Jack rubbed his head and stared out into the London night remembering the tumult of sense and smell and noise as they entered Kampala. His headache began to recede as he let the memories flicker and spin. He remembered David exiting the taxi, bending down and vomiting in the street, his skin pallid as a corpse. Jack had crossed over to a stall, kids instantly surrounding him, their little hands waving and clutching cheap plastic objects he couldn't make sense of, old boxes of matches and photocopied pictures ofMichael Jackson.He bought three warm Cokes and came back to find Ben handing out crumpled banknotes to the bright-eyed and smiling children.
They sat on their backpacks and drank the Coke, warm and sickly sweet, and it was the best Coke they'd ever tasted. The kids delighted themeven though they could see beyond the smiles and welcomes to the grinding poverty which underlay their lives. There were always more kids, more hands outstretched; what they asked for was so little in English money that it seemed mean to deny them, but then you found all your time being taken by handing outmoney and you forgot to look up at the buildings, the sky, the trees, the surly youngmen lounging on every street corner.
They all went through it once: tears, jags of self-pity, wanting desperately to go home even Ben, who'd travelled almost everywhere by the time he'd got to university. 'Just good ol' culture shock,' Jack quipped after Ben had come back from the hostel toilet having found it overflowing, an army of cockroaches big as baby shoes swarming over the bowl. When they lay down on their pillows that evening they could smell other men's nights, puke and booze and blood.
'I think we should pick up the car and get out of here,' Jack suggested on the third day.
They paid twice what they'd agreed for the car back home but it was still cheap they still thought in English money and though the car, an old white Honda Civic, looked like it would fall apart at the first kick of the engine, it managed to glide effortlessly through the cracked and teeming streets of the capital.
They took the MasakaKampala Road west out of the city. In less than ten minutes the concrete gave way to flat pasture- land, dry and cracked, small villages everywhere, circular patterns of daub-and-wattle huts just visible on the side of the highway. The road was empty apart from army vehicles blazing down the fast lane, young soldiers bumping along in the beds of open-backed trucks, their eyes lazily drifting to the three white boys and then back to their cigarettes.
Theymade a detour down to the shores of Lake Victoria and ate fruit and crackers as the sun flashed along the calm surface of the water and Ben explained the history and naming of the lake, the great foolish Victorians with their hats and pomp and retinue of carriers and servants.
Jack suggested they head for Murchison Falls national park, the name a siren song to him, its grandiloquence and archaic quality like something out of a Sherlock Holmes novel.
'We could just stay inMasaka and check out the Ruwenzoris.' Ben was consulting their second-hand guide book. 'What's so special about Murchison Falls?'
'I love the way it sounds,' Jack replied, seduced as always by the poetry of place names, the worlds conjured up by phonetic accident.
'That's why you want to go there?' David had the gift of always sounding flabbergasted, surprised at the world in all its variance, an antidote to their measured and unearned cynicism.
The waters of Lake Victoria glowed like polished glass. 'Forget the guide book,' Jack replied, staring out towards the dark shadowed rim of the horizon, 'let's just start driving.'
Excerpted from A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez. Copyright © 2013 by Stav Sherez. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. 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
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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