Earlier, at the Bulawayo station, there had been some commotion with the conductor. The pair had arrived early, boarded, and found their coupe with the help of an over-friendly porter. However, upon putting down their backpacks, the light wouldn't turn on. Monica tried flipping the switch. Nothing. Kavitha tried jiggling the switch. Still nothing. Hmmmm... precursor of strange things to come?
The train gave a giant lurch forward, and off they went, pulling out of Bulawayo at 9:07 PM. As they passed, they excitedly pointed to the posted train schedule, which, in bold letters, announced "Arrive Hwange National Park 1:00 AM. Arrive Victoria Falls 7 AM."
Periodically, the train stopped for long stretches of time. But why? Some would say it was to make up the time difference: the journey by bus takes five hours. The train goes all night. To arrive at a decent hour in Victoria Falls, the train paused while on the tracks. Or was it a more frightening plot?
Monica made her way through first class to the dining hall, and ordered a Mazoe orange with soda water from the graying barman. She had heard that Mazoe was a uniquely Zimbabwean, non-alcoholic flavor. While she waited, she turned around the corner to visit the snack section, where the man behind the counter beamed at her and boomed in a heavy voice, "Oh, you are Filipino!"
"How do you know?" she asked, after a pause while she regained her composure. No one at all during the entire trek had placed her origins accurately. And fellow World Trekker Kevin had his own identity issues in Peru.
"I know, because I like the face!" he slapped the counter. She politely solicited his advice between the chocolate creams and the lemon cookies (he preferred the chocolate), and collected a bag of chips from him. He continued, "How many children do you have? I would very much like to marry you!"
When she protested and showed him her silver ring from Potosi, he shooed her away, grinning, "I will buy you an emerald and a gold ring. I like your face! I really do!"
On her way back, the train swayed from side to side. Although somewhat prone to motion-sickness, Monica was now accustomed to the frequent pauses, the whiplash of the train starting again, the constant rocking movement, and the periodic tootings of the train horn. Mulling over the attendant who knew far too much about her, as well as the question of the misbehaving lights and the mystery of the thieving hand, Monica stuck her head out the window for a refreshing blast of highveld wind.
Outside, the night air whistled through miles of grassland. Who knew what beasts lurked in the high plains, encircling their prey, waiting to pounce? There was no sound but a lone dog barking from a faraway village, mixed with the rustling of the high grass. The faint lights of single-room huts, small fires in front, burned in the distance.
There was Kavitha, banging wordlessly on the mirrored glass of the cabinet door for help. There was no sound but the clickety-clacketing of the tracks while Kavitha mouthed out some urgent message that Monica couldn't seem to hear. "Kavitha! Are you okay?" Monica rapped on the glass. Kavitha's mirror image suddenly looked frightened, turned around and moved away, vanishing into the darkness of the mirror. Monica was left staring at her own image.
The overhead light flickered once and almost went out, and Monica, hands on the mirror, made a fist and banged the mirror surface frustratedly. The lights went back on again. Stunned, she sat down and with wide eyes, put her finger on the outline of where Kavitha had appeared. The train slowed to another pause on the tracks, and she stood there, in silence, eyes wide with fright. She hurried to the neighboring coupe and knocked on their door.
"Ja, Who is it?", inquired the voice inside. A faint pause while Monica knocked again, whispering, "Please, hurry."
A German man opened the door a crack, blinking with sleep. "What can I do now?" he inquired, as he rubbed his eyes. Monica hurriedly explained and said worriedly, "You must come next door and see, please."
"Ja, you must just let me put on my trousers," the man said, and closed the door. "I will come in a moment," his muffled voice came through the door as Monica stood in the hallway fidgeting.
"I'll just be inside that coupe. It's next door. It's number one-oh-seven-three C, just to the left," she called out. She hurriedly went into the room.
Finally, the man pulled open the sliding wooden door to the entrance of the coupe. There was nobody inside, but there were backpacks, the remains of a meal, some burnt-out candles and even a portable computer sitting around. He frowned, then shrugging his shoulders he shut the door and went back to his room. "Americans," he muttered.
He hadn't noticed the image of Monica, reflected in the top cabinet mirror, wordlessly yelling for help.
"Clickety-clack, clickety-clack," went the train as it arrived into Victoria Falls Station. It had travelled the Bulawayo-Vic Falls route many times before. It would go this route many, many times again.
-by Hugh Dunnit
Team - The Mark of the Pioneer Column
Kavitha - Fables of the Falls
Kevin - The Creature Within
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