They prepared a round table on the plain on the village border for their sunset dinner that evening. Hennessy organised the caterers with his usual barking orderliness, while the party set tidied themselves in the large tents that had sprung up for their convenience.
“Ye won’t be joining them,” said Hennessy, before Jack had even asked. He noticed the surly Scot accentuated his Caledonian twang depending on mood and position. Gruff, pissed off, take no prisoners was full Gaelic mode, whereas calmer he spoke Queen’s English that verged on public school. Jack guessed it betrayed an officer class, although he knew which accent he’d get if he questioned the veteran.
Jack looked over at the lavish feast being prepared. “There’ll be scraps,” said Hennessy. “There always are.” The Scot took a nip from his flask. Jack also noted that he’d never seen the Hibernian eat anything on their travels so far. Maybe it wasn’t always whisky in his jar.
Although the sun had lost it’s heat, reduced to a shimmering pink orb over a dusty orange land, Jack was still burning from the open top drive. That, and the smell of the meaty feast was making him giddy. He needed to lie down, and began to wander off looking for a quiet patch to lay his head, when he saw Abebe waving to him from the village huts, beckoning him over.
IT WAS THE BEST MEAL JACK HAD EATEN IN A LONG TIME
“If you not eat with them, I welcome you to a meal with my family,” the African said, smiling broadly as ever. Jack looked back at the white glamp, just in time to see the heir and his pals emerge from their tents for their seats at the silver serviced table.
They were in full dinner party dress. Blake walked barefoot in a long black gown, split at the back that revealed her slender tanned back, arm in arm with her fiancee, the men in white tuxedo. Leo was taking his recreation of bygone colonialism very seriously. The native and the baitman both stared at the incongruous sight in silence, before Jack broke the spell with his answer. “I’d be honoured,” he said. He meant it.
Abebe’s hut was on the edge of the village. It was a round traditional thatched roof Lapa, made from sticks, stones and baked mud, housing one central room covered with mats for seating and sleeping. The rich smell of a vegetable stew bubbling from a cast iron pot over hot coals greeted them, supplanting the unnatural luxury of the aristocratic banquet next door.
Abebe’s wife was Lesedi, with a smile as wide as her husband’s. She nestled her youngest babe in her arms, and Jack was also introduced to his eldest son Mosi, a stringy lad nearly as tall as his father. “He will be a guide like me when the day comes,” Abebe said, patting the boy’s slender shoulders.
They were joined by other members of the village, young and old curious to the white man’s arrival, as the bowls of steaming greens, yams and fufu were passed out. After a while the names blurred in Jack’s exhausted head, but everyone smiled and laughed, sitting cross legged slurping at their stew, a sea of happy faces lit by the warm glow of the fire that replaced the fading sun. The warmth of their welcome eased his tired muscles, soothed his frazzled brow, filled his belly and even brought a smile to his lips.
It was the best meal Jack had eaten in a long time.