#13 The Trip To Kilimanjaro (1/3)
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#13 The Trip To Kilimanjaro
I Keep A Picture
Of Mount Kilimanjaro on the window sill beside my bed. In the foreground, it has zebras grazing in the long grass, scattered across a field broken up by the green breadth of acacia trees. In the middle-ground, a low, thin cloud stretches across the scene, faint and unobtrusive. You could be forgiven for not noticing it at all. And at the back, the mountain. Its curvature at both sides is met by the white tabletop. There are dips of shadow and indentations in the snowy white, and it hangs heavenly against the blue sky with the hazy white clouds around it. Because of where it is in my room, it is the first thing I see in the morning and the last before I go to bed.
I must say, the picture is not merely a picture but it is something more. It is a postcard Zahra sent me in August when she went to visit her family in Tanzania. She didn’t go to Kilimanjaro, but near enough, and she said all the postcards had Kilimanjaro on them. Or giraffes, which could have been anywhere in Africa.
She said she was going to visit her family after exams, and that she was going to see them before she moved further away. That after Tanzania she would move to Columbus, Ohio, that she had an uncle there to put her up.
‘When will I see you?’
‘You can visit.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Can we go to Kilimanjaro instead?’ I asked.
‘I want to see what it looks like in person, with the clouds around it and snow at its top.’
‘I’ll write you from Africa, maybe I’ll send a picture.’
‘And we’ll see each other again…’
‘Of course we will.’
The last day I saw her was the day before she flew. She looked energised, excited, had a great big smile across her face. I did too. I was excited for her. She said to me, ‘It’s expensive, you know. I couldn’t afford it without my family helping.’
‘I’ll save up. I’ll get a job.’
And then she left. I watched her leave. There was nothing special about it. Just her bobbing black hair and the sound of her athletics trainers crunching the loose gravel.
I Need A Job
That’s what I told Mum. She said that Michael’s Mum, Heather, one of her friends, got a job as a store manager at the supermarket. She could ask if they had any positions going.
‘Why do you want a job? I’ve been saying you should get one for months.’
‘I’m going to Mount Kilimanjaro. I need to pay for it.’
She furrowed her eyebrows. I don’t think she understood. She never understands. She has these eyes, red and strained like she wants to understand me but doesn’t. And yet I don’t think I’m that hard to get.
‘Why do you want to go there?’
‘What do you mean? It’s Mount Kilimanjaro.’
‘Yes, but why specifically Kilimanjaro, why not anywhere else?’
‘I’m going to meet Zahra there.’
‘But you see her every day.’
‘Not anymore. She’s moving to Columbus.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’ Mum ran her fingers through my hair but I shrugged them off.
The following morning, Mum said over breakfast that Heather is looking for people to work at the supermarket. On the fish counter. They want someone to slice up the cold fish and bag it up for customers. I’d have to wear an apron and a little black hat.
‘I’ll do it.’
‘Really?’ Mum asked.
‘Of course. How hard can it be?’
‘Okay, I’ll let her know.’
The Fish Was Disgusting
I could smell it walking home. I could smell it in my sleep. I could smell it when I was eating different, smelly food. And I kept seeing the image of the pink and white flesh against the icy backdrop. The oddly-dry coldness emanating from the cooling displays. The fog-ice of the walk-in freezer against the warmth of the supermarket air.
I met David on the fish counter. He went to the same college as me but we didn’t know each other before this. He said he’d seen me around, but I didn’t recognise his face.
He talked to me about his night last night, which girls he was texting and what they looked like. He talked about the new Marvel film, and the car he wanted to buy on finance I knew he couldn’t afford. He asked me questions but with no interest in what the answer might be. They all led to an opportunity for him to talk at great lengths about whichever topic he wanted. I talk about him negatively, like he’s not the sort of person I’d normally spend time with, but in a sense he was entertaining. And he helped to pass the time, distracting me from the fish. So I answered his questions, listened to his ramblings and even probed for more when I thought the silence might come with all its sad, fish-infested energy.
And all the while, somewhere within my subconscious, a tiny ticker was calculating every minute’s pound and penny dropping from the supermarket’s bank account and into my palms. At this, I could bear the guttiest, goriest decapitation of a fish. I would do anything if I only knew a few extra pounds went to Kilimanjaro.
She Came Back
A week before flying to Columbus. I only saw her once though, because she was busy sorting her things out. Her nails were painted with black and white stripes. She had a sweet smile on her lips like she had when she was nervous, and she smelled of the sun.
I asked her what it was like and she said it was beautiful. She said there were zebras and giraffes, and she ate the best food, something called Chipsi Mayai, which sounded British to me. It was boiling hot every day, and she went swimming, went on a safari and spent hours and hours with her little cousin, Samir. She said the air was peaceful and their ways of life were relaxed and inclusive and caring for each other. She said Kilimanjaro hung above and they looked at it with sparkling eyes. It was a God watching over them, giving them a good harvest and fortunes for the future. She said its face changes with the weather, it speaks to you in the night, welcomes you in the morning and sends you messages of wisdom.
When she told me about it I could see it in her eyes. I was there with her. I saw us both, our hands together, standing in the foreground of the picture in the postcard she sent, with our waists hidden by the long grass, the zebras in front of us and Kilimanjaro in the distance.
She held my hand and said, I cannot wait to go with you. I cannot wait to see how it changes you and to share those moments with you.
I cannot wait either.
And then her Dad called her inside, shouting something about how he has to go in half an hour and she hasn’t finished packing. Her future was yet to be real for me, her presence was still grounded in me, and I knew, more than I knew anything, that we would fly to Kilimanjaro together.
I’ll see you next in Tanzania, she said, a hand on my arm.
I nodded, but I couldn’t smile…
Thanks as always for reading the first part of another story. Tune in next time to hear what happens next between Leon and Zahra, how he saves up for his trip, and what surprises unfold.
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