Through the Trees to the Morning Side of the River

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This wasn’t the first time The Colonel went missing. Not by a long shot. He’d slipped out of the compound before and each time he either wandered back on his own or we found him doing what he tends to do.

The animals get mighty nervous when he does, though.

Colonel Benjamin St. George-Banastre, VC, DSO, MC came from a long line British heroes, both military and civilian. It also was as a long a line of Rhodesian loons, nut jobs, and (with true British understatement) “eccentrics.” The Colonel, as did all first sons of the Banastres, conversed with animals because, as he informed me when I asked why, “They talk back, old boy. And I love assuming their stations to know them better.”

I was told the animals weren’t fond of his coopting their turf and cultures. Who told me? Well…

He wandered off three times while I visited the St. John-Balastre family estate in Zimbabwe to interview him for a Nat Geo piece. I got the assignment because I was some half-assed relative, according to my Grandfather Roy, who had lived in Rhodesia with the Colonel’s uncle back in the 50s.

The first time The Colonel disappeared while I visited, it was for two days. He sauntered back into the dining room at breakfast, covered head to toe with elephant dung and followed by as many as fifty Flightless Dung Beetles. The beetles were putting up a vicious chatter, mostly because, The Colonel translated, he’d decided to deviate from their prescribed and instinctive straight-line course from the elephant dung piles to their home.

Instead, he told me after a good hosing down and triple-dipping in some aromatic fluid (“This isn’t the first time his Nibs has gotten shit-faced, mate,” his valet, Boodles, told me.), he’d had “enough of their cheeky palaver and single-minded, pushy nature.”

“Reminded me of getting shoved into the Tokyo underground,” he added, “only with slightly shorter blighters.”

The Colonel’s sister, Lady Beatrix St. John-Balastre, told me The Colonel, or Buzzy as she called him, had learned of his gift (she called it the family curse) from their uncle, Lord Leo St. John-Balastre.

“We just thank God Uncle Leo was born before Papa,” Her Ladyship said. “Our fist-borns tend to never marry and women of better breeding tend to stay far upwind of them, you understand. Very far.”

Two days later, The Colonel disappeared again and Her Ladyship sent off a cadre of rangers to help ferret him out of the bush. I say ferret with good reason. It seems in August the Yellow Mongoose begin to breed. Boodles told me he’d known The Colonel to get “quite particularly randy” as late as September.

The rangers found The Colonel’s boots sticking out of a large Yellow Mongoose burrow. It took four of them to pull him out of there. When he returned to the estate, his face was a terrible mess, scratched and cut. We thought he’d been bitten on the lip, but it turned out he’d had a row with the male of the troop’s breeding pair and had just run the old boy off when the rangers cock-blocked him.

I wasn’t getting too much information from Lord Buzzy, though I felt an odd kinship with the great man whenever we walked the perimeter of the grounds, each of us with an ear cocked to the sounds around us. At night, we sat upon the lanai and got extremely edgy whenever we heard a pride of lionesses on the hunt in the darkness. And while everyone else in the house would duck and complain as the bugs zzzz’d around us, we tended to hungrily go right at them.

This behavior was only somewhat new to me. I’d always felt particularly comfortable on Grandpa Roy’s farm or hunting in the Adirondack woods with him, even though my dad had been killed by a hunter who mistook him for a buck in those same woods when I was but an infant.

After a week and a half, I thought I’d collected enough information on the African Lord Doolittle. I was packing when Boodles burst into my room.

“Have you seen His Lordship yet today?” he asked.

“No, has he snuck out into the bush again?”

“I fear so, sir. Her Ladyship has sent out two groups of rangers to search for him. The first has radioed back that he wasn’t at the mongoose burrows and now we’re quite worried. It was this time last year suffered a broken leg when he tried gnawing on the ear of a bull elephant over in Chizarira National Park,“ Boodles said, a catch in his throat.

“Would you like some help trying to find him?” I said. “My pickup flight isn’t due here for another four hours.”

“That’d be lovely, sir. Her Ladyship would be most appreciative. She thinks you and The Colonel have developed a special bond during your visit,” Boodles said. He then excused himself and rushed outside.

I decided to shuck the clean set of safari duds I’d put on for the flight home. Yesterday’s were still dry, but folded into my laundry bag. I’d slipped one leg into my shorts when I heard the clearing of a throat from the window behind me.

“‘Scuse, me mate,” an oddly accented voice said, “but can you please fetch this rogue human we just knocked from an acacia tree over the four hills on the morning side of the river? Wouldn’t let the females stomp him into a mud hole because he’s sleeping from landing on his tiny head. The nutter thinks he’s a leopard or something.”

I turned and saw the tawny hide, the red-brown splotches, the great short-horned head and had to compose myself for a second, finally understanding so much of what’d gone on before. I didn’t do so so well, though, giving into the great urge to bite the giraffe’s neck, myself.

Wrote this at the request of my friend Jo-Anne Teal from beautiful Vancouver, BC. She asked that I respond to the VisDare photo prompt from Angela Goff that you see above. They ask that you write something less than 150 words, but the characters and craziness wouldn’t let me go…or so the squirrel on my window says.

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