Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ripping Yarns

'A F R I C A N N O T E B O O K'

by Col. B. B. Wakenham-Paish M. C., O.B.E.

Chapter 19

A Lucky Escape

The next day I decided to take my usual pre-breakfast 'stroll', as I used to call it, into the majambi, or jungle, to see if I could catch sight of the very rare 'Chukawati Bati' or Bird of Purgatory, which 'Trusty' as we all called our faithful native ghabi or guide had reported seeing the previous latbani (evening) while we were looking for Harry's leg.

I had only been 'strolling' along the majambi (jungle) ortobam (path) for a few minutes when I became aware of a large and rather fierce fritbangowonkabmaki, or lion, which was standing partially hidden in the pteee, or clearing. I had strayed so close to him, absorbed as I was in my ornithological questi (quest) that when the splendid old thing opened its massive goti (jaws) to roar, revealing as fine a womba, or set, of teeth as I have seen in an adult male, each one as bewapsiptoof (sharp) as a Welshman's head, I could, without so much as leaning forward, have taken his magnificent uvula in my left hand. Taking advantage of my good luck, I did so, tweaked it hard, an old English colonial officer's granwi, or trick. The lion was rather bemused by my ploy, and so I was able to get in a couple of good straight lefts, keeping my guard well up, to his upper palate and follow them with a cracking good right cross, moving my weight into the punch (as old 'Buffy' Spalding had taught me so many years ago, prior to the needle match against Uppington when 'Spindly' Crabber got up off the floor six times so pluckily only just to fail to win the draw which would have halved the batwel or match), right into my opponent's mane. Then dancing back a couple of paces, I weaved about causing fritbangowonkabmaki to miss wildly with his crude haymakers while I notched up a few useful points with my left strati, or hand, and I soon found that by this simple strategy of keeping him from getting,in close, where his mighty jaws could have done a lot of nagasaki, or damage, I could pick him off pretty much at leisure, In fact it was only after some twenti (20) minutes, by which time I was well in rogambi (front), that, after a particularly nifty sidestep, I happened to glance around the clearing only to discover that our contest was now being watched by a circle of some fifteen odd of fritbangowonkabwaki’s chums, some of whom were already beginning to edge forward, manes bristling and teeth akimbo, towards our good selves. It was the work of a moment to divine from their magnificent expressions that they were taking a decidedly partisan attitude to our match, and that they would have few qualms about joining in on my opponent's side if necessary; and so, judging that, if they did, they would eventually subdue me by sheer weight of numbers, I took the better part of valour, and feinting away from another of fritbangowonkabwaki's wild rushes, I got in a parting short jab to the base of his tail (not a blow I was proud of although it put him down for several minutes, but which I felt was excused by the exigencies of the situation, due, after all, to the unsporting behaviour of his colleagues in the first place) before springing upwards towards a lowly hanging branch of an enormous bwinda tree (a species related distantly to our own Elm (elm), but easily distinguishable by its broad unevenly veined leaf with its characteristic cheetah's paw shape, and the peculiar purple-ochre colour of the outer leaves of its gimbi, or buds), some fifteen feet above my head. I had leapt not a moment too soon, for, although I had gained a firm grasp upon the handy branch, two of fritbangowonkabwaki's pals, leaping with me, had each seized one of my trusty boots in their jaws whilst a third had succeeded in firmly embedding his fangs (teeth) in the seat of my pants, albeit not in my sit-upon itself but in the surrounding material thereof. What a strange sight I must have made, hanging unshaven from the branch with three enormous lions attached to me! It was not, indeed, without difficulty that I pulled myself up until I could take the branch in my mouth, thus freeing my hands for the more important work of detaching the determined trio, whose bites, however, proved to be so woki, or vice-like, that I eventually decided, not without regret, that it was only by actually abandoning the relevant apparel that I could free myself of their attentions.

Unlacing a jungle boot while hanging by one's teeth from a tree with three angry lions attached is not as easy as it might seem, when the lions concerned companions beneath, but eventually it was done, and right boot and lion plummeted back into the clearing, followed rapidly by their opposite numbers, With the vastly reduced load the shorts were a formality and in a trice I was seated comfortably on the branch looking down at the enraged horde beneath, who by now, incidentally, must have numbered well over a hundred. I must say they were making a truly memorable din (shindy). However, I was feeling distinctly peckish by now, and so doffing my sola topi rather humorously in their direction I turned for home and breakfast, hoping fritbangowonkabwaki and company would lose interest in me if I stuck to the trees for the first couple of miles. Another old trick, or granwi. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered sitting next to me on the branch, blocking my path, one of the largest yumbotos (Congolese gorillas) I have ever set eyes on, and I've seen a few in my time, including one old female at Chukambara, or New Bolton, who, in fit of pique (rage) brought on by being struck by lightning, tore an anvil in half much to everyone's surprise. It is said that his extraordinary strength, allied to his almost legendary short temper, makes yumboto the most feared creature in the whole of Africa, although many claim they will never attack a man unless he comes within three miles of them. Well, this fellow was certainly a magnificent specimen, with forearms as thick as a poti's nangatwami, or sitpu, and judging from the malevolent expression upon his face bad tempered to a fault. I handed him my topi, as a gesture of friendship, but he merely started poking holes in the crown of it with his index finger while looking at me in what seemed to be a deliberately significant way. With the lions below, this chap barring my way, and no other branch within leaping distance, I decided there was nothing for it but to sit tight and hope that something would turn up, but before I could put this plan into operation yumboto started edging towards me, and reaching for my head. I backed warily away towards the end of the branch, which served only to infuriate him further; the reason for which I soon discovered, when I bumped into a second gorilla, who had obviously been sitting between me and the end of the branch throughout, and who was equally obviously my pursuers mate (wife). In a flash it became clear to me that he had interpreted my sudden arrival between them as an attempt to infringe their relationship, and my subsequent retreat from him as the first step in my campaign to win her favours. What an amusing notion! Time was running short, however, and so I formulated a ruse. If I could persuade the jealous husband to rush the last few inches towards me, it was possible that the branch would snap under our combined weight and activity and that I would then use the split second before we fell to employ him as a kind of vaulting horse, executing the simple half somersault 'Buffy' Spalding had taught me all those years ago, to gain the branch beyond him and above the point where it would probably break. I could then return to breakfast unhindered, as my erstwhile companions would be forced to continue their quarrel with fritbangowonkabwaki and his chums beneath, So I turned to yumboto's mate, slapped her bottom in a lewd sort of way, and planted a kiss full on her lips. This produced the required rush from yumboto, the branch snapped and everything went according to plan. As I made my way back to camp through the trees some otwanibokotwikatanafryingpanibwanabotomafekazami (five) minutes later I noticed to my surprise on the majambi, or stakawi, or chittamba, or jungle path below me not only the sixty or seventy lions who had been following me since I'd left the vicinity of the clearing, but also, hurrying along in the middle of this group, and peering constantly up at me, none other than yumboto's mate! From this I was able to glean that far from scrapping among themselves as I had hoped, fritbangowonkabwaki's pals and my gorillas had joined forces and were now pursuing me, as it were, hand in glove. At that moment I heard a sound behind me and, turning, I spotted, swinging through the trees towards me, yumboto and thirty or forty of the more agile lions. As luck would have it, I was at that moment within half a mile of the Wananga River and so I set off at full speed in its direction, reasoning that if I could find a convenient creeper straddling its surging waters I could reach the far bank, thus making further pursuit more difficult. I had a head start and managed by brachiating, to hold my lead all the way to the river, where, to my delight, I spotted a solitary creeper suspended from a tree just upstream, across the cascading torrent, to the forest the other side. Ideal! Once I had crossed, I could destroy the only method of doing so, and complete my 'stroll' on foot. It was the work of a moment to gain the tree whence my creeper hung and soon I was well on my way towards the far bank, admiring the magnificent view of the raging Wananga directly beneath. Indeed I was not halfway across before I began to realise that my 'creeper' was not all it might be, and looking towards the far end of it I was astonished to see, staring back at me from a wak-wak tree, the unmistakable square head, yellow-green criss-cross markings and fearful fangs of an anaconda! I will admit I was astounded! An anaconda in Africa! How it could ever have found its way there from the banks of the Amazon, let alone why it should have been asleep in this strange position, I shall never know but as I soon confirmed from the characteristic heptagonal scales and the suffused neutral colouring I was grasping an anaconda it was, and one that clearly took exception to being demoted to viaduct. So with one mighty flick of its rippling body, I was sent spinning where I had to dodge a passing eagle, high, high up into the air, before being able to plunge downwards into the waiting maelstrom (river). I had already surmised that my new surroundings would pose a different problem, for the Wananga is notorious both for the quantity of its hippopotamus and crocodile, and also for the degree of rancour with which these two species regard the human race, and sure enough, on surfacing, I saw the huge shapes of the former setting off towards me from their station upstream, while several thousand of the latter bore down on me from the other direction; so I struck out for the shore with a fast crawl and must have gone some fifty yards before I came up for my first breath, quite against old Algy Bartlett's sound advice to breathe regularly and look where you're going no matter what stage the race is at, which I forgot so disastrously in the three cornered match against Oundle and Haileybury when, after being almost ten yards up after eight lengths, I got so tangled up in the ropes separating the lanes that in the end I had to be content with fourth place and a solitary point. Anyway I paid for ignoring Algy's guidance because, when I surfaced only some ten feet from the shore, with the crocs and hippos hot on my heels, I found myself to my disappointment, confronted by a line of gorillas and lions at the water's edge, yumboto and fritbangowonkabwaki well to the fore. In the excitement I had struck out for the wrong bank! What a pickle to put myself in! Still I had to make the best of a bad job, so I swam straight at the nearest crocodile, waited until he opened his enormous jaws and then quick as a flash spurted forward and, snatching a full lungful of air, hurled myself into his mouth, pulling the jaws shut after me, and scrambled down his throat, while he was still surprised, to the relative safety of his stomach, where I stayed, holding my breath, until I guessed the coast was clear. Then gambling all on a quick getaway, I worked my way back up his thorax and started insistently tickling the back of his throat. I did not have long to wait, for the jaws opened suddenly and I was hurled out into the light of day by the force of the mightiest cough I have ever experienced at such close quarters, right onto the bank of the river, believe it or not about 10 (ten) yards from the point where the rest of the fellows were just tucking into their devilled kidneys. I must say they were pretty amused to see me appear from a nearby crocodile without my shorts, but I took their jesting in good part and rejoined them to salvage what I could from the pan of kidneys. It may seem that I have rather padded out a commonplace enough tale, but the real reason that I have recounted my adventure in perhaps rather unnecessary detail is that exactly the same thing happened to my wife the very next day.

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