by Warren Jeremy Rourke
My thoughts are pooled on the young black girl that my personal assistant brought to my Edwardian hotel last night. I’m engrossed in the nuances of my memories of her when the convoy arrives at my gate to my private five-star game reserve. What was her name? It’s a pity that the hotel manager saw her. But what does that matter? He will be as unemployed as all the rest of them, soon enough. Fools! One-point-five American dollars an hour. Ha!
These managers . . . Just temporary caretakers for my properties. They think they’ll get proper contracts when I reopen my hotels and game reserves. If they work hard enough. Ha! How cheap and easy people sell themselves in this country. Pathetic. Pathetic and desperate. And all those others! They can sit at home now and starve. Make demands on me! Protest for more wages against me!
My assistant climbs out of my new vehicle and enters the code to my reserve gate in the headlights.
“I’m happy with this vehicle, Taveer,” I remark as he climbs back in. “What’s it called?”
“Your vehicle is a Vogue SE Range Rover, Excellency,” he answers cheerfully, driving forward through my African Karoo terrain. “Best on the market. One million four-hundred thousand ZAR. Nothing better available here.”
After a few minutes of sightless driving, but for the track through the dark, Taveer brings my vehicle to a stop. He then climbs out to open the electric fence to my lodge and is struggling with the latch when a game ranger steps into the headlights on the other side and waves. I can see Taveer is nervous. Now that would be exciting. It would take away this boredom: my devout assistant devoured right here at the entrance, right in front of me in the light where I can watch him screaming, his scrawny body being ripped apart. He climbs back into the vehicle quickly, too quickly. I smile.
“Your other two vehicles are not as good, Excellency,” he continues as we pull up to the entrance of my lodge. “They are called SE Sport Range Rovers, each one costs under one million ZAR, but the dealer said the LR-V8 of the Sport model will be better for tomorrow because of the terrain response system. It can adjust to any track, including rocks, of which there are a lot on your property, Excellency. So that’ll be useful, if they run into the hills. We can get them wherever they go, and also, we can manually –”
“Shut up Taveer!” I spit at him as we come to a stop at the well-lit parking area at the reception. “I’m tired of your voice and I do not want a detailed breakdown of my vehicle. If I wanted that, I would have you write reports like my CFOs. And I do not want to live tomorrow today through your words. What are we doing here if you are going to describe the details to me? Shut up about the details! Shut up! The details are for you – not for me.” I’m angry; the drive was too long from my hotel. “And I do not want to be embarrassed again the way you embarrassed me last night. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Excellency. The hotel manager was supposed to have gone –”
“When we get back to my hotel, I want you to let that caretaker know exactly what will happen to him if he decides to get clever.”
“Yes, Excellency. Sorry.”
“Who is at the lodge?”
“Only the game ranger you saw now, Fundisile, and the contract manager, Johannes, Excellency. There is no-one else here since we shut down all the reserves and hotels. I also sent the maintenance man from here to your hotel in Sea Point to act as security because . . .” He senses my disquiet and stops.
“I want my chef to prepare game meat.”
“Yes, Excellency. Of course.”
The headlights of my vehicle are resting on this Johannes character standing at the lodge entrance; this mere caretaker manager who believes like all the others that, if he works hard enough, he’ll receive a proper contract. Fool. I watch him waver in indecision and then come up to my door when he sees Taveer climbing out.
“Good evening, ah, sir,” he says, opening for me. “I hope the journey wasn’t too tiring. It’s a long way from Port Elizabeth.”
I say nothing in return but stretch my back after sitting for so long.
“I have some good news,” he says, looking at me expectantly. He’s at least a competent manager.
“Yes. That is what I want. Only good news.”
“Fundi, our game ranger picked up a signal from a female this evening in the ravine near the second lodge. He says that if they’re in the ravine they will stay there until well into the day. That will make things much easier for us,” he smiles.
“Do we move to the second lodge then?” asks Taveer, sternly, as my other vehicles with my entourage pull up.
“No-no,” the manager shakes his head. “It’s better if there is no activity there tonight. It might scare them off after so much time without anyone there. Ja, that’s probably why they’re in the ravine in the first place. Your people can set up here, everything is ready, and Fundi will take you for your drive just after daybreak, if that’s okay with you?” he asks, looking at me.
“Yes. Tomorrow after daybreak is good,” Taveer draws his attention away.
Details. Why does everyone insist on giving me all these details? “Taveer, I want to go to my cabin now. I don’t want the details of getting to my cabin. I just want to go to my cabin. Do you think you can manage that?”
“Yes, Excellency,” then turning to the caretaker manager, “Show his Excellency his cabin.”
Sometime before daybreak I wake up with a shock. A tail. I dreamt I had a tail under my skin at the end of my spine; and it was pushing, trying to burst out. What is that? A tail! I close my eyes. I try to think of the black girl Taveer brought me last night. I wonder how much Taveer paid? Probably little. The currency here makes everything so easy. These people are all so desperate. Hapiloe! Yes. That was her name. Now I remember. My Hapiloe.
“There!” shouts the ranger.
We’ve been driving for less than an hour, following the GPS tracking device he periodically holds up in the air, when I see them through my binoculars. Yellow movements between the grey rocks. Excellent. “We will drive in fast now,” the ranger warns me, “to make them come out from behind those rocks and run up the slope. Once they are going up the slope, you’ll have a clear shot at them”.
“Good, good,” I say, trying to sound calm but the blood is already rushing through my body. I am already drunk just approaching them. My ranger tells me to hold on, purposefully revving the engine, and then accelerates along the track. But I don’t care. I would give a hundred of these vehicles for this feeling.
Then I see them. A male and a female going quickly up the slope. I’m surprised at how fast they move across the rocky terrain. I take aim with my rifle. Careful. Careful. I fire. The shot goes wide and I see a splash of rock and dust where the bullet smashes into the hillside. “Dammit!” The lions move more quickly in their panic. Too quick.
Taveer pats me excitedly on the shoulder. “There, Excellency!” he shouts, pointing to the left where I immediately see a female and three cubs running in another direction. Excellent. I take aim. There are fewer rocks and they are not moving as quick. This is easier. They are grouped close together. I take aim and fire three times in quick succession. The female goes down, sprawling and tumbling in the dirt, and one of the cubs explodes.
“Ha! Did you see that Taveer?! Did you see that?! I’ve never seen anything like that before. Like popcorn.” I take aim again. This is much easier now. The cubs run in different directions. I fire. The shot goes slightly above the one cub. It turns this way and then that. I take aim again at the other one moving in a straight line. Careful. Careful. Fire. It is like a yellow flower blooming into a red one. “Like a blooming red flower!” I shout. Such a beautiful feeling. Like an orgasm. I take aim again. But I can’t see the other cub. “Where is it?!” I shout at my ranger.
“It’s gone around the bend between those two large rocks,” he nods in the direction.
He’s jealous. He wishes he could be me. No one can be me. “Go after it you fool!” I shout at him.
“Impossible. There is no way around there from this approach,” he says, putting the vehicle in reverse.
I am disappointed. I want more. But never mind. This was a good hunt. Taveer congratulates me heartily – even forgets his place – puts his hand on my shoulder. Never mind. He is excited.
“Yes. We will have champagne now.” He hands me a glass and then pops the bottle. Ha! Like popcorn popping and blooming red flowers. “Good champagne after a good hunt, heh, Taveer?”
“Yes-yes. Good shooting, Excellency. Very good shooting. Next time we must use an assault rifle. Your R-15 VTR predator sporting rifle isn’t good enough. This is Veuve Cliquot champagne. Real champagne at two-thousand rand a bot –”. He sees my face and stops. “But good hunting. Gooood hunting.”
I smile at my little assistant. He really cannot help himself. It is his way. He is after all good at the details. That is why he is here.
“Have a glass, Taveer,” I order him. “Join in my toast. This was a good hunt. Are the other ones in range?” I ask the ranger as we make our way back along the track.
“No. We won’t get to them . . . Not today,” he says flatly. Too flatly. He is spoiling the moment. I think I must replace this ranger too.
“But don’t worry, Excellency,” Taveer smiles, seeing my expression. “We have all the time in the world to find the rest.”
Yes. There is no rush. We have all the time in the world to play here in Africa. I think Taveer must negotiate for another native girl from around here for tonight.
“Wait, wait! Taveer!” I turn to him in anger. “My trophies,” I stare at him. “You are supposed to take care of the details. Hmm . . . I think maybe you should wait at the kills. To guard them while the ranger drops me at the lodge.”
The look on his face brings a smile to my own. Ha! I’m enjoying my African experience.
“Canned lion hunting is illegal in South Africa, but captive-bred lion hunting is allowed […] Our country is now the world’s largest exporter of trophy lion heads.”
David Barritt (NFA: International Network for Animals)