There really was an entire bar inside a hollowed out baobab, with low tables and chairs assembled in a half circle under thatch extending from its trunk like a flared grass skirt—the shelter toward which Yayuk and Sebastian immediately headed upon reaching Chizumulu's rocky shore. Kubira Lodge was the sight of this renowned tree, about which the couple had heard from Helmut, among others, back in Cape Maclear. And when a welcoming staff-member assured the arrivals that genuine Malawi coffee was being served, their Ricoffy-weary faces lit up with Juan-Valdez smiles. Did it matter that the concrete floor of their rondavel   was furnished only with a mattress under a mosquito net, or that bathing was to be done in a boulder-bordered inlet down at the lake, or that the outhouses were of the pit variety ensuring trips thereto would be hold-your-nose bear-the-buzz tribulations, or that the only source of drinking water was unfiltered partially-boiled Lake Malawi itself, or that the twenty-three-year-old Lodge owner, during his thirty-six months of proprietorship, had come down with malaria eleven times, or that the flies by day and gnats by night conspired to make each mealtime a shoo-chew-shoo test of forbearance? Not much. Not when mornings could be whiled away sipping the real thing—whole coffee beans ground by hand, using an ntondo   (a large wooden mortar and pestle), then freshly brewed. Not when Betsy, Queen Bee within her rudimentary kitchen, turned out a constant stream of piping-hot delectables, from fruit scones—big, moist, and buttery, to chumbo  stew—served quaintly in coconut-shell bowls. Not when a fifteen minute climb to the island's re-forested gum trees earned vistas, in all directions, of unspoiled splendor, accompanied by choruses of cock crows and magpie caws, of rainy-season storms clapping with Doppler-effect thunder—storms which dropped their measure then vanished as abruptly as they appeared... magpie caws and cock crows once more predominant.
    On their first exploratory walk, the couple met a teacher named Joseph, who introduced them in turn to Chief Mabvula—one of six leaders on a land mass not much larger than Golden Gate Park. The Chief was a short man with an abbreviated torso, extra-long legs, hunchbacked, and chosen to rule from among four brothers and two sisters by his predecessor, Mrs. Mabvula, the family's matriarch. Informed that the Chief had converted to Christianity, Sebastian (using Joseph as an interpreter) launched into his homegrown religions spiel, citing the physical and spiritual genocide committed against Native Americans, and the loss of belief systems environmentally harmonious compared to their Euro-based replacements—'lessons to be learned by native peoples everywhere.'
    "Once you shift God from the land to somewhere above it, which is to say 'beyond' it, human beings become less reverential toward Mother Earth," ran Sebastian's argument, without his really having studied Indian cultures. His principal objection was to missionaries, who promulgated faiths he viewed as 'anti-indigenous.'
    "If you forbid the original practices, as Chief Wowa has done in Cape Maclear," (Sebastian had done some research) "you discredit a tribe's forefathers, which is disrespectful; it undermines a people's cultural heritage, not to mention the traditional lines of authority."
    Whether or not persuaded by Sebastian's unsolicited convictions, the Chief listened politely, shook the couple's hands upon parting, and vouchsafed they were welcome, any time, to visit his home. Yayuk, silent partner throughout this exchange, subscribed to Sebastian's views only to the extent that faiths—legitimate faiths—observe conjoint tolerance. Taking her cue from Islam, Yayuk formally recognized religions ‘of the book’—be it Torah, Bible, or Al-Qur’ân—while regarding her Indonesian ancestors' creed, Animism, somewhat askance. But to be totally devoid of religion—Sebastian's sorry state—was to be, in her opinion, beyond salvation. Yayuk therefore feared for her mate's Immortal Soul.
    "So proud you are, say ‘atheist.’ Human beings limited, Sebastian. You cannot understand about life, about death, using only your brain."
    "What other organ do you suggest?" was the skeptic's rejoinder.
    His heart, of course; Yayuk took exception to Sebastian's infernal logic. Intuition better unraveled certain truths. He thought in rational sequences, which was fine on the material plane, but was a flashlight missing batteries when investigating things supernatural. Faith was the source of power for shedding light on Spirituality. Faith was likewise the basis for successful relationships... especially marriage, as Yayuk forecast the steps their path might take, a path upon which she already had embarked the moment she boarded Garuda flight #801. This pilgrimage to Africa was merely a detour—interesting but incidental to Yayuk's prime objective: a faithful, everlasting bond with the man she loved... or an overdue return to her life of independence.

 

 

    Days bled together like watercolors on pre-moistened parchment, lake-baths at sunrise and sunset become favorite interludes for Yayuk and Sebastian both, morning-light toasting Ms. Kertanegara's marshmallow complexion, evening-light setting aglow Mr. Lazarus's deepening tan, youth revisiting his lean physique under Yayuk's appreciative glances, while prettiness, under Sebastian's, inundated hers. They climbed the island's only mountain—dubbed facetiously Chizumulu's "Kilimanjaro"—a hillock crested with aromatic stands of blue gum and pine... gray kites circling above... monitor lizards, with brilliant yellow-to-turquoise tails, scurrying underfoot... stones strewn everywhere... the landscape like a rock pile by verdure reclaimed.
    Afternoons were mostly lazy; a nap, a session of love-making, a stint of luxurious stupor, would be followed by a bit of sunning, a little reading, a lackadaisical chat—waking hours defined by scrumptious breakfasts, lunches, and candlelit dinners.


    Then, during a hike along the less populated eastern shore, Yayuk cried out!
    "Oh, pain! Uh, come, come! Pain, really pain!"
     Sebastian scrambled over the craggy terrain to where Yayuk was stuck, one foot wedged between the rocks—her ankle possibly broken. He dislodged the trapped limb gingerly... then, removing its sandal and sock, inspected the damage: no flesh wounds; a bruise begun over the bone; but swelling and heat from a fracture were nowhere in evidence.
    "Sprained," was his diagnosis.
    After the throbbing eased, Yayuk tried to walk—a wincing, limping, pathetic perambulation—recommending that Mr. Lazarus carry his damsel home.
    "But your bad knee; if broken, we both hopeless," was Yayuk's protest—Sir Galahad's left knee having been troublesome off and on for several weeks, ballooning with fluid on occasion to protect something "not-quite-right" inside. Nevertheless, Yayuk mounted up, her pleasure redoubled at being the recipient of so selfless a gesture, as Sebastian sweated and lumbered his way toward the lodge... approaching in full view of its staff and guests... depositing his crippled burden amid outcries of concern... Yayuk suddenly abashed by her status as the resident invalid.
    Her sprain turned out to be minor, just excuse enough to retard their already sluggish activity, Yayuk managing to hobble now and again with Sebastian's support... until his yen to wander off alone made the crocodile resurface.
    "You leave me? I cannot even walk? That's nice," was Ms. Kertanegara's stab at Sebastian's conscience.
    "I’m suffocating; can’t you see that? Every relationship needs a little breathing room. I’ll be back in half an hour"—though his departure suffered nearly as long a delay.
    Yayuk's need for attention held him like Chinese handcuffs; the harder he pulled, the tighter her grip became.
    After a tediously drawn out battle—old arguments rehashed without resolution—Sebastian left, muttering, his solitude won so bitterly it proved melancholic... while Yayuk vented her anger and sense of abandonment in a two-page harangue—read to him next day once tempers had abated.

    Were they a step closer to understanding one another? Would Chizumulu, in retrospect, become a metaphor, its insular peace and tranquility symbolic of the couple's ideal state, where individualities affably intertwine?

 

Warthogs...

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