'And to those of you who don't know her, may I introduce Jennifer Halutu. Just to remind you, I will be away next week and Jennifer will be leading the walk. Last week, you may remember, we thought we might try the MEATI but we didn't have enough cars. Do we have enough this week?' She looked around the car park. 'I think we might. Who can give lifts?'
Hands were raised, calculations made. 'Good, that's fine,' said Rose. 'Then the MEATI it is. You all know the way?' It was left to Joan Baker and Hilary Fotherington-Thomas to explain to the mystified newcomers that the Modern East African Tourist Inn was a popular restaurant on the southern outskirts of town.
Thomas Nyambe had already slipped into the front seat of Mr Malik's old green Mercedes 450 SEL. The back seats were still empty. Perhaps, thought Mr Malik, the two tourists would like to come with him? He was about to offer a lift when another Mercedes, a shiny red SL 350, bounced in over the speed bump and swung into the car park. A tinted window opened, a sunglassed face leaned out over gold-braceleted arm.
'Hi, Rose - not too late?' The man leapt out of the car. 'Hey, David, George, there you are. Your chariot awaits.' The tourists, who Mr Malik now surmised were called David and George, walked over to the red Mercedes to be greeted with handshakes, smiles and shoulder clasps. 'These guys are staying at the Hilton too, Rose, so I said they should come along. OK with you?'
After the three of them had gained Rose's approval and paid their visitor's subscription the two guests were shown into the passenger seats while the driver jumped back behind the wheel, started the engine and pulled out on to the drive, yelling out through the window just before it closed. 'See you there, everyone.'
Who on earth was that? Brown skin, white hair, expensive clothing, and some kind of American accent; yet he looked slightly familiar. Mr Malik had little time to ponder this question, nor how this man seemed to know Rose Mbikwa, before several young black Africans piled into the back of his old Mercedes. The rest of the YOs slipped and squeezed into Rose's 504, Tom's Morris Minor and the assortment of Land Rovers, Toyotas and other vehicles that other Old Hands had brought along. Engines were started, handbrakes released. As he drove gently over the speed bump and eased his tightly packed load out into the morning traffic, Mr Malik was wearing a worried expression.
That man. No, it couldn't be. Not after all this time.
Excerpted from A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson. Copyright © 2008 by Nicholas Drayson . Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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