One minute they were driving amongst sand dunes, then the next as they crested a sand dune, Fenella saw a large area of green in front of them, with a small waterhole to one side. In the distance, Fenella could make out sand dunes again. The green floodplain was ringed by large sand dunes.
“You’re lucky, no tourists are allowed to come here,” said Katerina, carefully driving down the sand dune to get onto the grass below.
“Wow,” was all Fenella could say, momentarily at a loss for words.
“If you do see elephants, don’t panic, just try and blend into the surroundings. They don’t know people, and they are very dangerous,” Katerina warned. “It’s just us woman and children out here, no men to protect us.”
After a meal of boiled rice with weevils in it, which Katerina had called the protein part of the meal, the exhausted children were put into their tent which faced out onto the tall swaying grass of the flood plain. “Mommy-time,” said Katerina with a smile as she made two mugs of coffee and liberally added brandy into the hot brown liquid. “No milk, so we’ll use the brandy as milk.”
“Fine by me,” said Fenella as she opened up the scrabble board by candlelight.
Fenella was leading Katerina by about 50 points in the scrabble game, when both women started when they heard a loud, “Humpf,” noise.
Katerina’s eyes were big with fear, “Elephants,” she hissed, looking ghostlike with the light from the candle giving her face an eerie glow.
Fenella wasn’t sure what she should feel. They were in the cooking tent, so she didn’t know what a big deal having elephants nearby might be.
“Don’t panic on me,” hissed Katerina, blowing out the candle.
Shit, thought Fenella, it was so dark they couldn’t see a thing. Katerina peeped out the cooking tent’s open doorway. “I can see about five, six big ones, in the long grass. Don’t move, otherwise they’ll hear us and charge.”
Katerina’s stage whisper was creeping out Fenella more than the thought of wild elephants a couple of metres away. Then she had a thought, a very frightening thought. “Katerina,” Fenella whispered back, “The kids’ tent opens up into the grassy area. Samantha wakes up at 9pm to go for a wee. What’s the time now?”
“Holy fuck,” muttered Katerina, “What are we going to do?”
So, much for Katerina telling Fenella not to panic. Fenella thought that Katerina was going to burst into tears.
“We have to save the children,” said Fenella calmly.
“How?” Katerina was starting to tremble, she was so scared.
“Here’s the plan,” said Fenella, making it up as she went along, “We’ll get down and leopard-crawl to their
tent, and wake them up quietly, and get them to crawl to our tent.” Fenella bit her tongue as she felt an urgent need to pee. Why did her bladder have to come alive at such a time?
Katerina led the way, with Fenella behind also on her stomach, using her elbows to pull herself forward. They could hear the elephants moving in the long grass on their left. The elephants were so close, they could even hear their tummies rumble. Silently, but surely, the two mothers inched their way forward, not noticing the thorns that pierced their flesh, or the stones that scratched and bruised them.
Suddenly, there was silence. Katerina lifted her head and looked out onto the long grass, “They’re going over the dune; they’re leaving the flood plain!” Katerina’s voice sounded loud in the still of the night.
Fenella was just about to speak, when she heard the ugly sound of Katerina vomiting up her boiled-rice-with-weevil dinner. “Might as well have a quick pee myself,” muttered Fenella now that the immediate danger had passed.
After waking the children and virtually sleep-walking them to their tent, Fenella and Katerina went back to the cooking tent to resume their game of scrabble. “Shit, coffee’s cold,” said Fenella taking a sip from her mug.
“Throw it out,” said Katerina putting on more water to boil on the gas burner. “Think we need something stronger anyway,” she said, pouring the mug three-quarters full of brandy and topping it up with a spoon of coffee and boiling water.
The next day, Fenella was lying on her sleeping bag in the tent, writing a letter to Brendan, listening to Katerina sing, ‘I’m a little Noddy man,” with the children in the cooking tent, when she suddenly became aware of an unnatural silence that made her feel uneasy. Fenella looked up from her writing, to see a huge elephant standing about 5 metres away from the front of her tent. Too scared to move in case she alerted the elephant to her presence in the tent, Fenella held her breath, watching the elephant all the time. The elephant was obviously alarmed by Fenella’s tent flap which was blowing in the breeze, as it started to shake its head and then sway it from side to side, before kicking up dirt with its front foot and expanding its ears until they were perpendicular to its head. Fenella felt herself start to go dizzy from lack of oxygen as she continued to hold her breath. Then, flapping its ears, the elephant started to take a step back, then another, then another, until it turned around and walked away. With the elephant out of her sight, Fenella started to hyperventilate, taking a good few minutes to calm down again. When she was breathing normally again, Fenella peered out of the tent to make sure that the elephant was no longer in charging distance, before hurrying out to see what had happened to Katerina and the kids.
Fenella reached the cooking tent, still a little light–headed from her frightening experience, only to find that Katerina and the kids had vanished into thin air. Something caught the corner of Fenella’s eye, and she looked at the parked Landrover, to see Katerina sitting behind the driver’s wheel.
“What are you doing?” asked Fenella, as she saw Katerina sitting frozen in shock, with one hand on the steering wheel, and the other hand clutching a .38 Special hand gun.
Katerina turned around to stare at Fenella, with eyes huge with fear, “I was coming to save you,” said Katerina in a low voice, “If the elephant attacked, I was going to charge the elephant with the Landy and then fire shots in the air.”
“That’s a wonderful rescue plan,” lied Fenella, wondering if both Katerina and her would have been killed if the elephant had charged. “Where’re the kids?”
“I sent them behind the dune for safety,” said Katerina, “They’re hiding in a ditch.”