Sacred Combe Safari IV
Day 2, part 2
Telling a Bob story is always a challenge. And on every trip to Zambia, there comes a time – there come several times – when Bob stories have to be told to our guests. He is the hero of a thousand camp-fire tales; he’s also the hero of my first novel Rogue Lion Safaris, though I toned him down to make him believable.
That’s part of the problem. If you tell the literal truth, Bob comes across all wrong. Because he was never an idiot. The story of him driving into the Bangweulu Swamp or setting the new Land Cruiser on fire certainly bear repeating: but they make Bob look like a clown.
The fact is that Bob was also a genius. He was a genius of birds, especially, of the sounds of birds. He shared his knowledge with me and with Chris, and with it, his great streak of wildness. Knowing Bob was one of the great adventures of both our lives. “Never mind where we bloody are!” he once told us, when we were either in Zambia or Zaire, but weren’t at all sure which. “Just stop when you see a bird!”
He was great company, marvellously funny, highly intelligent, many-sided, and the best possible fun – and of course, it always came back to birds. We have both spent hours in the bush with him, usually in pursuit of a small brown bird – Codrington’s indigo bird, for example — and it was all great. Some other time I’ll tell you the story of Bob and the world’s worst picnic, or the interventions of elephants in our hunt for the Angola pitta.
But not now. For I heard three distinct notes from the top of a tree and after a fizzing pause of perhaps 4.3 seconds Bob came bursting into my brain, forcing from me an involuntary cry: “Chinspot batis!” I hadn’t heard the call for about 20 years, and it was as if I had Bob beside me again, prompting me.
I pointed the bird out to Chris, and he went through a very similar experience. Bob spoke to him, too, from across the years. “Three blind mice – listen!” That evening, back at Tafika, Chris and I raised bottles of Mosi, the excellent Zambian beer, clinked them musically together, and once again, drank to Bob’s memory. I expect that somewhere out in the bush there’s a small brown bird with a contact call that sounds just like two bottles of Mosi being clinked together. If we but knew it.