Night Journey

Still, in military rank, stood empty buses. On hard packed earth, floodlights made starbursts of shadow cast from groups of people gathered to smoke, to gossip or just wait. Our bus, awaiting passengers, stood by the gate. The uniformed conductor smiled and passed our packs up to a luggage handler on the roof above. We boarded the half empty bus and in dark shadow took our seats among black silhouettes of fellow passengers. Three Aussie youth, their passage marked by smell of beer, passed by our seats to sit apart. Insensitive to local sensibilities, in vulgar speech insulted they the culture, dress, and speech of blacks and Africa. Mortified we sat, while these vulgar youth confirmed each prejudice against our race. We hoped that we would not be held responsible or branded by their boorish acts. At last they drank themselves oblivious and slept. Along dark roads, our headlights carved the night, and once, giraffe, graceful in the ghostly night, crossed our path. Fitful sleep and conversation, an uneventful border check, and then Arusha’s terminal at three A.M. A single spotlight, hung above the yard, cast down a pool of light around the bus. The porter climbed the bus and passed the baggage down, except the Aussies’ and our own. While I climbed up to get our bags, the light went out. Our packs retrieved, the Aussies left to find more beer while we, through darkness walked towards the terminal. Beneath the harsh fluorescent lights we sat alone on wood-slat bench. A nearby counter served hot tea. Three locals drank. But when I asked for tea, I was ignored and then, contemptuous, they turned their backs and walked away. Foreboding grew and then we heard, a loud disturbance from the back of crashing sounds and angry, loud, Swahili words. We could not understand the words but tone was clear and bellowed English “Rape of Mother Africa”, and “Fucking Queen Elizabeth” made clear the target of his wrath. We sat, alert and tense, eyes strained towards the sound. A man, quite drunk, but muscular and tall emerged. Anger unabated, he staggered, almost fell and then his bloodshot eyes fell hard upon the two of us, alone, our white skin pale, the sheen of sweat upon our face. Before us on the floor he paced, and swore, and spat, and vented spleen and hatred hot of Western power. Swahili words with English mixed he flung at us to make his case. and we, the objects of his ire, just sat. An outward calm belied the turmoil of our thoughts. Hoping to avoid a further escalation, we kept our eyes toward our books, but kept close watch upon his feet, in case he moved beyond foul speech, to violence. I held very little hope from confrontation. Should I prevail a local jail might be my home. I saw no help in fight or flight from locals who had turned their backs and so I freed my knife and waited, tense, for dawn. My book was upside down, I turned it right side up. Despite the chill of morning, sweat rolled down my back and still he raved. At last near dawn he wandered off and I relaxed, my book still open but its pages left unturned.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved

Night Journey

Still, in military rank, stood empty buses. On hard packed earth, floodlights made starbursts of shadow cast from groups of people gathered to smoke, to gossip or just wait. Our bus, awaiting passengers, stood by the gate. The uniformed conductor smiled and passed our packs up to a luggage handler on the roof above. We boarded the half empty bus and in dark shadow took our seats among black silhouettes of fellow passengers. Three Aussie youth, their passage marked by smell of beer, passed by our seats to sit apart. Insensitive to local sensibilities, in vulgar speech insulted they the culture, dress, and speech of blacks and Africa. Mortified we sat, while these vulgar youth confirmed each prejudice against our race. We hoped that we would not be held responsible or branded by their boorish acts. At last they drank themselves oblivious and slept. Along dark roads, our headlights carved the night, and once, giraffe, graceful in the ghostly night, crossed our path. Fitful sleep and conversation, an uneventful border check, and then Arusha’s terminal at three A.M. A single spotlight, hung above the yard, cast down a pool of light around the bus. The porter climbed the bus and passed the baggage down, except the Aussies’ and our own. While I climbed up to get our bags, the light went out. Our packs retrieved, the Aussies left to find more beer while we, through darkness walked towards the terminal. Beneath the harsh fluorescent lights we sat alone on wood-slat bench. A nearby counter served hot tea. Three locals drank. But when I asked for tea, I was ignored and then, contemptuous, they turned their backs and walked away. Foreboding grew and then we heard, a loud disturbance from the back of crashing sounds and angry, loud, Swahili words. We could not understand the words but tone was clear and bellowed English “Rape of Mother Africa”, and “Fucking Queen Elizabeth” made clear the target of his wrath. We sat, alert and tense, eyes strained towards the sound. A man, quite drunk, but muscular and tall emerged. Anger unabated, he staggered, almost fell and then his bloodshot eyes fell hard upon the two of us, alone, our white skin pale, the sheen of sweat upon our face. Before us on the floor he paced, and swore, and spat, and vented spleen and hatred hot of Western power. Swahili words with English mixed he flung at us to make his case. and we, the objects of his ire, just sat. An outward calm belied the turmoil of our thoughts. Hoping to avoid a further escalation, we kept our eyes toward our books, but kept close watch upon his feet, in case he moved beyond foul speech, to violence. I held very little hope from confrontation. Should I prevail a local jail might be my home. I saw no help in fight or flight from locals who had turned their backs and so I freed my knife and waited, tense, for dawn. My book was upside down, I turned it right side up. Despite the chill of morning, sweat rolled down my back and still he raved. At last near dawn he wandered off and I relaxed, my book still open but its pages left unturned.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved