Tuesday 5 January 2016
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An African Tale chapter 9

It was a cloudless night, the moon had not yet risen, but the millions of stars provided plenty of light as Lesedi, Kgatwe still tucked into his top pocket, made his way to the Great Baobab to the east of the village. Aunt Matilda had not arrived and Lorato had casually suggested to Loeto that he and Lesedi go and look for her; maybe the boat she was in had ran out of fuel and she was stuck in the next village along. Loeto agreed, vaguely wondering why his father was suddenly so concerned about Matilda when he would normally have remarked that she was quite capable of looking after herself. The Baobab was a sacred tree and only Lorato went there on a regular basis. He was busy fixing one of the tires that had had a puncture as they came up and he pointed over to a jar with Baobab seeds soaking in water.

“What is this for?” asked Lesedi, somewhat alarmed, knowing that Baobab seeds soaked in water were normally used to ward off crocodiles.

“You and Kgatwe have some and then give some to Mary and James while I finish off this tire.”

“We’re not going to take the cart through the river, are we!?” said Lesedi, a note of panic in his voice.

“Over the river,” Lorato said casually. “Just in case we fall in.”

Over the river! What did he mean by “over the river”? There were no bridges here!

“I knew this was a bad idea!” muttered Kgatwe, burrowing further down into Lesedi’s pocket and closing his eyes. If he was going to have to dodge corn crickets, crocodiles, and goodness knows what else he would need his rest. Lesedi pulled him out and made him drink some of the liquid; then he had some himself, pulling a face and nearly spitting it out—it tasted terrible. He put the jar into the cart and was so busy trying to figure out how they were going to go over the river that he completely forgot about Mary and James.

Lorato finished off the tire, made a few other adjustments to the cart, and then proceeded to harness up the donkeys, who looked fresh and eager to be on their way. They climbed in and Lorato made Lesedi put on the seat belt that lay next to him. Lesedi felt a bit embarrassed doing this and hoped none of his friends would see him, seat belts on donkey carts, a bit silly! Then with a quiet word from Lorato and a shake of the reins they took off and Lesedi realised why they needed the seat belts. He felt himself pushed back hard into his seat. He knew the cart was faster than normal donkey carts but he had never been this fast in it. They were hurtling down the unlit bush path as if it were a brightly lit runway at an airport, ducking to avoid the branches as they careened past them. He could see the dense forest of acacia trees coming up ahead. Lesedi knew this area well and he couldn’t see how the cart was going to manoeuvre its way through these trees at this speed without smashing itself into tiny pieces and them along with it. Closing his eyes tight he put his head down between his knees. Next to him he felt Lorato pull back hard on the reins. Lesedi was pushed back into his seat even further, but instead of the crash he had expected he felt a cool breeze blowing around him. He sat up, slowly opening his eyes and then shutting them again, his tummy doing a flip. They were flying above the trees! Lesedi had never been in an aeroplane but he had seen them landing and taking off at Seronga when he visited his friend Abedile. He had always wondered what it would be like to be up there in the sky looking down on everything like an eagle. Opening his eyes again he peered cautiously over the edge of the cart. Down below, the river flowed, snaking its way around islands of vegetation. It shimmered in the starlight and looked very beautiful. He could see hippos out on the banks chomping away and in the distance the fires from another village.

Lorato laughed at him. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you’ll get used to it. It’s the best way of getting places in the bush. There’s just one small problem.” Lesedi looked at him anxiously. He didn’t need problems way up here. “We have to be careful that no human being sees us.”

“Why?” asked Lesedi, looking nervously around for people on the ground.

“Well, most people don’t believe donkey carts can fly and if you don’t believe in something then it normally doesn’t work.”

“But we believe in it,” Lesedi said cautiously, still not too sure if he did. Maybe he was having a dream.

“That doesn’t help. When someone strongly believes something doesn’t exist then it fails and we come crashing down. Unless of course they have been drinking palm wine, and then they believe anything.” Lorato laughed, remembering an occasion when he had once lost concentration while out on a night flight and flown over a group of people drinking palm wine around a fire. As he flew over their fire, one of the donkeys had decided that this was the time to relieve itself. A big donkey splat had landed in the middle of the fire, all but putting it out.

“What was that?” one of the palm wine drinkers had said irritably.

“Flying donkey cart,” muttered another as if this was what happened all the time. Then they had carried on staring into the fire. Lorato had been holding his breath. The last thing he had wanted to do was to come down in the herd of buffalo he could see grazing peacefully nearby.

It was a beautiful night. The stars covered the blackness of the sky, giving off plenty of light for them to see their way. Lesedi knew they were travelling north because he could see the giraffe behind them. The giraffe was four stars in a diamond shape that showed you where south was. People in towns called it the Southern Cross.

Lorato felt reasonably sure that there would be no one around to see them now. He was following the river and people didn’t like to be out on the river after dark. There were all sorts of things to be wary of at night, hippos, crocodiles, and worst of all Bosula, the evil one who lived in The Hills. He was said to come down to the river at night looking for food for his ever hungry army of strange creatures that legend had it were not adverse to eating human flesh. Lorato, however, knew that Bosula hadn’t been down to the river for a while. He was holed up in The Hills plotting.

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