Only on our return did I notice how the rainforest bloomed. Everything seemed calmer. Lightning arced through the sky, but without thunder. The animal cries were muted by the sounds of rain. And the forest gained definition: details became visible against the green. Creatures leaped from the trees with outstretched arms. The throats of bullfrogs expanded into bottles. Monkeys hung by their tails and playfully touched the river. Areas of the shore were covered in white mushrooms. Lichen colored tree barks glowed orange. Cicadas called at 6pm.
At the village a monkey had been imprisoned in a bamboo cage. L’Americain kept it as a pet, feeding it passion fruit. He was sitting in an open-walled hut. Half a trunk of wood had been lit and smothered, and smoke from the orange-glowing log rose through a hole in the thatched roof. L’Americain rested in the shade. His wife brought us a buffet of pineapple. The monkey licked its fingers. I ate so quickly I wasn’t aware when my hunger was extinguished, and I finished the meal moving slowly and giddily, like a bee that had feasted on honey.
The barge was still stranded, and the only sign of life on it was the clutter around the crew quarters. Another barge had passed in the interim and embarked most of the beached passengers, but it hadn’t had the requisite equipment to repair our barge. L’Americain proposed we borrow his motorbike. He offered to arrange a party on foot: local boys would serve as guides. If we waited a week it might be possible to rent a 4 x 4. But they seemed ideas of folly. The cousin backed out. We would soon reach the peak of inundation, he said, and any journey would be too risky.
Bobby rashly promised that we would return in a few months. The cousin said once the rains slowed he would be glad to join.
Bobby had contracted a cold. Solemnly, sniveling, he made for the bat room.
I sat on the riverbank for a long time. I felt exhausted. Our journey had clearly failed. I had made a mistake by taking such a risk. And I had now gone several weeks without writing a story. The money I had given the family would have been finished. I thought I would have to pick myself up and return to the old routine in Kinshasa. It would be a struggle.
But something happened that afternoon to change the course of my time in Congo. I heard a noise behind me, in the bush. It was Bahati, the Rwandan boy, who came to the water. He had brought his radio, and together we listened to the international news. I told him about our misadventure upriver. He had heard. And after we turned off the radio he said we could perhaps go cycling together. Two Pygmy settlements were located not far away, he said. If I was interested. I was not particularly hopeful—but it seemed a last possibility. So the next day we borrowed two bicycles from l’Americain and set out.
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