The warning was explicit: Do not walk around the compound at night without an armed guard. So, where was I?
Bill drained his in one gulp and hurried me with mine. He wanted to go back to the chalet to “wash up” before dinner and did not want to wait on a guard to escort us.
Twenty yards to the chalet.
Two weeks prior to our arrival at the game reserve, lions mauled and killed two people — inside the fifteen-foot electrified fence. They attacked the older gentleman a few feet from his chalet. Then, they attacked his wife when she came searching for him.
The song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, was sweet and romantic when a group of four young men serenaded us on our wedding night. Now it was a prayer.
There wasn’t any light, not even a sliver of a moon and I could see only a few feet in front of me and almost nothing behind.
What was that?
I squinted in a vain effort to improve my night vision. Something was moving around in the shadows beneath trees beside the river. Please let it be monkeys! They were the only creatures besides lions who could get inside the compound. But they slept at night ...
Almost close enough to run, but running wasn’t wise with predators lurking.
I looked at the inky black space behind the staircase leading to our chalet and envisioned huge, clawed paws reaching out and grabbing my ankles as I climbed.
We closed and bolted the door.
Bill made a beeline for the restroom, revealing the reason behind his urgent retreat from the group. All the rich food had tipped the sensitive balance of his digestive system, poor guy.
I sank onto the bed, an enormous king draped in mosquito netting and drenched in pillows. Even though our room wasn’t one of the Presidential suites, it boasted rich wood, elegant drapery, cushioned chairs, and our own mini-bar stocked with assorted cold drinks.
A gift basket sat on the table, a new addition since our game drive.
A card was tied to the handle by a tiny blue ribbon, a wedding gift from the lodge staff. Nestled amid colorful tissue were two bananas, a couple packages of nuts, some individually wrapped chocolates and two bottles of sparkling water.
Bill exited the restroom. “Okay, let’s go eat.”
I looked at him and then the door. The dining room was back across the compound, through another vortex of heart-pounding-palm-sweating dark.
"Sweetheart, it'll be fine. No lion is going to eat us."
"Right. You heard what the manager said."
"They've reinforced the fencing since then. We'll be fine."
"Yeah, just like all those people in that book you gave me to read before we came."
"Death in the Long Grass is a hunting classic."
"Uh huh. All about man-eating lions."
"A little fear adds spice to life."
"I don't need any spice, thank you."
Bill held the door open.
Against my better judgement, I stepped out the door and into The Gauntlet.
We made it to the dining room without sight (and thank you, Lord) no sound of any lions. Even the pride milling around the entrance gate was silent. Had one roared I am not sure if I would have become the fastest woman alive (alive being the key word here), or if I would have remained frozen, rooted to the ground, unable to move, and become a statistic.
Our brave dash across the dark compound was for nothing. The dining room was locked and darker than the compound. It seemed everything was dark that night, especially my mood.
Bill peered through huge window. “I know dinner was served earlier, but I was sure they’d offer something to us after the game drive.”
I agreed. "At least sandwiches."
As usual, Bill handled the situation with grace and immaculate aplomb. “Oh well, one missed meal won’t ruin our trip. I’ll be okay until breakfast, how about you, Sweetheart?”
“Well,” I replied, “There’s a gift basket with snacks in the chalet....”
I looked back across the compound. The chalet lay past a long, long stretch of black, inky space. I prayed the old adage “three times is a charm” didn't include lions.
Five heart-pounding minutes later, we were back inside the chalet, sitting opposite each other in the plush wicker chairs, staring down at our evening repast. We each had a banana, a small package of nuts, a few chocolates pieces, and a bottle of sparkling water.
“If you chew slowly it fills you up quicker.”
Bill stared at his portion, entirely cupped in one hand. “Right.”
After consuming the contents of the basket, we crawled into bed, tired, cold, and hungry. Even so, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
The next morning, the dining room was packed with other guests, each one smiling and nodding as we entered.
I whispered to Bill, “What's going on?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea.”
He headed straight for the buffet table. I followed, still wondering why we seemed to be the center of everyone's attention.
The lodge manager walked over. “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Pulliam.”
“How are you?”
“Fine.” Bill replied.
The man hovered, something else was on his mind. “We missed you at dinner last night.”
“Well,” Bill answered, “we came down to the dining room, but it was locked, all the lights were off, and we didn’t see anyone around. Figuring we somehow missed dinner, we went back to our chalet.”
The manager sighed. “We waited for a half hour and then realized you had left the group before I announced dinner was in the Boma, not the dining room.”
Boma is an African word meaning eating place, an open space surrounded by a fence, filled with dining tables, an open fire, and a long buffet table. My mouth watered as I pictured a whole lamb, pig, or half a cow roasting on a huge spit — sizzling and savory. I envisioned the buffet covered with salads, breads, soups, potato dishes, pasta dishes, vegetables, and desserts.
The manager continued. “We sent a tracker to escort you to the Boma, but when he arrived at your chalet it was dark, and well,” He hesitated, then said, “knowing you are newlyweds, he was unsure whether to knock, or not.”
I envisioned the poor tracker shuffling his feet outside the door, debating on whether to disturb us, while Bill and I were inhaling our meager snacks.
Bill grinned, and said, “Please don't worry about it. It was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. If missing one meal is the worst thing we encounter on this trip, we will be very lucky.”
Relieved, the manager wished us a good day and moved on to other guests.
I elbowed Bill. “I told you to turn on the lights.”
“Well, Sweetheart, I didn’t see any need to burn every light in the place in order to eat a handful of snacks.” With a wink, he added, “Besides, it was romantic, wasn’t it?”
Romantic? Standing in a darkened room, shivering from cold and shattered nerves, starving, and so tired my bones ached, was not my definition of the word.
I looked down at my ring. Now that was romantic. We bought it at a South African diamond emporium in Johannesburg. The simple design was elegant, and perfect. Seven diamonds sparkled in a white-gold scalloped band. Back in our room at the Bed and Breakfast, Bill slipped it on my finger and vowed to honor and cherish me for the rest of his life…
****Bill raised his glass of sparkling wine. “Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart.”
“Happy Anniversary, Honey. Haven’t the years flown by.” He grinned. “The happiest years of my life.”
I cuddled closer. “Mine too.”
“We should go back to Africa.”
“I’ll go in a heartbeat on one condition. Don't spice it up too much.” I put a finger to his lips. “Don’t say it. I don’t care what Winston Churchill said. I’m not an adrenaline junkie like you, and I don’t want to feel the thrill of being shot at and missed — or stalked, but not eaten.”
Bill's eyes twinkled. “I have just the book for you to read.”
“What? Another Death in the Long Grass? Thanks, but no thanks.”
“This one is excellent. I know you'll enjoy it.”
“Where does this one take place? Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya? Is it a pride of man-eaters or just a single lion stalking and devouring anyone it comes across?”
“South Africa. Kruger National Park. Several prides....”
All storytelling aside, a card sat on the top of the coffee maker.
I wish I could write a book with separate chapters for every reason why my life is warmer, brighter, better, and a thousand times more fun because of you.
***Below are some of our photos.
|My husband, Bill, just before the wedding|
|Me, just before the wedding|
|Third Floor of the Safari Lodge|
|Table decor of African Protea and greens|
|After our vows, standing with the Magistrate|
|Lion photographed in Edeni Game Reserve, South Africa|
|The Trail down to Victoria Falls|
|Dining Hut at Camp by Limpopo River in Zimbabwe|
|Baobab Tree in Zimbabwe|
|Wild Elephants along the Zambezi River|
|Victoria Falls from Above|
|Giraffe in Edeni Game Reserve, South Africa|
|Sunrise in Edeni, South Africa|
|South African Wild Dogs, South Africa|
|Inyala Buck in South Africa|
|Young Cape Buffalo in South Africa|
|Aloe Trees at The Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe|
|Dancers at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe|
|More Dancers at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe|
|Our Chalet at the second camp|
|Top of Great Zimbabwe|
|Leopard in Edeni Game Reserve|
|Sunset in Zimbabwe|