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Sunday, May 19, 2013

BLOOD RIVER - The Beginnings

I have started Blood River and here are the first 2 chapters - I am on Chapter 3 right now ----


Of Wilson Akingbade



Reginald Dartington-Grant fell down for the fourth time, this time it was because he hadn't seen the fallen tree in the long, thick grass. He cursed as he sat back up on his haunches, his shirt wringing wet with sweat. He drew out a cloth from a pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow. Ahead, Mundata, his guide, had stopped and was looking back at him in exasperation.
"Bloody country, why is it so hot!" It wasn't a question, more of a challenge. Mundata didn't answer, it was his 'bloody country', and it was fine for him.
"Take a break, Mundata, I need a rest."
"Not here Mister Dartington-Grant, here is bad idea. Must get up there, to the rocks."
"No, I must stop."
Mundata looked past Reginald to the men carrying his bags on their heads. He wasn't going to risk all those lives. He called out in his own dialect, "Mukilile tatansuwika, jambasha nditote, zimzi, zimzi." He had given order to the bearers to pick up Reginald and follow him quickly up the rocky slope.
"Hey, what's going on?" Reginald felt himself bodily lifted off the ground by a huge man and slung over his shoulder like a rag doll.
"We must climb Mister Dartington-Grant; you hot and tired, Bakange carry you up. We cannot stay here. Must move, quickly."
"Why, what's wrong with here, it's shady, nice soft grass and lots of brightly coloured sticks I can study?"
"Not bright sticks, poisonous snakes, sleeping now, soon wake. We stay, we die."
Mundata was pointing down at three entwined 'Gaboon Adders', which looked like a pile of autumn leaves, mottled yellow and red with brownish tinges. These well-camouflaged snakes sleep in the heat of the day but it does not take much to wake them up. The bite of this adder is fatal if not treated within seven minutes. Mundata was right; they couldn't stay a moment longer. Reginald's fourth fall had caused vibrations in the ground and they were beginning to stir. Bakange increased his stride, stepping over a hissing snake as he did so, the others scrabbled up the rocks, and within two minutes, they were all up out of the adder-infested valley and back in the merciless sun. Reginald cursed as Bakange plonked him heavily onto the ground between two rocks. He had questioned the reason why he was there a dozen times since the ship had docked at the coast, a hundred miles away.

Seven weeks had passed since he sailed from Plymouth. After all that time at sea, only catching a glimpse of land now and then, he had been glad to get his feet on dry land.
It was eighteen hundred and nine and someone had suggested that he go deep into the interior of West Africa because a French explorer searching for the source of the Kandiachana River had said that there might be precious stones along its course.
His Majesty, King George III had despatched an order to Reginald's institution, the Royal Geological Society, to secure mining rights for the country. It was an easy order to give, but a tough one to fulfil. It was that order that influenced Reginald to join the Lady Jane Grey as she sailed out of Plymouth, bound for the colonies in the south. The Lady Jane Grey was a four masted schooner and faster than some at nine knots, but rolled a lot even in moderate swell. Reginald had spent the first four days lying on his bunk an awful green colour. He wished he could die and end the awful illness. 

After the first week, when the ship had cleared the Bay of Biscay, he felt a little better. He had enjoyed the brief respite as they docked in the Spanish Canaries to take on a few more passengers and supplies. He had strolled about the main town of Las Palmas on Grand Canaria and enjoyed a cool drink made from red wine and oranges. He decided that he would make a note to take some of that back to England on the return journey. He wished he had a jug full of it right now as he squinted up at the burning sun, high in the sky. It would be at least four hours before there would be any relief from its wicked finger.

"Mister Dartington-Grant, here is cave, inside please, we take break here."  Mundata pointed towards a black hole in the rocks behind Reginald and then to the others he called out in their dialect, "Bamba tuti minta na'ani assanta'ike. Puzza n'kize hakankita." In English, it translated as "Into the cave chaps with all the baggage."

Reginald needed no further bidding and headed for the cool cave. The bearers slid in behind him and stacked the kit bags against one wall. Mundata sat in the entrance and pulled out of his shoulder sling something that looked like a dried tree root. He pulled out a long sharp knife, cut a piece off the 'root', and flicked it into his mouth from the blade of the knife. The knife and 'root' returned to their original places and Mundata sat and chewed slowly and deliberately. Reginald watched and wondered, was Mundata chewing tobacco? Was it growing here too, not just in the Americas? He began to consider that it might be a more profitable venture if tobacco was growing wild in the country. Then he remembered the words of the King's messenger, "His Britannic Majesty demands that his envoy secure the mining rights in the hinterland behind his colony of Gold Coast and grants free and safe passage to his envoy to return home when he has fulfilled his demand."

Reginald knew the true translation of the message was, "The King says, 'get out to the land north of the Gold Coast, get me my mining rights, and you'll be allowed to come home'."
He knew that to fail meant exile or death. He knew that to change the end product from precious stones to tobacco would have the same result. He considered that it was worthwhile asking because he could not return empty-handed. At least if the riverbed came up empty, he could hold out tobacco as an offering. He called across to Mundata, "Hey, Mundata, what do you call that? I mean what are you chewing?"
Mundata looked at him quizzically and then he grinned showing the half chewed pinkish mess in his mouth. "Chakki."

That reply was of no assistance at all to Reginald. Mundata realised that Reginald was no wiser by his answer; he pulled out the 'root' and cut a small sliver, offering to Reginald. The geologist looked at it for a few seconds. He was not a user of tobacco; he considered it a foul product of nature that took over the very soul of its user.
"Eat, good, chakki, from my home."

Reginald took the sliver and placed it between his teeth. He gently bit it. Nothing happened. It was hard; he bit a little harder and felt it begin to soften. As he slowly chewed on it, he felt the flavour begin to come out. Meat and spices, a little peppery. His eyebrows rose involuntarily and Mundata clapped his hands in delight.
"This is meat?"
"Yes, Sir, meat, Pundu Chakki."
"Pundu Chakki?"
"Yes sir, the Pundu is little animal, long horns, brown fur, like small cow. Chakki, my language for dried meat."
Reginald gasped, "This is meat from an Antelope, and you spice it and dry it?"
Mundata laughed and clapped his hands again in delight, the white man was experiencing his first taste of the dried meat they had eaten for centuries, "Yes, we kill Pundu and take skin for bed or woman covering, then clean meat, hang in small cage in hot wind with spices all over. Three weeks, chakki."
"Pundu Chakki." Reginald said softly, "Now THAT's something to take back home!"
"Why you want take chakki home, you got no meat at home?"
Reginald laughed, "Oh yes, we have meat, lamb, pork, beef…. Lots of meat."
"Lumb? Pokk? Biff? They little animals like Pundu?"
"No, a minute ago you said 'cow', do you eat the meat from cows?"
"Cow meat, yes, not make good chakki, too much bleeding."
"Well, we call cow meat, beef, from another language, French, Boeuf."
It made little sense to Mundata; Reginald might as well be speaking French. Although the French had been active in nearby areas, Mundata had little experience of them.
"Know cow meat, biff you call. Not know this lumb or pokk you say."
"Listen carefully, not LUMB, LAMB," Reginald realised that the long drawn out way he had said lamb made him sound like one, so he made the sound of a lamb. Mundata looked astonished, "M-a-a-a-a-a? I know!" He made two horns out of his index fingers and then pulled out a small ball of fluff from his sling, "small horns, short leg, fat and thick fur, black."

Reginald had only ever seen one black sheep and thought they were a rarity. He wondered if that was why someone was named a black sheep if different from the rest of the family. He took the small ball of black wool from Mundata's fingers. "Yes, this is the fur. We call it WOOL."
"Nearly, that's good enough. Have you eaten the meat?"
"We call animal Fah'sa, no, not eat meat. Kill Fah'sa, no fur."
"We have two kinds of, what was that 'Far Shar'? One we keep for wool, the other we have for meat."
Mundata's eyes were huge, "You take wool off one Fah'sa, meat off other Fah'sa?"
Reginald laughed at the thought of shearing one sheep and then paring off meat from another.
"No, the Far Shar we eat, we kill first. We take off the wool, kill the sheep, use the skin, eat the meat."
"Oh, must have many Fah'sa? We only have three, maybe four."
"Yes, the people who keep sheep, fah'sa, have hundreds."
"Hunn dridds?"

Reginald looked down, picked up a stick, and then drew a line in the sand. "ONE" he said holding up his finger, then drew another and said "TWO".  Mundata nodded.
Reginald drew eight more lines and said "TEN" holding up all his fingers.
"Kooch" said Mundata, holding his up.
Reginald now closed and opened his hands twice and said "Ten, ten – two tens – TWENTY"
"Kiliche" said Mundata, doing the same.
"Oh good," muttered Reginald to himself, "He's getting the idea." Then he opened and closed his hands ten times and said, "ONE HUNDRED."
Mundata looked at him and then opened and closed his hands slowly, saying the name to himself as he did so, "Kooch, Kiliche, Muzki, Fijike, Masz'ne, Dikhle, Umza, Lilike, Noctozi, AMTAZI. Amtazi – Hunn Dridd!" he laughed and Reginald couldn't help laughing too, then Mundata stopped and looked quite concerned, "People have that many Fah'sa?"
"Yes, many times that many – hundreds."
"That a lot of Fah'sa!"
"Yes, much wool and meat for a lot of families."
"Your home good. I go for water, wait here."
Mundata disappeared down the slope to the right, the opposite way to their line of ascent.
A few minutes later he returned with a skin bottle full of water. He held it out to Reginald.
"Here drink, waterfall there, out of rock, clean, no pains." He pointed to his stomach.
"Thank you Mundata." He took a long drink and then passed it on to the others. He dropped his head down on his pack and dozed.


Upper Kandiachana River, three days later.

The morning sun began to warm the tent and as Reginald stirred, he heard the sounds of the waterfowl close by and the call of the exotic birds in the overhanging trees. His nostrils flared as he smelled the wood smoke of the fire and an aroma that was foreign to him, but delicious. He picked up his boots, upturned them, tipped out a couple of insects who scuttled away in disgust, and slipped them onto his feet. He pulled on a shirt and buttoned the waistband on his shorts. He sniffed again at the smell as he unhooked the entrance to the tent and stepped out into the cool crisp morning air. 

Ahead of him, a dozen yards from the water’s edge he saw Mindila, Mundata’s brother, bent over the fire he had started half an hour sooner. He either heard Reginald, or his native instincts told him someone was behind him, for he turned to face the explorer as he approached. “Mulingwe Makuzi.” He said, bobbing gently once. Reginald had already learned that the expression used by Mindila was a polite greeting, “Good morning big boss.” He also had been told how to return the greeting and promptly replied, “Mulingwe Banta Zapote.” (Good morning faithful man). Mindila clapped his hands in delight. He had only ever seen one white man in his life before, a huge man with a big beard, at the docks when a ship came in for supplies. He had been scared almost witless and vowed to keep away from any of these strange light-skinned people. After a week with his better educated and experienced brother as bearer to Reginald, he had come to quite like the oddities he was discovering about them. The first thing he learned was that they weren’t anything to fear, why they could die just from sitting in the sun and didn’t even know anything about the fundamental dangers of living rough in the African jungle. He smiled as he pushed aside his earlier fears, for here was a man whose life depended upon the skills of Mundata and the bearers. That made him feel proud and important.

“What is that delightful smell?” Reginald asked. Now, Mindila’s English was very limited. He had no idea what the question was. He grinned, pointed up to the sun and then to the rising mist out on the river.
“Puzme aga’te mulundwiza wakutze.” (You sleep well, look that day’s well along.) His eyes fell upon Reginald’s finger, pointing at the fire.
He figured that a white man maybe had not ever seen a fire before.
“Swik’ka, putzelantu swik’ka.” (It’s fire, breakfast fire.) At least it was getting closer, even though Reginald had less of a clue what Mindila was saying, than the bearer had of his English question.
Mundata arrived with more wood and saved Mindita’s embarrassment.
“Good morning sir, you have good sleep last night, seem to lie like you die in tent?”
“Wonderful.” Reginald smiled, glad he was back on conversational terms with someone. “It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had all week.”
“Good, now I get breakfast for you.”
“What is that smell, I have never smelt it before but it just made me get up?”

Mundata grinned as he reached down and picked a handful of pale brown beans from a small leather bag. He held them out to Reginald. “Kof’ay.”
(I can hear you say, ‘hold on a minute – coffee was known in England for over a century already.’ – so, let me explain, Reginald came from Derbyshire and was a tea drinker, he’d been offered coffee before and refused it. He had never smelt it freshly made.)
“What, those little beans, coffee?” He exclaimed as he regarded their bland appearance.
“Yes, kof’ay, grow up mountains, make good drink to wake man up.”
Reginald took one and held it up to the light of the sun and then sniffed it, it didn’t have the aroma that had beckoned him from his tent.
“This doesn’t smell the same as whatever is on the fire, why?”

Mundata shook his head, “No, this just berry, have to er,” he scratched his head and muttered, “Jubinje mutake…” and then brightened up and continued, “I think you say loast, when you cook something in fire?”
“Loast?  - oh you mean roast, yes, we say roast. In English it is when we put something dry into a closed dish and inside the oven, inside the fire, yes.”
Mundata understood about half of Reginald’s expression, but he was pleased he had got the term right, even if he fell into the common trap of transposing R and L. “Loast, yes, we have to loast the berries in the fire. Here, now see.” He held out dark black versions of the coffee beans for Reginald to see.
Reginald took one and went through the same ritual including disappointment when it didn’t smell a lot different from the first one.
Mundata didn’t wait, he held up one finger to show he hadn’t finished yet. Then he took a few of the beans, placed them into a small stone cup and, with the handle of his knife, crushed them coarsely. He held the cup out to Reginald.
“Now you breath in from this cup.”

Reginald grinned, it was a strange way of saying “Now smell it.” He sniffed at the cup and gasped in surprise. “That’s it, that’s the smell!”
Mundata went to the fire and lifted a small pot of bubbling brown liquid, produced a piece of woven cloth and draped it over a tin mug before gently pouring some of the steaming coffee onto it.

A minute later, he removed the cloth and handed the cup to Reginald. “Here drink. This give you kick like Zigga!” He laughed.
Reginald had already learned that a ‘Zigga’ was a Zebra, and he knew how they can kick having seen one kick its way out of a wooden shed to escape its captors. He took a sip. It was invigorating, far more so than tea.
Reginald Dartington-Grant had drunk his first cup of fresh roasted, fresh ground coffee, on a high plateau a hundred and fifty miles into a country where no white man had been before. It was a proud moment for him. 

There was a lot more excitement yet to come........

Chapter 3 is in progress - do you like this so far -----?   TELL ME!!

1 comment:

  1. I like it very much. Looking forward to read more. Your number one fan.


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