is, my friends were not evil in a criminal sort of way; they just had non-controlling superegos. Frog was the oldest. He was a surgeon who had been bumming around combat zones on the African continent for years. Jack was a humanitarian aid worker who collected women craving brief, life-changing experiences. He’s dead now...caught a stray bullet in Rwanda during an uprising. Thomas was a year older than me. He was a professional rock climber and wingsuit fanatic who had just tested HIV positive. He slept around without taking precautions even after his diagnosis. He’s dead too, but not from AIDS. I think he got hit by a bus in Cairo or something. Anyway, I told Rashel I ran black market gemstones through East Africa. She didn’t care to know much else. Besides, she didn’t think the sixteen years between us was that big a deal anyway. It was only twice as much as between Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen, she said.
So, I asked my friends to put in a good word with her father, the ambassador. Rashel had just arrived from New Delhi, and he thought seeing animals on safari would be good for her. The five of us could share my Toyota Landcruiser, I said. It was already packed with enough food for an eight-day trip, so I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to court her, but I didn’t tell him that. I mean, my friends were going to say something after our bet, but they were drinking too much that night.
After leaving Tarangiri, we were rumbling across the savanna when I told her. My friends were leaning out the windows to escape the Tsetse flies, and with the cacophony of the Landcruiser, they couldn’t have heard anything anyway.
“Next stop is Lake Manyara,” I said, “unless we drive straight on through Ngorongoro Crater to Olduvai Gorge in the east. Then we can enter the Serengeti through the Naabi Hill Gate.
She didn’t seem impressed.
“Rashel,” I said, getting her attention. “I won you in a bet, and we have to have sex in every national park.” Her eyes opened wide, but at first, she didn’t say anything. I marveled at the way her hair was dyed a raven-blue that matched her painted fingernails. I closed my eyes, and for a moment, I remembered the red butterfly tattoo that garnished her left ankle, now covered by her low-cut hiking boots she was still wearing barefoot. When she spoke, her British accent was marked with cute colloquialisms she had picked up while living in India.
“I won’t act pricey,” she said, popping into my arms to kiss me. That meant she wasn’t going to play hard to get. Her cut-off jeans were short and tight. Her small rump and plump but inviting thighs begged to be fondled. She whispered into my ear. “It does sound kind of exciting,” she said. “I mean, sex on safari, just a one-of in every camp.” She pronounced of with an f, rather than with a v sound like the rest of us would. “Where do we club it next?”
I had never heard the expression.
“You know, get together.” She laughed hilariously as she climbed over my knees to squeeze into a space the size of a jerrycan between me and the window. Her hand was wrapped tightly around my biceps as we began bouncing around like unsecured luggage. My friends were still talking, so I could hardly hear her speak into my shoulder
“In all seriousness,” she said, “and it’s true.
“What?” I said, incredulous.
“Yes, until a moment ago.” She said it again. “Until a moment ago, I was a virgin.”
Some things are beautiful, I thought...simply beautiful and timeless, like a baobab, or the wildebeest, and even the zebra herds that migrate to the Masai Mara along the western corridor of the Serengeti.
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