CHAPTER EIGHT

"LOY-AL´-I-TY"


    Sebastian did not speak to Yayuk for two days straight, breaking his rancorous silence only in social situations as a face-saving courtesy. Otherwise his "dirty filthy mouth," as it had been reviled, stayed shut. With the flu in full possession of Ms. Kertanegara's sinus and chest cavities—menstrual cramps exacerbating her overall malaise—Sebastian's retribution verged on "cruel and unusual." Yet she had deserved it, and recognized the fact—having lost control again, verbally and physically, assaulting Mr. Lazarus despite his cry of "Karonga," unable to stop herself, his forced false calm infuriating; and that tongue of his, showing off its English while stabbing at her weak spots, drove her, when she dwelled on it, to distraction: always in the right, always taking her to task, always heaping blame on her when he was the rogue. "It's not my fault we're finished," he had said, as if the only point of view in the world were his. What about hers? "I feel I am nothing," she had countered, suspicious of his so-called 'need to be alone.' His need to sneak off and play with other women, was more like it; cheap women, too, waitresses, hotel workers—prostitutes, each and every one of them. She knew about his past habits. She knew he had even mistaken her for a woman of easy virtue, a plaything for his travels, a character for his stupid un-publishable books. "Who I am, you say ‘finished!’" she had remonstrated. Did he really think he could cast her off so casually, put her in the same category as his come-and-go whores, his disposable sluts, she, Yayuk Kertanegara, a good (if non-practicing) Muslim from an aristocratic family (on her father's side) of high moral principles and respectable social rank? That was the bottom line; compatible or not, Yayuk was unprepared to endure the scorn and dishonor awaiting her back home should she return jilted. No matter what, she never would retreat in shame and humiliation. If she and Sebastian decided—"in a level-headed manner"—that neither one could get along with the other, so be it. But not this way, not with hostility, not with her asking his forgiveness only to have it withheld. The advantage had shifted. It had been hers after Karonga; Sebastian's shove (in dubious self-defense) had made him feel guilty. But in Lamu, Yayuk had been the aggressor. Sebastian's non-retaliation had won the day. Clearly, the present fault was hers. Clearly, it provided a powerful lever. Would he use it to pry them apart, or would their bond prevail?

 

    Reports of Somali guerrillas ambushing buses to rob, rape, murder, then mutilate tourists, prompted both of the German couples to leave Lamu by air. Yayuk and Sebastian decided to take their chances overland. On monosyllabic speaking terms by their dawn departure, they boarded the Faza Express ferry—accompanied by an armed escort of fifteen militiamen—and were transported to the mainland shortly thereafter. Met by a tag-team of ramshackle buses eager to eat one another's dust, the couple found seats, then braced themselves for the unpaved, roadblock-studded gauntlet connecting Mokowe to Malindi. Yayuk's cold contributed kilos of mucous to kilometers of discomfort; Sebastian's scratchy throat forewarned he was next—their marathon trek to Nairobi begun un-propitiously.

    Insofar as no Somalis intercepted them for a detour into mayhem, the trip, if uneventful, was safe through Mombasa. Arriving early enough for a late-afternoon lunch at Splendid Hotel's rooftop restaurant, the pair relaxed before trudging across town to confirm their train reservations.
    "Are you going to make it?" Sebastian asked (at relative length); Ms. Kertanegara's death-door pallor was far from reassuring.
    "I will always okay," she asserted gamely.
    So off they went, lugging their luggage, relieved to learn at the station that their places had been saved (despite no advance payment). Depositing four thousand shillings, their bags, and Ms. Kertanegara, Sebastian left in search of sanitary napkins and some reasonably priced drinking water.
    Preoccupied with her soggy "Stayfree," her runny nose,  and her skull-splitting headache, Yayuk sat consulting her guide's "Places to Stay" section for Nairobi (or Nai-robbery, as the locals called it), alternately sniffling and parrying questions from a Kenyan man who insisted she looked Chinese.
    Returning with a dust-covered, water-damaged packet of panty-shields—which Yayuk summarily rejected—Sebastian headed out again beyond the depot's well-policed grounds, tapping his "magic" walking stick conspicuously whenever potential waylayers crossed his path. This technique for warding off Johannesburg-variety hyenas seemed to work, either because the stick was perceived as a weapon, or because its ornaments were suspected of possessing shamanistic power—the suggestion of which Sebastian cultivated by the things he attached. To whit:
        the arm and fist-shaped bone of an unidentified animal tied on with tire bias;
        a crow's scraggly feather;
        two pieces of fabric, one red, the other yellow with zebra-like stripes;
        a wooden root resembling an elephant's miniaturized trunk;
        and a section of green rubber tubing fused, via drippings from a melted plastic shopping bag, to a blue bulbous tip.
     Other talismans had come and gone, failing the test of durability imposed by rough-and-tumble travel.
    "Are you a witch doctor?" oglers would ask from time to time, intrigued, bemused, or intimidated by the curious staff. Whereupon Sebastian would launch into his elaborate explanation of the artifact's covert features—in spite of Yayuk's caution that someone might take him seriously.

 

     Clickety-clack, clickety-clack the Mombasa-Nairobi rail line soon drummed its time-honored rhythm through the couple's second-class compartment, which luckily they cohabited irrespective prudish dorm-style rules, having prevailed upon a similarly segregated twosome to swap berths—man with men and woman with women thereby circumvented. Together, then, they stood adjacent their berth at an open window to watch as youngsters waved from strategic perches along the railroad tracks...
        as children do worldwide,
        mesmerized by each train's thunderous passage,
        dreaming of its destination,
        envying the back-lit faces that, lickety-split, flash past,
        in cubicles of luxury,
        that rumble, grumble, chug through the evening-turned-night...
... Yayuk and Sebastian gazing at the overhead stars between intermittent flashes from camp fires, trash fires, brush fires that dotted the embankment, bends in the rail-bed bringing engine and caboose into simultaneous view, the pair hugging like young lovers, the chill air adding comfort to their bodies' snug proximity, listening to the dinner bell sound (a xylophone actually), its metallic tune reminiscent of days gone by when British gentry rode between their colony's two major cities—port to the interior then back to port—in style, remnants of that decadence retained by the fresh-cut flowers adorning starched white tablecloths awaiting in the dining car, where Yayuk filched a peony and tucked it behind her ear, her right ear signaling eligibility, marriage-ability, to Mr. Lazarus—who mourned, of a sudden, his dinner-date's time of moon.

     It was a memorable trip, made even more so by sightings of game next morning; wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle populated the rolling National Park outside Nairobi—a pristine landscape that all-too-soon gave way to a shanty-town squalor.
     Not that Nairobi was entirely devoid of virtue, as Yayuk and Sebastian appreciated the following day after their first slugs of "The Finest Kenyan Coffee Supplied By The Cup" at The Coffeehouse on Mama Ngina Street. It was there that they planned what would be the last two weeks of their five-month campaign.
     A safari was in order. Ms. Kertanegara had yet to see a lion. Sebastian promised, before they left the continent, that Yayuk would behold the King of Beasts...
    ... in the wild...
    ... in Masai Mara, as it turned out, the couple booking a five-day package tour with an outfit called Savuka.
     Settled into one of three pop-top vehicles, with an international cast of offbeat characters, the Indonesian and the American assumed their seats—with Yayuk clutching a bar of pure Drösté chocolate...
    ... a gift for Idul Fitri from Sebastian, of whom she had asked forgiveness, according to Islamic custom:
     "I know you are not Muslim," she had qualified, kneeling before Sebastian up in their room, "but please forgive me; I apologize, really say sorry for all I do wrong." She then kissed his hands.
     Mr. Lazarus, embarrassed and touched by this undue civility, begged forgiveness in turn, then offered Yayuk the candy—after which Savuka's van had collected them.
     As the couple watched suburban blight transform into rural farms and greenery, they committed their untamed hearts to the African wild.

 

     And wild it was! A whooping hyena haunted the camp that night, the law of eat-or-be-eaten enforced outside each tin-roof-sheltered tent, where sunset's bloodshot colors were stanched by a bruised cumulonimbus, lightning and thunder following, then rain, its wind-blown violence pounding overhead like a thousand ball-peen hammers. Theirs had been a spectacular entry into Kenya's premiere Game Reserve, February storm clouds sweeping across vast stretches of revitalized grassland, the sky as electrically charged as the hoofed herds beneath—nostalgic scenes to Sebastian, who had visited once before; brand spanking new to Ms. Kertanegara who thrilled at every tableau:
        zebra paired head to rump, shoulder to flank, poised to run in opposite directions should a predator threaten;
        Thompson's gazelle, sprinting in bursts of nervous energy, their black horizontal markings extended into streaks;
        clownish wildebeest, shaking blond beards and shaggy manes between fitful, random gallops;
        topi, front legs planted on mounds to gain vantage, statuesque in their shoe-polish black-and-brown hides;
        water buffalo, staring dense bovine stares from under massive horn-crowned brows, wet-nosed, thick with mud, reputedly lethal in their territoriality;
        warthog, ugly as gargoyles, rooting in roadside wallows, foiling tusk-on close-ups as they high-tailed away;
        these and many other images replayed like drive-in movies on the tent's canvas walls, as night revived the couple's Day One menagerie.
     Day Two brought Ms. Kertanegara face to face with the King of Beasts—the Queen of Beasts, in point of fact—a lioness walking nonchalantly toward her cubs.
     Their first sighting of a full-grown male—His Majesty snoozing beside a zebra carcass—came on Day Three, along with two hyenas, a pair of jackals, and a circling flock of buzzards, all queuing up to dine on the rotting feast. None of these were so bold, however, as the 'camera-toting' scavengers who encroached from the relative safety of their circling vans and jeeps. This four-wheel-drive assault on the Park's four-legged denizens had become quite a problem. Carnivores in particular suffered, their maneuvers interrupted, often intercepted by the snapshot-hungry tourists—aided and abetted by tip-conscious guides. It was the old trophy mentality in a new getup; instead of mounting heads for display on their den walls back home, Great White Hunters shot film and digitized video to show off on screen. Few safari-goers, alas, evinced any interest whatever in observing animal behavior—Yayuk and Sebastian the two lone exceptions, ruing the crass aggressiveness of their point-and-shoot peers, embarrassed at being a party to intrusions on various and sundry species, concluding that African Game Parks were glorified zoos; huge, of course, less confining, but predetermined to shrink and thereby imprison.
     "They don’t care about the animals, Sebastian, just want people's money."
     Yayuk's simplification was all-too true. Yet she and Sebastian agreed that the experience had been worthwhile, eavesdropping, as they had, on a cheetah mother with four cubs, gratified to see, upon revisiting the family later, that a kill had been made between serving as everybody's photo-darlings.
     Watching a lion pride on the prowl also had been exciting, its six members fanning out along a ridge overlooking an anxious herd of zebra, gazelle, and topi—one of the latter standing watch, then snorting its nasal alarm, as the hunt had commenced. Again, vehicles converged from every direction. Prey, once more, escaped their predators' hungry jaws.

     Other highlights, as reviewed by the couple once returned to Mama Ngina Street, included:
        silhouetted monkeys in the treetops bedding down of an evening just behind camp;
        hippos grunting stentorian "OINKS" through their river-protuberant nostrils;
        the insidiously silent submergence of a serpentine crocodile;
        an ostrich triumvirate racing with high-stepping strides as caravans gave chase;
        groups of impala bounding through the bush, their shapely horns resplendent in early-morning sunlight;
        giraffe, like loping exclamation marks, trailing puffs of dust through the veldt's open spaces;
        and finally flocks of flamingo, first at Lake Elementiata then at Lake Nakuru, their stunning plumage glorious, awe-inspiring, as they skimmed the tranquil shallows with upside-down beaks, in numbers doubled by the sultry water's reflection... Yayuk stalking... allowed to leave the vehicle despite waterbuck, warthog, and rhino grazing in the vicinity... inching her way toward water's edge... squatting, once there... contemplating the unlikelihood of anyone other than Allah creating such splendor... realizing, in a flash, that human beings like birds were so busy domestically they seldom came to understand things Divine—except through intuition, the frailest of inklings, or through the pure-born heart's fortuitous leap of Faith.
     "Religion not for people to control other people," Yayuk philosophized back at The Coffeehouse. "Religion more like showing there is something we cannot touch, cannot even describe. Religion also reminds us to act like human beings."

 

"Hopeless...

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