#14 The Trip To Kilimanjaro (2/3)
We’re onto #14 and the second part of the Trip To Kilimanjaro. There’s no time to waste, so let’s recap what happened in the first part.
Leon, our protagonist, learns his girlfriend Zahra’s news that she is moving to Columbus, Ohio. But before she goes, she’s visiting family in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro. Leon gets a job on the fish counter to save for a trip to Kilimanjaro.
If you missed the first part, click here.
If you haven’t read any of Story Press, check out the archive here.
If you enjoy the stories, share them with friends!
Thanks for reading Story Press! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
#The Trip To Kilimanjaro (2/3)
Eleven Months Passed
Since her hand fell from my arm and she left for Columbus. In that time I sold 357 fish behind the meat counter. Or something like that. I nearly saved enough money for Tanzania. I got a little over £600 a month, of which I gave Mum £50 to help with the food. I spent about £100 after that. The rest I kept in cash, stashed in a drawer in my room. That way I would know it was real, not just a number on a screen. When I hit the figure I needed, I wanted to sit down and count it up ten times over in my hands. I wanted to feel it in my palms, to know it was real when nothing about it seemed real yet. Mum said all the money would be ridden with germs, but I didn’t care.
That Friday I went to a party at David’s house. His parents were in the Highlands for the weekend. There were drifting coloured lights and humming, muttering voices. A hand on my shoulder, a smile from a girl, beads of condensation clinging to my fingers from the beer bottle.
A boy’s voice said, ‘I’ve seen you at the supermarket. You’re the boy who sells fish.’
‘Yes, I work on fish with David. That’s how I know him.’
‘Fucken borin’, that sounds.’
‘Someone’s gotta do it.’
‘What do you do it for? Can’t you get another job?’
‘I don’t need another job. I need money.’
‘What for? I’m not that desperate an’ my family live up the hill where the gyppos chase you on their horses and rob you yer hub caps.’
‘I’m saving to go to Tanzania. To see Mount Kilimanjaro.’
‘That’s fucken cool… So you’re stockpiling cash.’
‘Yep - literally. Don’t even use a bank account.’
Someone passed weed around and I put my hand up to say I didn’t want any. The smell still clung to my nose and my eyes flickered as the smoke drifted in. The music reverberated against my skin in a sort of comforting way. Next thing I knew, Aaron, the boy who would never work on the fish counter, charged at someone else and tackled him across the overgrown grass and into the fence, knocking over three panels. Everyone crowded around to see what had happened, and whether a fight was breaking out. But the two boys looked up at everyone else and started howling like wolves and giggling like infants.
An old woman in the house next door came out in a dressing gown squealing, her hair in a Medusa-mess.
I left the party with a few others from college, but we each drifted off into different directions towards our homes and I ended up alone.
A fox darted across the road up ahead, stopped in the middle and cast its bright eyes on me. Then it shot off at a trot and leapt over a wall.
I tried to imagine that this was Africa, and that fox was some great African beast, and its look to me was a look of respect from one beast to another. But I couldn’t see it.
I shivered and pulled my coat tighter and thrust my hands deep into my pockets.
The Drawer Was The Answer
I had the money in cash to know it was real. To know it would really happen, to feel each step towards my trip weighed out in pounds in my hand. But now I doubt if it was ever real at all. It can’t have been, that is the only explanation, because for it to have been real means the truth is much harder to bear.
We found out when Mum drove me back from the dentist. My face was sore and she kept running her fingers through my hair while she drove. When we pulled into our road, we both saw it immediately and the soreness in my mouth grew sharper.
The door was wide open, drifting slightly against the breeze.
Mum said nothing, only threw herself out the car, slammed shut her door and ran into the building. I stared, wide-eyed, unable to grip what this might have meant. Mum’s silhouette distorted across the thin curtains in the living room, back and forth, and it suddenly struck me: the money! What if they’ve taken my money?
I left the car door open as I too leapt across the drive, in through the front door and up the stairs. The drawers were all open. Clothes strewn across the floor and the bed. Loose socks and boxers everywhere. And then… an empty space.
I pulled out the rest of the clothes, throwing them wherever, away from here. I had to be sure. But with every new emptiness, the truth became clearer.
When she came into my room, she was saying, ‘...weird… they don’t seem to have taken anything.’ But then she saw me sitting on the floor, my back against the bed frame, staring at the open drawer.
‘Oh, Leon…’ She sat down on the bed and ran her fingers through my hair like she did in the car. I rested my head on her knees and kept staring ahead of me like my eyes were locked.
Several days have passed and I cannot remember anything.
Now, since all of this, I go about in a robotic, uniform way. Doing everything I would normally do, but somehow, I’m outside of myself. I cannot pull myself away from sitting on that floor, my head resting on Mum’s knee, with her fingers running through my hair.
The empty drawer stares back at me, taunts me. The fish-smell clings to my clothes. Follows me everywhere. I brought some fish home with me that was going off, but I left it in my bag, forgetting to give it to Mum. It’s rotted away in there for two days, and now I’m staring down at it in my room, with a cloud of flies over me. This, for whatever reason, is the moment I return to myself. I take the bag outside and dump the whole thing, with some college notes and papers in.
When I return, Mum calls from the living room, ‘Leon, what are you doing?’
‘Can you come here?’
I step into the living room. She’s sitting with the newspaper spread across her legs, her reading glasses slipping down the end of her nose. Her hair is long and sits over the back of the sofa in a peculiar spread.
‘How are you?’ she asks.
‘Fine,’ I say.
‘Good. Well, come and sit down… Listen, ever since your Dad left I’ve known that it would always be you and me. From that moment on, I knew there would be no one else to look out for us, no one to help us, no one to make things happen for us. I knew we’d have to do it ourselves. I’d look out for you and, God knows, you’d look out for me. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?’
I look at her bony hands clinging to the newspaper and nod. But really, what the hell is she talking about?
‘I’m really sorry that you had your money stolen. I know how hard you worked for that, and all to go and see Zahra.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s my own fault. I told those boys at the party.’
‘I spoke to the police today, and they say there’s nothing they can do. The boy doesn’t seem to have it.’
‘Well, anyway, look. You know I don’t have a lot of money. I’ve had some struggles in that department. But I want to do something for you. To show you that I’ll look out for you too.’
I look her in the eyes but the meaning still evades me. She lifts her paper up and on her lap is an envelope. She nods towards it and says, ‘Go on. It’s for you.’
I reach for the envelope, and she says, ‘It’s not everything, but I got what I could out at the bank this morning. From how much you told me you need, it’s about half.’
I thumb open the envelope and peer at the notes inside. ‘It’s too much.’
‘It’s done now, Leon. And I’m very happy for it.’
She runs her fingers through my hair and smiles. I don’t know what to do. I smile awkwardly and then leave the room, staring at the envelope.
Thank you for reading part 2! I hope you are excited for the finale, where Leon decides what happens in the wake of the robbery, and he comes to a conclusion about his long-awaited pursuit of a trip to Kilimanjaro.