Cool grey skies hang their high curtain above the savannah this morning. Scarcely any flash of colour. Just pale grassland, reaching as far as the eye can see, the horizon broken only by the gentle rise of distant hills and the lonely spread of a guardian acacia tree.
We rumble on, the tyres of the Land Rover clawing restlessly at the gravel. A shroud of pink is forming slowly in the east, where an invisible sun is lightening the underbelly of rippled cloud like some low energy lightbulb down a lonely corridor – weak and inept at first, then adding detail with every second.
Dawn on the Masai Mara – daybreak over one of the last wildernesses on Earth.
You can tell a lot about a writer just by looking at their desk. That was the idea behind a recent special photo supplement in The Guardian.
Every desk was different – tidy or cluttered, modern or ancient, with different flavours of pen and paper, typewriter or computer.
So I thought I’d better take a look at mine. Pity I didn’t tidy it first.
This was once the dining room of the house, but the previous owners used it as an office, and it’s stayed that way today. The desk is just a cheap and simple slab of chipboard, but I like its simplicity and it’s got space for my longer legs. As well as a few pairs of running shoes, obviously.
‘… So often I had felt irritated with people who arrived here, lived in “little Europe” or “little America” (in luxury hotels), and departed, bragging later that they had been to Africa, a place in reality they had never seen.’
Ryszard Kapuscinski – The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life.
* * * * *
The sun is low in an African sky and my subcutaneous fat and I are running down the road.
The Indian Ocean lies behind me now, and with it the easy lifestyle of the North. The beach hotel. Comfort. Contentment. Ignorance.
And in front of me ? Adventure, uncertainty. Guilt. A touch of fear.
‘Sure as hell that didn’t work, but I finished the sucker eventually,’ mumbled downbeat, unshavenly scruffy lawyer Joel F Bradstock, to no one in particular.
His nicotine-stained fingers trembled slightly now as he rolled another cigarette and pulled hard on the half-drained bottle of Bushmills beside him.
A minute went by as he let the long-awaited dawn rise up over the city. He could hear high heels in the stairwell now, so he hurriedly fumbled the friendly bottle amongst the chaotic slew of box files, safely out of Rita’s sight.
He’d have to conquer the single malt habit eventually, but Monday never was a good day to start that struggle.
The BBC reported yesterday that Jane Tomlinson had finally lost her fight against breast cancer.
I don’t agree.
It was an unequal battle, certainly.
But the cancer never stood a chance.
The night air presses hot and thick outside the windows. The ancient bus groans and heaves itself another mile along the road. It’s four a.m.
A slim throw of light weaves ahead, as we slalom around endless potholes, the creaking chassis of the bus vibrating stiffly with every bounce of broken shocks.
And beyond our beam, it’s only darkness. As black as pitch – there is no distant orange streetlight glow here; no twinkling, reassuring glimmer of a distant homestead to break the gloom.
The rain is falling softly now, sluicing insistently down the windscreen. There are no wipers on the bus. But after a while, the drops somehow reassemble a filmy view of the road in front, and it doesn’t matter any more.
This is the main East African coastal highway – but don’t imagine any shiny roadsigns to announce that fact. No white lines, nor other traffic, either. Just deeply pitted, decaying tarmac. Puddles and blackness stretching far ahead.