Read An Extract: Child of Africa by T.M. Clark

Prologue

Binga Area, Zimbabwe, 1996.

The elephant baby lay on its side, its trunk limp in the dry dirt.

‘Do you think it’s dead?’ Joss asked, approaching slowly.

Bongani put his hand on the elephant’s shoulder. ‘No, it is breathing, but might be sick, as it is unusual for a baby to be separated from the herd—’

‘What can we do to help it?’

Bongani shook his head. ‘The kindest thing to do would be to shoot it, put it out of its misery.’

Joss ran his hand over the legs of the baby elephant. ‘I can’t find any hot spots and there doesn’t seem to be anything broken. I think it’s just tired, and hungry. We can take it home with us.’

‘Your mother will not like this—’

‘Mum will adopt any animal, you know that! Perhaps if we give it some water?’ Joss said. He took his bottle from the webbing he carried across his shoulder. The regulation army-issue flask was too long for him and sat on his thigh not his hip, but at ten years old, he didn’t care. Water was water, and when you were out tracking and hunting all day, you needed to carry your own. He poured some in his hand and then put the tip of the baby elephant’s trunk into his palm. The elephant was still for a second, then it moved its trunk as it smelt the water.

‘It wants it,’ Joss said as he pulled Bongani’s hands forward. ‘Cup your hands and I’ll pour the water into them—’

The elephant curled its trunk to drink from Bongani’s hands, and put the water in its mouth.

‘At least it is old enough to have control of its trunk,’ Bongani said. ‘A good sign.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Many years ago, before I came to work for your family, I was with the Parks Board. It was a long time ago.’

‘Why did you leave there?’ Joss asked, putting more water into Bongani’s cupped hands.

‘The bush war came. I met your father during that time, and I came to work for him instead, before you were even born.’ Bongani paused. ‘We could get into lots of trouble from the Parks Board for having a baby elephant. They will want to know where we got it, and how we came to have it at the lodge.’

‘Mum will sort that out. Let’s try to get it back on its feet.’

‘Do not rush it. Give it some more water first. Slowly, in case it gets a tummy ache. It will get up when it is ready, if it can. It needs some relief from the heat. We must make a shelter for it, and then, when it is cooler, we can encourage it to walk.’

They collected dead wood from the forest floor and broke branches off the trees in the mopani forest. Slowly the lean-to took shape around the young elephant, protecting the animal from the harsh African sun.

They sat with the baby for over an hour as it drank all the water from both their bottles.

‘If it is to live, it must get up. It must walk to the road,’ Bongani said. ‘We cannot bring a vehicle in here; the bush is too thick.’

‘It’ll walk,’ Joss said as he returned with a handful of leaves from an acacia tree.

The baby attempted to eat the leaves, taking them from his hand and putting them into its little mouth, but it didn’t seem to like them much. For a while it just lay in the shade. Joss sat next to it, stroking its cheek, waiting for the elephant to feel better as the sun began to lower.

‘We need to get it moving soon,’ Bongani said. ‘Is it a boy or girl?’

‘Hang on,’ Joss said as he bent over and looked underneath the elephant. ‘She’s definitely a girl.’

‘Good. She should not be as moody as a male to look after, and perhaps when she is older, she will come back with her babies to visit, not come back in musth and break the fences, destroying our crops.’

‘Come, Ndhlovy,’ Joss said, ‘you have to get up, you have to come home with us. If we leave you here, the leopards or the hyenas will get you, because your mum is not here and you are all alone.’ The elephant put her trunk into his hand. The tiny hairs on it prickled but he didn’t mind. He continued to talk softly to her: ‘Bongani and I need to get home; my mum will shout at us if we don’t get back before it’s dark. It’s her one rule when we go hunting: be home before the sun sets. So you need to stand up and walk to the road, then Bongani will get the tractor and you can ride home on the trailer. But first you must get yourself to the road. It’s not far.’

Bongani said, ‘You are naming her Ndhlovy?’

‘Yes. Then you can’t leave her behind; she’s my pet, she has a name.’

Bongani shook his head. ‘We need to leave now. Perhaps if we walk away she might follow us, like the calves do.’

Joss got up and dusted the dirt off his trousers. ‘Come on, Ndhlovy.’

The baby lay still, but her amber eyes followed him.

Joss walked further away. He looked back over his shoulder. Ndhlovy had sat up and was watching them leave. ‘Come on, ellie, time to go home,’ he said a bit more sternly.

The baby elephant staggered to her feet, her little ears flapping. She wriggled her trunk, thrashing it in an uncertain manner, a little unsteady as she balanced her weight.

Bongani smiled.

‘Home is this way,’ Joss said. ‘Come on …’

The baby elephant walked after them.

Bongani nodded. ‘This is good.’

‘Keep coming, Ndhlovy,’ encouraged Joss.

The baby elephant walked with purpose until she caught up with Joss, then she placed her trunk in his hand, and settled just behind him. Every now and again she bumped him, as if trying to reassure herself he was there.

‘That’s it, Ndhlovy,’ said Joss, ‘you just keep walking.’

‘You keep heading homeward with the elephant. I will fetch the tractor and trailer and the men from the village to help us load her. Keep sharp now.’

‘Okay,’ Joss said just as Ndhlovy bumped him a bit harder and he almost lost his balance.

Bongani smiled. ‘You keep moving to the road and then home, understood?’

‘Yes. We’ll be coming.’

‘Watch for leopard; we are in their country and they might think you are easy prey. Swap weapons with me. I know the .303 is heavier than your .22, but you might need to use it.’

Joss nodded and switched rifles.

Bongani watched him adjust to the extra weight. ‘The ammo belt will not fit around your hips – put it across your chest.’

‘This is heavy. Can’t I just take a few rounds and put them in my pocket?’

‘No. You need to be fully armed out here. If a leopard comes, or something worse …’

Joss adjusted the heavy rifle and ammo belt onto his shoulders.

‘I’m reminding you again, shoot or be killed,’ Bongani instructed.

‘I got it, Bongani. It’s not like I haven’t ever been alone in the bush before—’

‘But you have not been alone in the bush as much as I have. You are still young. There is so much still to teach you.’

‘I’ll watch for leopards and hyenas and anything else that can eat me and Ndhlovy while you’re gone. I promise, cross my heart,’ Joss said as he crossed his whole chest with his free hand.

Bongani nodded as he increased his stride. ‘You are a true African, inkosana Joss. In your heart. You want to save the babies of this land, not kill them. I am happy to tell your mother about the baby, and have her get mad at me, because you have chosen to nurture this Ndhlovy. Today you have proved you are a child of Africa. I will see you now-now.’ He waved as he walked away.

Joss watched as Bongani adjusted the strap of his .22 rifle, which hung from his shoulder tight on his back, then he started to jog back towards the village. He didn’t look back.

***

The sun hovered low above the tree line, a huge ball of orange. Joss watched as their shadows danced along, already three times longer than he and the elephant were in real life. He headed steadily southeast, towards the lodge and safety, with Ndhlovy close behind, her baby feet imprinting like giant saucers over his tracks as she walked. All the while he kept up a conversation with the elephant, explaining how they needed to walk through the village before they could reach their lodge on the bank of Lake Kariba, and about the noise that the others would make when they arrived to help. A coolness descended as the sun sank lower into the horizon.

He heard the sound of whistling, then a donkey bray, and men singing in harmony, before he saw Bongani. He was driving the cart that belonged to his father’s village: three donkeys pulled the converted back of an old bakkie. Six men stood in the cart, holding tight to the cabin guard.

Joss smiled. Ndhlovy would be able to save her strength. The cart would not be as fast as the tractor, but it would scare the little elephant a lot less. He moved off the road into the bushes so that there was room for the donkeys to turn. The elephant pulled away from him as the donkeys drew near, but he rubbed her ears and encouraged her to be brave.

‘Bring it to the back. The donkeys do not seem spooked by it,’ Bongani said.

Joss walked towards the cart. The elephant followed, even though its ears flapped at the unfamiliar animals and the new men. Bongani had unloaded the cattle ramp and Joss started to walk up it, still holding the little ellie’s trunk.

But Ndhlovy didn’t follow.

‘Come on, baby. Up you come,’ he said.

The elephant looked around, her ears flapping, the white of her eyes clearly visible.

‘Trust me,’ Joss pleaded.

The men went to move behind the elephant, as if herding cattle.

The elephant turned towards the threat, ears flapping, her little trunk high in the air.

‘Stand back!’ Bongani shouted.

The men retreated from the threat of the elephant charging them.

Joss came back down the ramp and stood in front of Ndhlovy.

Bongani said, ‘Slowly-slowly. Wait for Joss to get her to start up the ramp. Joss, get her to move around again. We are about to lose all the light. As it is we only have one torch to shine the way for the donkeys.’

‘Come on, beautiful, come with me,’ Joss said as he took her trunk in his hand once again and patted it. ‘Come on, turn around, that’s it. Just walk with me, that’s it.’

The baby elephant slowly plodded up the slope, sticking close to Joss, as if all the bluster she had shown in her mock charge had sapped her energy.

Joss walked to the front of the trailer. ‘Okay. You can close up and climb inside. Ndhlovy’s real scared.’

One by one, the men climbed up and into the cart. Holding out their arms, they touched the elephant, and braced themselves against the edge of the trailer to help cushion the ride.

The moon had risen and the bright stars watched from the inky heavens by the time they had driven through the village and down to Yingwe River Lodge. When they arrived, Ndhlovy backed herself off the trailer without incident and walked into the stables behind Joss. She showed no bravado, just stayed close to him, as if he were now her lifeline.

The ridgebacks arrived before Joss’s mum. Ringo, Paul and John came into the stable, their hackles up, but George remained close at his mistress’s side.

‘Enough. Outside,’ Joss instructed and pointed. The dogs immediately went outside. His mum made her entrance within moments of her dogs being banished and although they danced at the gate, they stayed out of the stable.

‘So what have you brought home this time, Joss Brennan?’ she asked.

‘An orphan elephant. Bongani thinks her herd left her behind, or they got separated somehow … she was on the border of Chete. She’s weak—’

Leslie Brennan walked further into the stable and knelt in the straw. ‘Hello, young one,’ she said quietly and reached her hand out to the little elephant, who was now lying in the thick straw that Bongani had had the groom prepare.

The dogs whined.

‘Stay outside,’ she instructed. They lay down quietly near the door. ‘Does she have any injuries?’

‘No, Mum. Not that I could find. She’s just weak and tired,’ Joss said, still holding Ndhlovy’s trunk.

‘She needs some nourishment and something to drink. Mossman, go warm up some calf formula. Let’s see if she will take a bottle. I know nothing about baby ellies but I can call around and find out who does.’ She pulled her hair back with her hands and held it there, before letting it go. When it fell forward again, she tucked her long fringe behind her ear. ‘Bongani, make sure there’s someone guarding this little one all night. Armed, in case the leopards decide she’s an easy dinner. Get a few of the horse blankets in here to keep her warm too.’ She stroked the elephant’s trunk as men ran to do as she’d instructed. ‘Have you given her a name yet?’

Joss nodded. ‘Ndhlovy.’

‘It’s a nice name. So, let’s get her on her feet and better. Then we will find out what ZimParks want us to do.’

‘Thanks, Mum,’ Joss said. He knew that his mum would always allow him to keep the strays he brought in. The Egyptian geese babies she’d helped raise until they flew away with the migrating birds were regulars at the small dam they had for water at the safari lodge, nesting and raising their own goslings, bringing them to the house to introduce them, and then returning to their wild life, a tiny part of their hearts always with their human family.

Or the tortoises that were kept in a large brick pen by the house. Each had been brought in with an injury – one was missing a leg completely. His mother had sprayed the wound with gentian violet and it had healed over. Although the tortoise would never win a race, it was alive and happy. Joss had wild birds mixed in with his racing pigeons too, those that could never be returned to the wild because of some injury or another. But not nearly as many as his mother had treated and nursed back to health before setting them free again. From birds to baby duikers, now to an elephant, his mum would raise any animal and claim that it belonged to her child, even though her son was at boarding school most of the year.

His father, on the other hand, was always reminding them that the safari lodge was established as a gateway to Lake Kariba, that it wasn’t a zoo, and the animals could only stay until they were well enough, then they had to leave. It was survival of the fittest in the real world, and because he’d once been a head ranger in the Chizarira, Joss knew that he understood all about animals, but he just didn’t seem to want to take care of them like Joss and his mum did.

Joss chewed his lip, not sure how his father would react to the elephant baby. He remembered that last year a rogue elephant had come from the park and destroyed the village’s vegetable patch and flattened their moringa tree seedlings. It had uprooted trees on its way to their village and had even torn a roof from one of the ikhayas. When they had attempted to drive it back into the Chete Safari Area by beating feed tins and hitting metal plough disks, the jumbo had become aggressive and mauled one of the villagers.

His dad had got permission from ZimParks to shoot it.

Joss had thought that perhaps it was just a hungry animal and if they left it alone, it might have walked back into the safari area, then into the national park itself. He didn’t think it was a pest until they frightened it.

Joss didn’t want his ellie to land up like that – shot and in someone’s cooking pot.

What his father would say when he got home was going to be interesting, but first, they had to make sure the baby lived. He would worry about his dad’s reaction later. Mossman returned with a bottle of warm milk, and Joss watched while his mum teased the baby into taking the teat into her mouth. But Ndhlovy refused to drink from it.

‘You try, Joss. She seems to already trust you.’ Leslie gave him the bottle.

‘Come on, Ndhlovy, you need the milk, you need to drink it.’ He dribbled a little like his mother had on the elephant’s lips tucked up underneath her trunk, and the little trunk made room for the bottle, arching and resting on Joss’s arm as she attempted to suck on the teat with her lips.

‘That’s it,’ Leslie said, ‘come on, baby.’

Ndhlovy latched on to the teat and began to drink.

‘Perfect. Step one accomplished,’ Leslie said. ‘If she takes milk, we can get her stronger.’

‘How often do you think she will need a bottle?’ Joss asked.

‘Probably every few hours, although she doesn’t seem to be a newborn; she’s already well over a metre tall. Let’s start at two hours, because she’s weak and in need of hydration. Mossman, add extra calf supplement in the next feed, double mix.’ Mossman nodded.

‘Right. Let me get on the phone to Rodger, see what tips he has.

Don’t get your hopes up, Joss. She could still die.’

Joss shook his head. ‘We can’t let that happen, Mum.’

Leslie put her arms around his shoulders as he fed the baby elephant.

‘We’ll try everything we can. Perhaps if we can just get her well again, you and Bongani can take her back into the reserve, and find her a herd to live with. I don’t know if she will be adopted back smelling of humans, but it’s worth a try. I don’t know how long an elephant baby stays with its mum, but I know it’s a long time.

I remember watching a documentary where a herd adopted a calf when its mother died … we can only try.’

Joss said, ‘Will you make sure Dad doesn’t shoot it when he gets home from Durban?’

‘I’ll talk to him about it, but you know his view on orphaned animals.’

‘I don’t understand why he hates animals so much.’

She let go of Joss and straightened up, arching her back to stretch

it. ‘Oh, Joss, he doesn’t hate animals, he just doesn’t see them as pets. Remember, he was a ranger, and he is a hunter. At the end of the day, he worries that he needs to put food on everyone’s plates. Make a decent living. Lots of people rely on him for their wages too. The boys here at the lodge need to be paid so their families can buy food and attend school. The villagers need their cut from the lodge so that they can eat and survive. It’s not just you who needs your dad’s income to be educated and healthy.’

‘It’s just one elephant, Mum,’ Joss said. ‘One little elephant.’

‘That will grow huge. Now, we don’t need to make any decisions tonight. Let’s just get her better, make sure she survives. Then we’ll deal with the rest. How does that sound?’

‘Can I stay here with my ellie tonight?’

‘Sure. I’ll bring you some dinner and a sleeping bag, and I’ll leave Ringo behind. He can sleep inside the stable with you. That way if a leopard even puts its nose into the area, he’ll wake you and Bongani up.’

‘Thanks, Mum,’ Joss said as Ndhlovy finished the milk in the bottle.

‘I’ll see you just now,’ she said as she kissed his forehead. Once

outside she said, ‘Ringo, inside, sit. Stay with Joss.’

The dog leapt to his feet and walked into the stable. Still not sure of the elephant, he approached with caution, but Joss called him to his side.

‘Come on, Ringo. Meet Ndhlovy.’

As the dog sniffed the elephant, his tail began to wag. He settled in next to the pachyderm, licking her every now and again in a reassuring way.

Ndhlovy didn’t seem to mind the ridgeback next to her, and touched him with her trunk.

‘Well, look at that,’ Leslie said. ‘Anyone would think those two were long-time friends.’

Joss smiled. ‘You know what, Mum, when I’m old like you, and I’m a Royal British Marine, I can save as many people and animals as I like, and I won’t need anyone to watch over me at night, not Ringo nor Bongani.’

‘True, but then you’ll be an adult, and you will be looking after everything you save, down to every last detail, like all the phone calls, getting all the right food, having enough money to enable you to do that saving, and dealing with all the authorities and their different points of view – and don’t forget the local community; they want their say too. It’s never a simple rescue, Joss, there are always more things in the background that need to be sorted out that as a kid you don’t need to worry about. Enjoy your time with Ndhlovy while you have her. Hopefully she’ll be able to go back into the Chizarira soon and live her own life too. Don’t rush this time away, my son, it’s not as great as it looks to be on this side of the fence, being that adult responsible for others.’

Chapter One

Kajaki Hydroelectric Scheme, Afghanistan, 2008

The four kilometre–long convoy snaked into the Kajaki Hydroelectric Plant. Joss Brennan watched the turbines arriving at the dam wall through his binoculars and wanted to dance around, even though he was just one of five thousand troops who had played their part in protecting Turbine T2. But celebrations would have to wait.

Seven sections of turbine, each weighing between twenty and thirty tons, had been transported the final one hundred and eighty kilometres from Kandahar air base, through the Helmand Valley and the desert and finally up to Kajaki Lake. Some optimist had painted holy slogans and an Afghan flag on the containers to try to dig deep into the patriotism the locals had for their country – T2 belonged to the people. It seemed to have worked, because the heavy convoy had arrived at its destination. The people of Afghanistan would soon have two working turbines, creating power and bringing them electricity.

Chinook helicopters flew overhead, loud as they passed low, sweeping the area.

Ten days of hell were almost over.

The eighty-ton crane was the next piece of equipment to come to a halt. As important as the segments themselves, it would help the engineers lift the parts off the trucks. Each minute the sections sat around was a minute longer that the troops had to protect them from the Taliban.

Joss adjusted his binoculars and looked further up the hill, following the line carefully, looking for anything out of place in the rugged terrain. The word in the barracks was that almost two hundred insurgents had been cleared on the route through and around the dam. He hoped that was true and they were unable to return, but there were always those who, like snakes, slipped through the cracks to come back to bite their butts another day.

He scanned the compound in a grid pattern, making sure no one would threaten this precious cargo, not after the epic mission they had just accomplished. This was his job, the sniper, the tracker, the spotter in his company. Who knew that watching the animals in Africa all those years ago would be such good practice for hunting the enemy when he became a British Marine Commando? Who would have known that the hours spent with his father and Bongani in the bush, learning the skills of a hunter, would help him be the ultimate marine?

Joss went over the grid a second time. ‘Check two o’clock on the ridge. Shadow protruding beyond the wall,’ he said into his mic. ‘Definitely something moving in the compound.’ But in the next moment, the shadow had gone, and all that remained was the edge of the wall.

‘Affirmative. Suspect unfriendlies,’ Mitch’s Australian twang answered.

‘Don’t jump to conclusions, might be the locals. Eleventh troop mobilise. Sweep compound,’ Lieutenant Colonel Johnathan Tait- Markham – Tank to his friends – ordered over the coms.

After a quick glance at the convoy still rolling in, Joss packed his binoculars. Mitch put his hand out to help him up.

‘Crack on, we have a compound to clear,’ came Tank’s voice.

Joss bent and ran with Mitch just a few steps behind. The stones at their feet slid loosely until their boots gripped the baked surface beneath.

They reached the compound and were soon hot-footing it along the mud wall. Joss remembered this village well – they had previously cleared an IED from exactly where he walked now. They’d returned a few times since the initial clearing, but that didn’t mean that there were no more IEDs. Insurgents could creep in at any time and rearm a place.

‘Affix bayonets. Two break left, two break right,’ Tank instructed.

Joss saw Mitch and Tank break left. He rounded the corner of the same hole they had blasted in the mud wall a few weeks back, Cricket, one of his fellow marines, with him. He heard the wasp sounds as bullets flew close to his head. He hit the dirt and rolled for cover.

‘Contact. Contact,’ Tank shouted into the mic.

Crawling after Cricket, Joss slipped into a room. They swept it quickly.

‘Clear,’ Cricket said.

‘Wait,’ Joss said as he saw a carpet hanging on the wall move. He indicated with his head towards it. Outside he could hear the shallow pop-pop sound of the insurgents’ AKs and the deeper sounds of their own rifles.

‘Joss, where are you?’ Tank called. ‘We need a sniper.’

‘Clearing this—’

He got no further as the carpet came to life. Someone was screaming, and the whole thing came down, exposing an insurgent with his gun raised.

Cricket and Joss shot him down in a hail of bullets.

Joss approached the body. He kicked the AK-47 away, and looked at the man.

Correction.

Boy.

Joss knelt down and checked for a pulse, but there was none. He was relieved and sad.

No more than fourteen, the boy had only the wispy beginning of a moustache. His black turban still clung tightly to his head. He looked too young to be carrying a weapon and trying to kill them.  He should still be in school.

This was someone’s son. Someone’s child who might not have wanted to be a soldier.

Or worse, this could have been a child who chose this path, thinking it was his shortcut to glory in the afterlife.

Joss swallowed. It was survival – if they hadn’t shot him, they would be the ones lying on the floor. ‘Dead,’ he told Cricket, and together they moved out of the room, to help the rest of the troop.

***

The stone chips pitted Joss’s face, flicked up by bullets that were unnervingly accurate and close. One whistled past his ear. Joss adjusted his scope. ‘Bogie at three o’clock.’

He squeezed the trigger.

The man’s head jerked back. Joss slid the bolt of his rifle, ejecting the shell and loading another.

‘Three o’clock,’ he said as he shot the next man who was keeping his troop pinned down.

Again he reloaded.

Taking a breath, he looked for the third insurgent he’d seen. He had gone to ground.

‘Lost visual,’ he informed Mitch.

Mitch looked through his binoculars, scanning the small hill on the other side of the village. ‘Four o’clock, blue/black turban. Behind a wall – must be a ledge beneath it that he’s using.’

Joss adjusted his weapon and took aim at the designated place, even though he could see nothing there. The turban rose as the man wearing it peered over the ledge to check where his enemy had got to. Calmly, Joss fired, and the man dropped out of sight.

‘Hit?’ Mitch asked.

‘Affirmative,’ Joss said as he reloaded.

Mitch nodded. ‘Bad angle, I couldn’t be sure from here.’

The firing had stopped. The silence that followed any fight was always deafening. The wait for the next shot terrifying in case it came right for you.

‘Any more?’ Mitch asked.

Joss took a deep breath and swept his scope over the side of the hill. A single goat nibbled at non-existent grass. ‘Wait … look left of the goat.’

Mitch focused on the goat, then left. ‘Bogie,’ he affirmed. ‘He has a rocket launcher.’

They saw the tip of the man’s head, his arms outstretched to launch the deadly missile at them or at the precious convoy of trucks. Joss took him down. The sound of the single shot was loud in the silence that had descended.

The goat bleated and tried to run away, but it seemed tethered to the insurgent. Panicked, it bleated some more.

‘Continue to clear area,’ Tank shouted over the coms and the men came out from where they had taken cover to sweep the village.

‘If we let that goat go, it’ll lead us to where they came from,’ Joss said. ‘Find their base.’

‘Negative,’ Tank replied. ‘It’s getting late; we pass that on to the American troops to follow up. I’m in contact with HQ, and they have a command passing us in ten minutes. Check fire. Friendlies approaching from behind.’

Joss watched as the American marines chatted to Tank on their way through. He pointed to the goat, and their leader nodded. Then they were off, along with the goat, over the small hill and out for their night patrol.

Joss’s company gathered and headed towards their temporary barracks, spirits high, adrenaline levels beginning to lower. Joss grinned. This was what he had been born to do – to wear his green beret and serve the greater good, just like his grandfather. To help people who were unable to stand up to tyranny. Fight for freedom and justice when those around couldn’t.

Tonight he would pen another letter to Courtney, like he always did when something significant took place, then he would watch it burn, as was regulation. He would rewrite it when he got back to England, after he was out of the desert, a more sanitised version. An emotionless version that would never depict the true horrors they experienced out here, or the simple joys of just waking up, knowing that you had achieved something amazing.

It didn’t matter that Courtney didn’t write back often; he just wanted her to know he was okay out here in the world beyond Africa. He kept the letters he’d received from her in England, and any that he received while on the front line he would read, commit to memory, then burn so that the enemy would not get their hands on them.

Letters to his best friend, and phone calls to Bongani, his lodge manager, were his only connection to his home in Zimbabwe now that his parents were gone.


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