Saturday, November 19, 2011

To whet the appetite...

To give an impression of the tone and timbre of the story, I am excerpting a part of the story here for your early perusal. To set up what follows - The Missionary, Jadwin Ross, is walking up the mountainside of Kintori with a group of American tourists. Lead by their Tanzanian guide, Daud, they traverse one of those beautifully winding paths that I love so much from my own journeys to Africa. I won't spoil too much of what has come before or after - but this can kind of stand alone as a teaser for the mystery and majesty of the story...

Chapter 21

What a glorious morning! The sun was up. The view was delightful. The fellowship was grand and jolly. Day two in Tanzania began absolutely beautifully!

As their mission project in Tanzania, the Americans – at Ross’s urging – had chosen to build a modest preschool building a few short kilometers from the Guest House up the foothills of the mountain. As they walked together to the worksite, the Missionary swelled to think of the generosity of the Americans generosity. Truly it was a beautiful thing indeed.

The trail was fairly remarkable also. Awesome! Instead of turning from the Guest House to the main dirt road on which Daud had lead them to church – and hence through all the village streets – they went via the shortcut path. The path was dirt upon dirt and covered with matted down, trampled leaves. It skirted around the village itself and rose quickly enough to isolate and make the visitors feel remote and adventuresome. At various places the path forked into differing directions. One leading to the evangelist trail of the day previous another to the church and primary school, yet another tracing the path to the building project for the new preschool up in the foothills.

Any way you took it, it was a path of peace and was absolutely gorgeous. Especially now. Mostly uninhabited – save for a few farmers knee deep in their shambas picking carrots, or tending to cows staked along the lonesome path, it was a place where travelers could seek solitude and reflection before they returned to civilization – such as it was – and the pushing, noisome tumult of the friendly and enthusiastic Tanzanian people of the village.

For the most part, the Americans traveled the trail without words. Many were still a bit tired from the day before. Davison and Mrs. Starr walked with Daud near the front and were excitedly telling of what they had seen at the Tanzanite mines. Next came the married Johnsons and then Leah and Raven and then the Missionary.

Ross was in particularly fine spirits. He felt amazingly alive and renewed. Filled with excitement and the passions of youth. It was as if the entire world had changed over night. Everything was suddenly vibrant and energized. Pure. Bright.


Oddly, almost ironically, being with Immorata the night before had somehow heightened his feelings for Leah. Somehow now he felt it could be. That it might be possible. That they might be possible. Before, he had immediately dismissed any thoughts in that regard, but life was different now. For one, he simply could not take his eyes off of her. Time and again he would find himself just lost in her simple, pure beauty. The unsolicited sensuality of her lithe movements on the trail stirred his ardor beyond his own recognition of the fact.

Everything about her seemed to move him.

She and Raven were talking aimlessly about the previous day as they walked – the visits, the interminable chai, the homes, squatting over a hole in the ground to pee – but Ross tuned out the words. It became as melody only. A hum of female voices. The sound of music humming without meaning or import, but resonant and full. Every so often, Leah turned to cast a smiling glance his way, and he would meet her gaze with one of his own. With each sincere glance he began to allow himself to wonder if he was picking up on signs that may or may not have indeed been there before.

With Leah maintaining his full attention in front of him, Ross lost track of all the others on the trail, even the trail itself. Which was just as well. Not everyone in front of him shared Jadwin’s grand mood this morning.

Daud in particular seemed out of sorts, but at least he was blissfully subdued about it. The night before, after bringing the evangelist visits to a close and returning the Missionary and his party back to the Guest House tired and spent, he had to fill in for another tour guide in a neighboring village. Daud had to conduct a canned slide presentation on the wildlife of the NgoroNgoro Crater for a group of young student tourists from the US. From the little that he had growled to Mama Mto at breakfast in regards to the events of the evening, apparently the presentation went none too well as because of some ‘stupid’ young girls amongst the students who didn’t care for his spiel one bit.

The Missionary immediately thought of the little Pigtail Girl from the airport. He thought he remembered that she was staying not too far from Kintori. He could see Daud trying his Jordan Falls ‘women are evil’, ‘I know what you are thinking’ crap on her and knew that she would absolutely freak out. He chuckled at the thought. The verbal tug of war would have been the equivalent of the one over her baggage.

Maybe even better.

Ross had no sympathy for Daud whatsoever. The young man was nice enough and he was only a kid truly, but he had been rude to Leah for heaven’s sake! If some school girls didn’t care for the self-righteous tone of his little presentation? Too bad, so sad, pal.

You get what you give.

Upon the trail, despite the raging beauty and the glory of the day, the giving was darned hard work. The sun was far too hot – even at this early point in the morning – and the altitude was much too high for the full, deep breathing that the exertion of the steep, sometimes treacherous climb demanded. It was searing hard on the lungs.

Not to mention the legs.

No matter how early it was in their walks for the day, it seemed already as if each Americans’ calves burned and tingled with every careful, measured step.

From time to time – to the dismay of the owly Daud who entreated them to please keep moving, they would often stop upon the path to observe some particular feature of the landscape that had previously escaped their view – a particularly poignant view of nearby Kilimanjaro and its mysterious mists, a bit of botanical garden wonder in some newly observed banana tree or flower, a bird in full glorious color behaving as any bird in any land but more exotic in coloring, plumage and song. Ruses all, the Americans merely wanted to catch their heaving breaths. As if on cue, they all tended to stop silently and at once. When they did speak at all, they commented breathlessly – in fragmented, disjointed sentences – as they paused to drink in the wonder that was Africa.

Midway through the climb, they stopped on one of these breaks to watch a long, wide trail of ants marching as one. The ants were acting as a single organism, a group mind, that swarmed from the leaves and foliage on one side of the trail to the leaves, foliage, and perhaps giant anthill on the other. Or so they imagined. In any event, it was a frightening and amazing thing to watch.

The row of ants traveled with seemingly endless numbers across the path. Millions. Not just thousands. Millions! Marching! All traveling frantically in the same direction and carrying burdensome weights of found food upon their journey.

Ross had long appreciated carpenter ants such as these as a species. The pheromone communication that they used to guide their journeys filled him with a sense of natural wonder. He had mused at times that had his life been different, he could have been a naturalist. An entomologist even. Studying the various behaviors of insects intrigued him in an intellectual and peculiarly satisfied way.

For the Missionary, the social order of the ant colony was an amazing thing indeed. He tried hard not to anthropomorphize animal life, but with the different castes of ant-life, it was darned difficult not to make that connection. The ruling Queen, immense and inert, bidding her minions to do her work – and all done with a subtle communication that was simply incredible for a life form supposedly devoid of even rudimentary sentient intelligence. The workers, tireless, selfless, traveling in long paths for food and surviving only due to sheer numbers and a cadre of soldiers that protected the colony from predators by a fierce primal instinct were awe inspiring and downright fun to watch.

In Africa, Ross had always warned the others to steer clear of these long trails. Especially ant trails such as this one that were as much as ten inches across in full parade march. No one seemed to want to heed this, least of all him at times, and many had paid dearly for their curiosity with sharp stinging bites and itches that persisted long after.

At least he had warned them.

Ross had told them it was always so important to step carefully over the ants as they were in truth fierce and dangerous creatures. While other people feared the larger beasts, Ross knew that the ants posed a grave and serious danger all their own. A few ants here and there were bothersome and annoying, but running astray of a group of ants en masse could be fatal.


One wrong step – one slide down an innocuous-looking slope – and the unfortunate, clumsy traveler could be facing a horrifying and gory death.

That being said, it was almost impossible for him to pass a line of marching ants without stopping. He knew that this invariably would lead to having at least one rogue fellow find its way to a tender place on his leg. But he was willing to pay the price of a few such attackers. Their bites were quite painful and seemed to have a toxin of sorts that lasted for days after, but oh were they interesting.

As they walked the trail from the Guest House on that delightful morning, the ant trail they passed seemed to be particularly alive with activity. Even more desperate and dangerous and intriguing to view. The Americans gathered around it awed by its violence. By its power.

“Holy ****!” Raven said breaking their silence and pointing to the ugly, red pieces of food the ants were carrying. Groups of ants were carrying large pieces of something that was disgusting to view. Meat of some dead animal.

“Raven!” Mrs. Starr scolded. She was embarrassed by her daughter’s lack of an internal language censor. To the others she said, “I’m sorry, she forgets she is in public.”

“Public! You call this public? Geesh, Mom, look at it. They tore apart a dog!”

The travelers looked instinctively in the direction from where the ants were coming. They could hear a snarling, scary sound coming from well up in the brush. Dogs indeed. Wild dogs fighting back against the pests apparently.

It chilled them all.

Daud not the least of them. He looked to Ross for support and nodded down the trail. “We must keep moving then. Please.” He sounded plaintive, sad even, at a loss for the confidence he held so firmly only a day prior. “Keep your people moving. We must keep moving.” He cast his eyes up the slope at the snarling dogs and winced.

“What?” Ross asked him, trying to catch his eye.

“Nothing.” Daud said turning away to return to the front. “It is the dogs. We must take care we do not disturb them.”

The Missionary looked up through the trees to where the sound was coming. There was no movement. Only sound. Distant, angry, feral sound. Leah stood with him and tried to see what he was or wasn’t seeing. At last she elbowed him, nudging .

“We better go.” She said.

Her touch brought him back. It was playful and yet somehow gentle and genuine. He took one more glance down at the teeming, writhing stream of ants. A large piece of detritus was being conveyed at that moment across the path. Purple, discolored, ugly meat. But yet…

… yet, it resembled something. Almost something human.

No. It couldn’t be. But yet, there it was. It definitely looked as if it was once something. Like. Well, something!

No. He was wrong. His mind had to have been playing tricks on him. Yet it persisted.

“An ear!” His mind cried out in horror. “It’s a human ear!” Good God, no. It couldn’t be. Not even here in this desolate place. No.

“Mr. Ross!” Daud called from the front of the line insistently. “You must now come!”

The stream of ants carried the refuse away. It was a trick of the light. A mind game. He was too happy. Too excited. And too filled with animal lust to believe it.

It was nothing.

But even if it was…. No. But from where could it have come? Whose ear could it possibly be?

No. It was only his mind playing tricks. Ridiculous.

But if it was – my God, from whom?

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