Lake Malawi

In Dar es Salaam we boarded the bus
and then just sat there, waiting to go,
the engine idling while through the open windows passed a fine dust
and raised by unseen hands, aluminum trays
of over-ripe bananas and bags of cashews,
the banana smell and the hawkers crying for their money,
the hawkers’ smell sour with resilience –
this resilience and despair and the ripe banana I shall always remember
while over the hawkers’ heads the bright signalling
of an acetylene torch toiling in the 0-60 Auto Garage
spelled out SOS, ASAP, WTF …
its fierce chemistry trying to hold things together.

After Dar it was all day brown mountains on our left
to our right brown plain,
miles of this burnt-up landscape passing,
miles with nothing to do but sit drinking in the clean air
now bursting through the bus windows and ragging their curtains,
beating them like flags each mile
we put between ourselves and the coast,
each mile we sat and read and ate cashews,
sat and read and held hands. Ate cashews.
Sat. Read.

We over-nighted in Kyela
a truck stop fragrant with dust-scented rain
and mosquitoes all night, whining, all night
and in the morning another bus drove us into jungle
the sand road reckless beneath its heavy wheels,
the passengers green with tree shade
and when we crossed the river on a bouncing, ironwork bridge
there was the lake – fresh water and good,
wind-flecked blue all the way to the out of sight
and the road ending above a beach.

One swimming day gone in a zip to purple air full of bats
and the sand pale in the moonlight and the lake surf hunching like cream
and above the beach two 4×4 parked up and spilling out
a large man in a turban marching with his women and children,
throwing gestures of delight at the lake, his servants
already raising awnings and lighting braziers for food preparation.
Soon music played and the night beach became India
the brazier sending off sparks,
the family eating and laughing around one fire,
their servants around another, they too happy but sotto voce
and frequently interrupted to carry food and wood.
Late in to the night these people ate and drank alongside one another
until the wind off the lake got up, blowing the fires to streamers
and toppling the awnings up the beach,
the servants falling over themselves to catch them.

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