Wednesday, June 11, 2014



Art Kerns

While doing research for my latest novel, The African Contract, I ran across an entry in one of my travel journals. It recorded a visit to a friend’s village miles away from the nearest African city. Strolling among the homes, Dingane introduced me to his relatives and friends, while giving me a history of the region.
            I asked about health services and he told me they were limited. “Malaria, is the main illness,” he said. “Then there is dengue and Yellow fever, but there are other concerns.”
            “What other problems do the people have here” I expected to hear about bandits, rogue soldiers, or corrupt officials.
            Dingane smiled and gave his hand gesture that meant the answer would not be coming quick and simple. “Your people travel here to see Africa’s wildlife. You take photos, enjoy seeing them, and then leave. We are happy you come and enjoy them, but we must stay and live with them.”
            A group of children ran up and interrupted him. They laughed and wanted to touch me, the foreign visitor.
            When we were alone again, Dingane continued. “The snakes are always a danger. They come into our homes, lie in wait on the trails, hang from trees.”
            “Cobras scare me,” I said.
            “The Black Mamba scares us.”
            I remembered speaking with a herpetologist who told me the mamba was the one snake that scared the shit out of him every time he had to remove it from her cage and measure it.

            Then I asked him what other animals were problems, expecting him to say the lion or another cat.

            “Not the cats so much as the hippo.”
            When I expressed surprise, he went on to explain the hippos comes out of the river at night and rumble across the landscape trampling everything in their path. “They knock down homes.”
            I looked around at the flimsy structures and imagined being trampled to death.
            “The women have to be vigilant when washing the laundry in the river,” he said. “The crocs surprise them. He went on to say that many a tottler who wandered off while the mother was distracted was never seen again.
            As I digested what he told me and wondered what the odds were of me safely walking alone from where I stood to the nearest city, Dingane took my arm and asked that I look around.
            “What did you notice since you’ve been here?”
            I shrugged.
            “You are the oldest person here. The children saw your white hair and gray beard and wanted to touch you. For good luck.”

Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. In March 2013 Diversion Books, Inc. published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract and in May 2014 the sequel, The African Contract.

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1 comment :

Sue Coletta said...

Great story. Although I hate to think of hippos as destructive. They are so cute, especially the babies.