‘What happens next’ I beg, looking into my father’s face, pleading, hoping for just one more chapter of the story that pours from his mind into my small girl’s imagination. I clutch his arm, desperate for more breathless adventure about our young, dashing heroes as they struggle through Burmese jungle swamps, hiding from hellish fiends.
I can see the thick vines, the tangled foliage and impenetrable bamboo. I smell the fetid rising miasma of dank malarial pools, and hear the black-water fever mosquitoes whine. Water lily stems tangle my legs as I wade, chest deep with the men, rifles held above our heads.
Alas, my father remains firm; the next chapter must wait for another night.
I implore, ‘just one more.’
My brother interferes. ‘You heard what he said. Why do you always persist?’
I flush with shame. Pulling up my sheet, I hide and hate my brother. If he hadn’t said anything, I might have prevailed.
They leave me in the dark to sleep. We, my siblings and I, listen nightly to my father’s stories while we spend school holidays with him. Why we have to live in Salisbury and he in Kariba is one of the many mysteries filling my life; one that I dare not question. I have no idea my parents are divorced.
I believe like me, my brothers are besotted with Dad’s fantasies. I am shocked, when as an adult I discover my brothers recall his stories as puerile. But when I was little, my greatest concern was how, to keep close that font of war adventures.
Now, alone in my bed, the curdling tingle of thrilling fear catches up with me as I lie in the dark. I begin to imagine the jungle closing in. I strain to catch shadows, stiff against the blackness that presses against my eyeballs. I imagine Imperial Japanese soldiers and pythons with girths the size of my father’s thigh, man-eating crocodiles, and tigers waiting in ambush. Shrinking further under my blanket, I listen for sounds beyond the cicada-shrill silence in my ears. I am alone and defenseless.
The next morning we pack to go home. ‘But what about the rest of the story’ I say, bewildered. How can we go home when Dad hasn’t finished the story? ‘Can you tell it now’ I ask but he is busy.
Sampson takes me to collect my bag. I love Samson who works with my Dad. Funny and gentle, he looks out for me because he says he has a daughter the same age. He never makes me feel like an annoying little girl, and he saved us from rolling into the lake, when my father left off the handbrake in the Land Rover.
I ask Sampson if he knows the story. If he can tell it to me before I go.
Careful, with polished words like river pebbles he says ‘no’ and shakes his head. ‘I do not know that story.’
I begin to cry and he takes pity on me. ‘You do not need that story. It is better to make your own because you can make it go where you want it to go’ he says looking down at me, his ebony cheeks bulging with his smile.
Surprised, I look at him through swamped eyes. ‘No I can’t. I don’t know what happens.’
‘You do not know, because you have not made it.’ Sampson says. ‘When you make it, then it is a story.’