Lovestruck

The morning had gone well. My client Sheldon T, had taken a brilliant Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest, which would rank high in the Rowland Ward and SCI record books. It had been a touch and go affair from the onset. The herd had sensed something amiss and was switched on. We had the wind, and we had the cover, they had the their sixth sense working overtime. The herd was coming crosswind across a large dambo, a mile and a half long by half a mile wide. The 8” high grass provided little cover for predators of any kind. We were in the edge of the four-foot tall short grass, and moving towards the herd to cut the distance. The bull we were after stood out among the hundred and fifty, or so, other animals.

Joseph, my tracker, looked at me as he whispered, “Mkubwa sana.”

I nodded in silent agreement and set the sticks up, and motioned Sheldon to steady himself for the shot. The herd was moving in a strung out mass, and had closed to just about one hundred yards. “Do you see him,” I asked?

“I see lots of him’s, which one is it,” Sheldon quipped?

“He is the animal facing us on our side of the herd. There is a calf just on his left,” I answered.

“Is he stopped now and shaking his head?”

“No, he is further left. Six animals to the left. The calf is now directly under his nose.” There was urgency in my voice, the herd now eighty yards from us, and the lead group was beginning to slow.

“OK, I think I got him. Calf is crossing in front of him moving further left.”

“Yes that’s him, take him when you can–” My words were interrupted by the blast of his .375 H&H. The herd momentarily froze and then erupted in a concerted flight, generally in our direction. I lost sight of the bull immediately. Joseph and I closed in front of the client and yelled as we stepped out onto the dambo. The herd swung wheeling away from us at a distance of less than ten yards. They were swallowed in the dust cloud they created. I reached back and grabbed the sticks and a startled Sheldon and we ran out twenty or thirty yards further in the dambo. The herd had kicked on the afterburners and was well over two hundred yards away as they fled in fear. I saw the bull clearly struggling to keep up. He offered a going away shot and a very small target.

“Do you see him, there at the back of the herd, Sheldon?”

“ Yes,” Sheldon acknowledged as he mounted the rifle on the sticks.

“Hold on the top of his neck just below the horns, and shoot!”

The gun went off again and I tell you it was just like a scene out of an American baseball game, the wildebeest slid head first for a home plate he would never reach. The dust cloud he created plowing thirty feet of dry meadow with his nose was impressive. Hell the entire sequence was impressive. I slapped Sheldon on the back and we all took a minute to congratulate the proud hunter on his well-earned trophy.

This bull grew in size the closer we got to him. I sent Dominique, our Masai game scout, back to fetch the car. We finished the mandatory photo session just as the car arrived. We loaded the animal and headed back to camp. It was 11AM. I could see a nap in my future.

In camp, John my driver, dropped Sheldon and I in front of the client tents. I told Sheldon to freshen up, drop his gear and meet me in dining tent when he was ready. We would take a rest and head out around three. I stopped at the dining area and Juma met me, a broad smile on his face, and a sweat-beaded bottle of cold Coke in his hand. I sat down in a camp chair and we talked a bit about the lunch and dinner menu. Sheldon arrived a while later and joined me. I got him a very cold Guiness and we relived the morning hunt.

Dongai, the server, delivered my camps favorite lunch. Avocados here in east Africa are huge, easily two pounds or more apiece. Juma prepares one by cutting it in half, he removes the pit and then fills the crater with a coarse grated mixture of shredded carrots and red onion. He then pours a reduced balsamic vinegar and oil mixture with spices over the center until it is full, covering it with foil to chill until serving. Wonderful stuff for a lunch salad. Dongai added chilled fire roasted tommy filet and thick circular fried chips, finishing everything with Juma’s famous sticky buns. We ate very well that day, conveyed our thanks to the staff and Sheldon and I headed for our respective tents.

The two client tents and the two PH tents were separated by more than a hundred yards. The PH tents were about a hundred feet behind the cooking area, with our vehicles parked directly in front. Our tents faced northwest, mine to the right of Sebastian’s as you approached. A dozen feet or more in front of Seb’s tent and a bit east was our wash basin and mirror for shaving nailed to fair sized dead tree. Where the tree had once forked we had chain-sawed a flat spot for the plastic basin. I was just about to my tent when I heard my name being called. It was my driver John. He said I was needed in the skinning shed. I quickly headed towards the huge machan-like platform built high in a tree, surrounded by a six foot thorn boma, two hundred yards further to the north of our tents. I was extremely cognizant that my opportunity for a nap was fading.

A hyena had breached the boma during the night and tried to make off with some skulls simmering in a very large pot precariously perched on top of a delicately balanced steel grate. In braving the heat of the low coals, the unlucky hyena had grabbed a set of fringe eared oryx horns and pulled them fiercely toward him. A brief tug of war must have ensued, before the hyena was momentarily victorious. The animal had succeeded in tipping over the huge pot, the scalding water drenching him, and to add fatality to bad luck the water caused him to free the horns and somehow with the pot adding its weight and momentum the hyena became skewered by the same gemsbok horns he had so wanted. It really was quite a bizarre end to one of Africa’s most bizarre animals.

Satisfied that I had indeed seen this with my own eyes, John and Dominique were content. Suddenly a shot rang in the direction of the cook tents and we immediately ran towards the sound. The dining tent was vacant. We peered around the grass wall towards the cooking area and no one was in evidence. I walked boldly around the fires and saw Seb near the wash basin tree, his shotgun in hand. I walked towards him and as I grew close I followed his eyes to my tent fly. And the large tattered hole through the front and right-hand edge of the screens.

“Sweet Jesus man. What have you done,” I challenged?

“Teo, Teo, it was like out of a film. I was lying in my bunk and thought you were playing a trick on me.”

“Seb, come to your senses, and tell me what you’re talking about?”

“I’m trying, I’m trying. Let me explain. Like I said I thought you were playing a trick. I was lying in bed, reading and I heard a tap-tap on my tent wall. The wall between our tents. Then tap-tap on the rear wall. Then moments later tap-tap on the wall where I was lying in bed. I raised my hand and smacked the tap-tap as it hit the canvas near my head. By this time I had had enough. I threw open my canvas fly and there I was face to face with a two and half meter banded cobra, head flared out just on the other side of my screened fly. I flew back to my bunk grabbed the shotgun and gently lifted the canvas. No snake. No where. I lifted the screened fly and it was nowhere to be found. I looked under the cruisers, nothing. Then I saw your screen fly was open and your canvas fly hanging down, unzipped. I called for little Jon-Jon and received no answer. I called for Dongai and he came quickly. I told him to walk around your tent and hit the canvas walls. Nothing. I gathered my wits and entered your screen fly area, lifted the canvas fly with the gun and there the snake was under your bunk. The light from the open fly must have drew his attentions and he came for where I was standing. I jumped back twice and he came into the screened portion and rose up, head four feet in the air and big around as a dinner plate, and I blasted him. Sorry about the holes…”

“Jesus, where is he now?”

“Jon-Jon, where are you?

“Here Bwana,” a small voice said, coming around the hidden side of my tent.

Now Jon-Jon is about six foot four inches tall. He had a hoe tucked under one armpit and his hand gripped the shaft halfway towards the blade holding it level. Drapped around the crooked shank of the hoe’s head hung a firehose of a snake. Headless, gray and black banded, touching the ground on both ends.

“Geez, Jon-Jon go bury that nyoka far away, please. Go down past the trophy machan.”

“Ndio, Bwana,” and he was gone.

I began to shake a little, and I noticed I was not alone. Seb turned and set his gun inside his tent. We talked for a few minutes and all thoughts of sleep were long gone, I decided to get a quick shave. I gathered my kit poured some water into the basin and lathered up. Seb pulled an empty chop box over and we talked as I began to shave. Nothing memorable just recounting our day. Mine with a client, his in relaxation. I was just fininshing up when Seb leaped to his feet, grabbed me and threw me a few feet to the side.

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“Nyoka, nyoka,” he yelled

Believing I was being had I just about began to laugh when nearly three plus meters of gray black death went by our basin tree at good speed, headed directly for Juma and Dongai, sitting by the fires.

“Nyoka, nyoka,” we both screamed at the top of our lungs. Our guys would have given baboons lessons in speed. One minute they were sitting, talking quietly and the next, they were ten feet up a seriously large acacia tree. The snake made a fast u-turn just short of the fires and headed back in our direction. Seb leaped into his tent, I in the back of my cruiser. We both had our shotguns in hand and like a scene out of some old western movie we fired two rounds into the snake at less than three yards.

We looked at each other and climbed into the back of Seb’s cruiser and just looked over the area. In a few minutes, Juma, Dongai, Jon-Jon, Dominique, John and Joseph had joined us in the bed of the truck. We knew instinctively what had happened. The gravis female banded-cobra had first slithered the same path unseen, this lovesick male had just followed. We were all safe and sound, though I can tell you we all sat there in the cruiser for a good while until Jon-Jon took this last snake and buried it near the first.

Another nap had been thwarted. Sheldon slept blissfully until nearly three when Dongai awakened him for the evening hunt. He never had a clue about what had transpired.

 

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