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God of Hunger

During the years spent in Wroclaw in company with the women from
Tanganyika, Marisha was regaled with tales from Africa. Many of which
centred on Jozef. Images which made him seem a Tarzan, a handsome, strong,
fearless king of the jungle. That he was. Never at home, he would spend days,
weeks, in the bush in the Selous game reserve, close to where they lived. He
went alone. On foot. Slept in trees. Walked for miles, returning only when the
leopard skins he collected were nearing too heavy for him to carry. He would
take them by car to Bagamoyo, stopping on the way to be amongst the last East
African elephants to wade into the Indian Ocean at a spot only he knew. Then
he would hire a ngalawe which he would sail alone to Zanzibar, there to deliver
the skins to the Sultan’s agent, a remnant of the slave trade called Suleiman
Obama, head of the clan to which Choco’s mother belonged.
The skins would be taken at night from the boat and laid out in the palace
courtyard. Suleiman would always ask why no bullet hole and roar with
laughter to the set-piece answer, “because I only aim at the claws.” Suleiman’s
interest in the skins was limited by his greater interest in the horns. What made
the whole expedition so lucrative for Jozef was rhino horn. The skins would
form a sack, stitched along the peg holes left after drying. Into this sack would
go the horns. It was these that gave weight to his load and most repaid his
efforts in the bush. Maria Theresa thalers. Solid silver. Business done, they
would talk into the night about Africa. The Nyika. The Bush. Suleiman would
retrace his expeditions from the lakes to Bagamoyo and thence to Zanzibar. He
was proud of his slave hunting days. It was no mean feat to bring a string of
slaves a thousand miles to market. Jozef listened to every detail. The roundups.
The shootings with muzzle loaders. The animals. And the trek. And he, too,
enthralled Suleiman with stories of his sorties into the Selous; Africa’s largest
game reserve, too big to patrol effectively and big enough to hunt unseen for
days on end.
With the dawn Jozef would set sail for the mainland and home, repeating his
expedition two or three times every dry season.
Now in London all this was but a dream. And he dreamt of going back. But to
what? His home and his father’s business, a long established building firm, had
been nationalised. He thought of joining Shaun in Angola or going with
Phokion to Rhodesia, and there was always South Africa. But none was the
Eden he knew and loved.
Still, the woman he fancied was now with him. And she told him of an
adventure he could not but pursue.
 
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