Landscapes changed. The low coastal plain, studded with settlements of huts that sprouted from sandy soil like withering toadstools, rose to hills dehydrated by sun and scorched by wildfire. A blow-dryer heat fanned the couples' sweat through clothes grown soggy wherever squashed between skin and bus seat. There was no game to be seen, only domestic animals: goats and cattle. Ubiquitous chickens strutted here and there, but under a sky with nary a bird of prey. Parched. Dusty. Barren, by comparison. Coconut-palms were supplanted by baobab and pale-skinned poison trees standing in isolation. Remote-seeming, mercilessly arid stretches of road were nonetheless populated; village after village signified people—seasoned by hardship, praying for rain.
    "How can so many folks eek out a living from such an unforgiving wasteland," Sebastian asked rhetorically? "And where have all the critters gone; migrated, dead from drought, poached to depletion?"
    The ride from Beira to Tete had become an endurance test. With one liter of water between them, each gulp felt precious. Yet both the weary travelers welcomed the change. Beira had been boring; they had left without regrets.
    "Do you know the story about baobabs, Yayuk? Seems they were complaining, shortly after Creation, about having been made with inelegant barrel-shaped trunks, envious of their slender more graceful peers, and God overheard. As punishment for their rank ingratitude, He plucked them from the earth, turned them upside down, and stuck them back in. That's why their branches are stunted and their roots spread out underground."
    Yayuk liked this depiction, charmed by the baobabs, too, their weird dimensions modeled as on some pre-schooler's 'concept'  of a tree. She also liked it when Sebastian gave credit where credit was due. Who made the baobabs? Who made the sky above, the earth below, and everything in between? Allah, that's who. She knew this beyond the shadow of a doubt. Not with her mind—that was Sebastian's province; anything outside logic he would dismiss—rather with her heart, and its alter-ego, her immortal soul.
    "You never will know life without you learn about spirit," she would declare. "Body without a spirit is body dead."
    In Tete, a town about one hundred kilometers from the Mozambique/Malawi border, they were greeted by blistering heat and Constantine Argropouli—a Zairian Greek—who was sharing his Carling's Black Label with Pensão Alves's pet baboon. Claiming to have crossed paths with the couple (who failed to recognize him) on no fewer than three occasions, Constantine befriended Sebastian and his... wife?... pleading their case to Sophia, the innkeeper's daughter—using flattery, brazen histrionics, and transparent lies—managing to secure them the last room available. He then went back to playing the monkey's uncle.
    Lodgings set, the "newlyweds" went for an evening stroll... coming upon a mosque as the faithful were called to prayer.
    "Let's go in, shall we?" Sebastian suggested.
    Yayuk balked.
    "I feel dirty, go inside a holy place with you."
   Despite Ms. Kertanegara's loose interpretation of Islamic practices—adhering, as she did, to almost none—she still considered herself a cultural Muslim. And a Muslim woman, even in easy-going Indonesia, was not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man—nor was it acceptable to traipse around the globe with one. Her relations with Sebastian, therefore, made her feel "unclean."
    Why indulge in them, he wanted to know? Why accept his invitation to see the world?
    She had refused to answer.
    Next morning, after turning down an almost done-deal with a black-market money-changer at the long-distance bus stop, Sebastian had his pocket picked. A young man had forced his way onto the jam-packed mini-van the couple was boarding, then off again, arousing their suspicion. Upon checking his unpinned pocket, Sebastian found their seventy-thousand meticais gone. With shades of Johannesburg darkening an otherwise sun-shiny departure, he tossed his pack to the already seated Ms. Kertanegara and tore after the culprit... apprehending him, as luck would have it! The thief (one of said money-changer's henchmen) stood trembling with red-handed anxiety, terrified lest the police be summoned—or worse, the gathering crowd seek vigilante justice. Producing the cash, he implored its owner (in Portuguese) to count it, then begged (mostly through body language) for the foreigner's mercy... which he received, as Sebastian merely wagged his finger at the thief like some reprimanding schoolmarm.

    "Should I have let him go, Yayuk? He’ll probably do it again to some other traveler."
    "When someone do wrong, then admit it, best not push," was Ms. Kertanegara's opinion.

    Shortly thereafter they were crossing the mighty Zambezi River, herds of cattle being driven through its shallower sections, reed-covered islands diverting its primeval flow, snaking its way from the hinterlands like some ancient Serpent of Lore...
    ... and three overcrowded hours after that, once delivered to customs at the Mozambican border, having finally converted their wad of rescued cash, Yayuk and Sebastian found themselves sidesaddle and astride the back fenders of two single-speed Chinese bicycles, having agreed on the fare of eleven thousand meticais (their last dollar's worth of local currency) for the five-kilometer ride to Malawian territory. Yayuk held on for dear life—uncomfortable in, and mortified by the capulana Sebastian cajoled her into wearing ("in deference to local mores," had been his device), while his less meaty pedal-er fell far behind... a purple sky brewing wet welcomes... the hilly countryside lush and adorned with Springtime green... their exit almost accomplished without undue incident.
    Cresting what he dearly hoped would be their final hill, Sebastian saw his predecessor in what looked like protective custody. An AK47-toting militiaman had stopped Yayuk midway, demanding she—and now Sebastian—present their respective passports. They did—the latter waxing poetic about Mozambique's "marvelous hospitality," blah, blah, blah, endeavoring to secure (without a bribe) their unhampered passage, conceding they would be lucky (eyeing the gun) to escape with their lives.
    Judging the pair not worth hassling, evidently, the soldier, with a nod, granted their release. Off they rode...
    ... good-bye Mozambique...
    ... hello Malawi!

 

PAIN...

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