BOB WOODLEY: In Memoriam
(Died in his sleep, July 6, 1976)
He never liked the sonnet form at all.
He put his faith in plain and pointed prose,
And wrote it well--and taught it well, to those
Who came to him, as spring would follow fall,
To learn to write, or caught him in the hall
To talk about their stories. I suppose
He must have taught a thousand, for he chose
To be a teacher--said it was his "call."
But now he's gone. I can't believe it's true.
Our argument of thirteen years can't end.
I'll keep it going (as I used to do)
Over the bookcase, rising to defend
The sonnet to an empty chair. And who
Will speak for prose?--the memory of a friend.
Published in Inscape, Fall
Reprinted in Kaw, 1977.
Bob Woodley, who had been my office mate for thirteen
years, and whom I consider the best friend of my life, died in the summer
of 1976 (while I was in Japan). Bob had long directed the creative
writing program at Washburn University, had organized the Topeka writers'
group, Headwaters, and was editing the first issue of Inscape
to be published by that group at the time. We put out that first
issue (our "Buster Brown" issue) in his memory in 1976, and, though
Headwaters no longer exists, Inscape has been published
ever since, more recently by the Washburn English Department, sometimes
one, sometimes two, issues a year. For two or three years we gave
prizes for the best poem and best story published in Inscape,
in Bob's name, but then, in 1980, we established The
Woodley Press, as a non-profit corporation, to publish
five book-length manuscripts by members of Headwaters, again in his
name. We managed to publish four of those five books. Then,
in 1985, we reincorporated as The Woodley Foundation, established tax-exempt
status, and committed ourselves, among other things, to the publication
of slender paperback volumes of poems, plays, and stories by writers
from across the state of Kansas. That is still our mission,
with four new books expected in the year 2000--our 20th anniversary
year. Over the years we have published more than thirty books,
and, for almost two-thirds of our authors, it has been their first published
As an example of Bob's own writing, I will present
Chapter V from the 318-page novel, Cry to Dream Again,
he wrote for his Master's thesis at the University of Kansas about 1960,
but which was never published (so if you want to read the rest . . .
This chapter does stand alone nicely,
however, as the hunting chapter, and comes perhaps most directly out
of Bob's own experience as a medic in the US Army in Ethiopia in the
We went hunting
when the rainy season was over and the lowlands near the escarpment
were dry enough so that we could cross them in trucks without getting
stuck. Several of the men at Asmara hunted on their days off and
I hunted quite a bit myself when I first went there, but I gradually
gave it up; I guess it was just too much trouble. I can't say
that I was eager to take it up again, either, but Dave wanted to go
so badly that it was less trouble to go than to argue with him.
We arranged for an Italian
doctor to take care of the dispensary for us and Mike took three days
off from the station. Harry could get off any time he was willing
to take off.
There had been more shifta
trouble on the Massawa road so we decided to go north out of Asmara,
through Cheren and down the mountains into the southern edge of the
Sudanese desert. We assembled the gear at the dispensary on Thursday
night, and had a quick breakfast of coffee and hard Italian rolls, loaded
the gear, and were off before daylight Friday morning.
From the moment Dave turned
me out in the cold pre-dawn I regretted promising to go. I remembered
the twisting road between Asmara and Cheren, worse in some places than
the Massawa road, and I thought of the cold wind, damp at that time
of the year with fog out of the valleys early in the morning, and then
the heat on the plains below Cheren and how the change in altitude always
gave me a headache.
the time I had been up half an hour nothing could please me; I drank
the coffee, sulked, and helped load the gear in tight-lipped silence,
furious at having promised to go at all. I hoped we would be turned
back at the roadblock on the north edge of Asmara.
a few words from Mike to the Eritrean constable at the roadblock got
us through that and I sat brooding beside Mike as we slid over the rim
of the escarpment and down the twisting road. I had balked at
driving the jeep, finding all kinds of reasons for not driving it, for
waiting until daylight, for putting off the trip for another week--until
finally Harry had crawled behind the wheel and I had gotten sulkily
into the weapons carrier with Mike.
rode along in silence. I was busy feeling sorry for myself and
wishing I were back in my warm bed and Mike was giving all his attention
to the steep grade, braking, shifting, turning, driving with the same
easy rhythm he used when he spoke Italian--or even English when the
subject was right.
road at first was a long series of turns, all of them down grade, and
Clementi seemed to know each one and to be able to swing into it on
just the right arc so that he wouldn't overshoot or come up too tight
to have to crowd or drift to stay in the turn. Harry in the jeep
behind us was having trouble keeping up with us even though all he had
to do was follow us, gauging his speed from ours.
it was cold, colder than I'd remembered. The wind at forty-five
miles an hour whistled through the open weapons carrier and knifed through
my field jacket and light khaki pants, and I sat and silently cursed
my stupidity in not wearing something heavier. I wanted to dig
out some of the blankets from the back of the truck and I would have
but Mike was no more warmly dressed
than I was and he seemed to be comfortable; if he could take it, I could.
He's driving, though, I thought. That's what keeps him warm.
Damn him. Damn them all. Especially Dave. If it weren't
for him I wouldn't be out here on the side of the damn mountain freezing
in the middle of the night.
know when I've felt sorrier for myself.
air lost its bite as we dropped down the mountain, though, and pretty
soon the sun came up, weak at first, then stronger on the right side
of my face until I was warm enough to unzip the field jacket, and I
began to feel better.
hour or so after sunup we came out of the hills temporarily into gently
rolling country, though there were rocky peaks behind and on both sides
of us. Harry dropped behind in the jeep so Mike pulled over to
give him a chance to catch up. He set the hand brake, crawled
into the back of the truck, and returned with two cold beers from the
ice-box. He opened one and shoved it in my direction.
in hell's this, breakfast?" I snapped.
it. Maybe you'll feel better."
don't want it. The only thing'll make me feel better is to give
up this nonsense and go home. What in the hell am I doing here,
this beer, you cranky Irish son of a bitch."
to hit him but he didn't move, just stood there grinning.
for a long moment, then grinned back and took the beer.
can't feel any worse. I don't know what's the matter. God,
Mike, I'm getting so I hate to leave the post. Just too much effort,
ought to get away from that dispensary more. Dave's coming here
may be the best thing that ever happened to you."
got out of the truck and stood drinking the beer. The sun was
just pleasantly warm, the air crystal clear, and the countryside smelling
of recent rain and of green growing things. Grass covered the
rolling ground around us, new grass, dark green against the brown mountains;
not a thing moved in the windless morning and except for the gun-grey
gash that the road cut across the field of grass, there was nothing
to indicate that anybody had ever stood in that natural meadow from
the beginning of time.
we heard the jeep behind us up the road and a few minutes later
Harry pulled it in behind the truck. When they had stretched their
legs and had a beer we were on our way again. I felt better--almost
glad I had come.
left the meadow for another series of twisting down grade turns and
Mike concentrated on driving; after another hour we broke out of the
mountains into rolling country again, not a meadow this time but bench-land
extending for several miles on either side of the road. Sheep
and cattle grazed on the hillsides and the boys herding them shouted
and waved to us.
land dipped into a gentle slope toward the north and then leveled out
again and suddenly Cheren was there a little below us, white-washed
and dazzling in the morning sun, the macadam road slashing into the
very heart of it.
not much of a town, not nearly so large as Asmara, but as Mike drove
through the throng of people and livestock that crowded the
street that morning, I could imagine
what the town looked like to the truck and camel drivers who had come
out of the desert to the north--the coolness of the place, the shops
and cafes, the talk and the people; there were highland Copts and desert
Moslems, European and Asiatic merchants, and Sudanese carrying spears
with yard-long, razor-sharp heads. I remembered all at once how
exciting the town was and wondered why I hadn't come there more often.
I thought how it must be to a camel driver three weeks out of Khartoum,
his goods sold and his camels resting easy someplace, and money in his
pocket to spend in forgetting the thirst and the hunger, the hot days
and the cold, empty nights.
We slowed up on the other
side of Cheren to let the jeep catch up; then we were in the "gut"--the
steep defile that drops north out of Cheren to the floor of the desert.
Here it was really a fight
against gravity, down steep, straight grades that sucked at the truck,
drawing it faster and faster into the hairpin turns at the end of each
stretch, then half a mile or so of writhing turns that would finally
spew us out onto another straight, steep grade. It got hotter
steadily from the time we left Cheren, and by the time we reached the
bottom I was sweating and Mike's clothing was soaked. He stopped
at the bottom of the grade to wait for the jeep again and I crawled
into the back of the truck for beer.
When Harry and Dave came
up we had some bread and canned meat and another beer; then we drove
on along the Cheren-Khartoum road for a couple of hours, straight as
a gun barrel across the flat floor of the desert, and finally we turned
off at the little village of Agordat. The town boasted a single
street; paths led from it out between the
mud and grass huts.
There were two permanent
buildings there; in the very center of things was the two-story stone
building housing the British Administration Police headquarters for
that district, and next to it was a low, cool-looking stone restaurant
with a large thatched porch in front.
At a table on the porch was
the British inspector for the area, half-heartedly drinking an un-iced
lemon squash. He came to life as we drove up, getting out of his
chair and coming to the edge of the porch, squinting out of the shade
into the brightness of the street.
"Well, 'ello, Mike, 'ello."
Mike introduced us and then
got caught up in an argument with the Italian who ran the place about
whether we were going to have a drink.
"How's the hunting out toward
Ademdeme?" I asked the inspector, whose name was Johnson.
"Come for some shooting,
have you? Thought you might be looking for some night life.
Ha. I wouldn't know about the game out that way; haven't been
there since the rains. Scattered, I would guess, all over the
bloody shop. Too much water. You'll really get no decent
shooting until most of the waterholes in the Barca dry up. Why
don't you go on to Carcobat? Loads of leopard up there."
"Too far. This is the
first time out for these fellows and we only have three days, counting
"Ademdeme's the stuff, then.
You can easily make it in time to hunt this evening. The road
ought to be all right. There's still some water in spots in the
Barca, of course, but you won't have any trouble crossing it below town.
You can save time if you cut across to the northeast instead of following
the river. There's a good
track across there, or was before the rains. But
I guess you know the country right enough, don't you, Mike? Been
here longer than some of the natives, eh?"
"I haven't been down this
way for over a year, but I can find the track, I think," Mike said.
"If I lose it, I can always swing back to the left and pick up the river.
Any shiftas around?"
"Not likely. Run a
clean division here, we do. The shiftas give my fuzzies a miss.
You've no worry on that score."
We followed a trail out of
Agordat across the Barca, a river of sand three hundred yards wide with
heavy doum-palm growth on both banks and a trickle of water in the very
center. In another week that would dry up, I knew, and then there
would be no water in the riverbed at all except in scattered holes.
The natives along the river dug wells down into the sand during the
dry season and were able to get enough water for themselves and their
livestock. Game would gather around the waterholes at night and
that was the place to hunt, except for gazelle, of course; nobody knows
where they drink and you have to stalk them in the open desert.
We crossed the Barca and
made out a dim track on the other side across the flat desert.
The gray, sandy soil looked hard and packed from the rains, but it crumbled
into powder on the surface under our wheels. Here and there an
outcropping of rock protruded above the ground and once we passed a
mound of quartz pebbles, blinding white in the sun. An occasional
acacia tree broke up the landscape and along the larger washes or wadis
that ran toward the river were baobabs; now and then we would pass a
thorn thicket. Several times we saw large herds of gazelle in
the distance but Mike kept us moving. Finally we
saw a dark line of green palms on the horizon, and eventually
I could make out a dozen grass huts, burnished bronze against the dark
We drove through the village
and stopped on the edge of the line of palms that bordered the river
on the other side. Several men followed us from the village, running
behind the trucks, shouting and waving to us. All of them carried
spears--inch-thick, four-foot shafts with a couple of feet of thin,
lozenge-shaped steel on the working end. Some of them had long,
curved knives in sheaths belted to them, and one man carried a sword.
There was still enough daylight
left to give us time to get set at a waterhole, so we decided to hunt
first and make camp later. Mike stood on the front bumper of the
truck and gave a little speech, trying to line up some guides for us
for the evening, but there was so much laughter and excited talking
among the natives that he couldn't get anywhere.
The fellow with the sword
was standing to the side of the crowd, somewhat aloof, a little taller
than the others and straight as a West Pointer. His cheeks, forehead,
and chin had been deliberately and symmetrically scarred so that he
wore a perpetual scowl, but I guessed that under the built-in scowl
there was an amused grin; he was obviously the chief of the village.
Mike finally gave up on the
mob, jumped down from the bumper, and went over to the chief; they spoke
together briefly and in about fifteen seconds the chief had his crew
under control and was assigning the jobs for the evening.
"There's a waterhole about
three miles down the river," Mike said. "Two of us can drive down
to it, then come up on foot to another
hole just above it. The other two
can hunt that big waterhole up river--you know the one, Al, in under
that rocky cliff? It's within easy walking distance."
"I know it. But you
three go ahead down river. I don't want to hunt anyway, and
I can get camp started while you're gone."
"Oh, come on," Dave said.
"I'll go with you to the hole. I don't care about hunting either,
but the walk sounds good after that jeep ride. Harry and Mike
can hunt the other place."
So I took an old Springfield
I'd checked out of the armory and Dave took an ancient but deadly
looking 12-bore double that he had rented from the gunshop downtown,
and we set out with two guides.
"What the hell do you think
you're going to shoot with that thing?" I asked as Dave dug out some
shells. That's a bird gun."
"Oh, no. Guido told
me this was a prima gun for boar. See--look here--it
says right on the shell that these are special boar loads. Guido
loaded them himself."
I looked at one of the
shells; something was stamped on the scuffed case, all right, but
so dimly that I couldn't have read it even if it had been in English.
"Probably loaded with buckshot.
It's all right for boar when you're tracking them in thick brush,
but it's no good at a waterhole. They'll probably be out of
range of this thing. Why didn't you bring a rifle?"
"I've never fired one.
I fired a shotgun once. Anyway, with any luck at all we won't
even see a boar. If we do, you can shoot it. How do you
load this thing?"
I loaded the shotgun for
him and showed him the safety and how
to use it. By that time we were off the open plains
and cutting through the heavy brush toward the river, our guides motioning
and glaring us into silence, hoping that there might already be game
at the waterhole, but there was nothing so we took up positions on the
rocks above the hole and waited.
An old sow and three half-grown
pigs came out of the bush on the other side of the river, made their
way alertly across the sand and finally drank almost directly below
us but neither Dave nor I would shoot, though the natives became almost
frantic in urging us to; any hog was fair game to them--sows and pigs
did just as much damage to their dhurra crop as boars did and they were
all inedible anyway to the desert Moslems. The old sow heard the
argument, snorted once, and led her brood off at a tail-high gallop.
One of the guides stood up and pegged a rock after them that took the
hindmost pig in the rump, jumping him to an easy lead and starting Dave
and me laughing so hard that we gave up all pretense of silence.
There was a good fire going
when we got back to camp, and a space cleared on the ground for our
bedrolls. A native whom I easily identified as the chief's son
from his looks and manner was chopping and piling wood in a business-like
way. Squatting near the fire, buttocks on his heels, arms across
his knees, was an old man; all the other natives were gone, and the
old man might as well have been too for all the attention he gave us.
By the time Mike and Harry
got back, we had camp pretty well made and a hot meal started.
While we ate they told us how they had jumped a boar in the brush before
they got to the waterhole but hadn't been able to get a clear shot at
it. They hadn't seen anything else.
ate I dragged my bedroll out and spread it on the cleared space near
the fire. The old man was still squatting by the fire, and through
the flames and heat of the fire he looked to me like an ancient devil.
His hair was sparse and completely white and his skin was ashen grey
rather than black, drawn tightly across his forehead and cheekbones.
No expression on his face gave any clue to the private hell he stared
at in the depths of that campfire.
Behind the old man Mike and
the chief were arguing in a wild mixture of Italian, Arabic, and arm
waving, broken now and then by Mike's explanation to Dave and Harry.
Mike wanted to hunt kudu the following morning; the chief insisted that
there weren't any kudu because they had all gone back to the Nacfa game
preserve over toward the coast. But pigs were everywhere.
Everywhere. They ate the crops and chased the children set on
guard to scare them off. In the mornings great herds of them came
to the waterholes; we would see--grande boars with grosse
tusks (gesturing with his thumbs thrust up from the corners of his mouth).
Gazelle? Yes, but a long way off. More pig. We would
Finally Mike agreed to hunt
pigs. The chief, turning to go, called "Abdu" softly and the old
devil on the other side of the fire rose slowly to his feet but instead
of following the others he came around the fire to where I was lying
on my bedroll. At close range he looked more impish than devilish;
he had a scraggly beard of maybe a dozen hairs that I hadn't seen through
the fire and he smiled through a set of broken teeth.
"You want kudu, Sergente?"
I'll take a kudu." I wondered if he had been in
the beer while we were away.
You, me, shoot kudu. Okay?"
"Chief said no kudu," I said,
pointing to the chief, who was already leading the others out of the
firelight toward the village.
"Si. Okay for
chief. Chief got dhurra. Abdu got no dhurra field.
Capito? Morning, okay?"
And he followed the others
toward the village.
"What in the hell did he
mean by that, Mike? What's so funny?"
"Old Abdu. He was telling
you that he knows where the kudu are because he doesn't have anything
planted that the pigs can eat. The chief isn't going to help us
hunt anything else until we shoot some of the pigs off his corn, I guess."
"Do you think Abdu knows
where there are kudu?"
"He might. There are
some around here during the rainy season and for a while afterward;
then they go back up to Nacfa where there is more water and it's cooler.
Abdu used to hunt with an Englishman named Williams but I never knew
him to hunt with anybody else. Williams was as redhead like you;
maybe that's why he picked you. Going?"
"I don't know."
"Listen, I'll go if you don't
want to," Harry said. "I'd love a crack at a kudu. Boy,
I'd have his head mounted and put it up over the bar in the club."
"I don't think he'll hunt
with any of us but Al," Dave said. "That's the way it sounded
to me." Mike nodded. "Maybe one of the others will take
you after kudu, Harry."
"Not if the chief wants to
hunt pig," Mike said, "and it wouldn't do us much good to go after them
alone. We'd just as well hunt
"Why can Abdu hunt kudu,
"He's different. For
one thing, he doesn't even belong to this village. He's only half
Sudanese; his father was a Portuguese sailor, Williams told me.
Abdu's been around--in the Italian navy, the Ethiopian army, and God
knows where else. He speaks good Italian and a lot more English
than he was showing tonight, but he doesn't speak anything unless he
wants to. I don't know whether he'll find any kudu, but if there
are any here and he wants to find them, he will. He doesn't give
a damn for the chief, and he knows this country like the back of his
hand. I've seen him all over Eritrea--up in Asmara, over in Massawa,
in villages to the west toward Ethiopia--liable to run across him anywhere.
Williams told me once that they even know Abdu down on the strip of
desert between the plateau and the sea south of Massawa, and that's
almost the end of the world."
"Down toward Uangabo?" Dave
asked. "I've heard about the place from Dr. Delucca at the hospital."
"That's the place.
Roughest country in Eritrea--maybe in all Africa. The natives
speak a language nobody else knows, and live in caves up on the side
"You've been there, Mike?"
"Well, actually, no," Mike
admitted with a grin, "but I've heard plenty of reports about the place."
"Mark it down," Dave said.
"We'll hunt down there one of these days. Then you'll know what
it's like first-hand."
"Not me, Dave." Mike
was serious. "I haven't been all the way to Uangabo, but I've
been as close as I'll ever go. I went part
way across that plain with a British patrol once, not
very long after I came out here. We were trying to map the country,
but we gave it up. It was rainy season and we couldn't make it
across the wadis; the country's full of them through there. Gets
all the run-off from that side of the plateau."
"We'll wait until the wadis
are dry. We can make it in a jeep."
"Forget it, Dave. At
night in dry season the temperature drops as low as ninety-five--sometimes.
At six in the morning, it starts back up. And with the sea so
close, the humidity is high all the time. No drinking water, no
shade, damn little game, and shiftas over in the mountains waiting for
you to get hung up in a wadi. You can't even imagine what that
country is like."
"Well, we can at least go
have a peek at the edge of it sometime, can't we?"
"Not until you convince me
that you'd be willing to stop there."
They were both still talking
when I dropped off to sleep but both of them were up before Harry and
I turned out in the morning. By the time I got my boots on, located
a cigarette and match, and came awake enough to curse the place and
the hour, the smell of bacon and coffee and woodsmoke was heavy in my
nostrils, as heavy as the cigarette smoke. I cursed, but without
The chief was there with
the guides he had selected for the day, and Abdu squatted by the fire,
After I had eaten, I took
a canteen of water and some hard rolls from the truck, and picked up
the Springfield. Abdu started off without a word and I followed.
We went directly out into
the center of the Barca and started
upstream, walking easily in the packed sand. There
were some boar at the waterhole where Dave and I had hunted the night
before but as soon as Abdu had identified them, he ignored them, not
even glancing at them as they bolted. We were after kudu and nothing
else, and on the other side of the waterhole in the damp sand Abdu showed
me the incredibly large, heart-shaped track of a kudu.
"Early. Not run, see?
I nodded and we strode off
on their track where it was easy to follow across the sandy river but
slowed down when we reached the difficult tracking in the thick brush
on the other side. When the trail left the brush and led up into
the rocky plain, I could no longer follow it at all so I contented myself
with following Abdu, who would stoop, study the rocks, squint, and then
choose a direction. For the first time I noticed that the old
man was blind in his left eye; I wondered how much he could see out
of the other eye--whether he was following a track or just taking me
for a morning stroll.
We followed the track for
two hours, moving slowly but steadily and covering a lot of ground,
and never far from the river. Finally the trail led back toward
the palm growth along the river. Abdu paused and scratched his
head. "You want kudu?"
I nodded. The sun was
not far up but it was already hot on my face and I had begun to sweat
a little, but we were moving slowly and I felt good.
"Long time," the old man
said, "maybe till sun up there." He pointed to where the sun would
be in the middle of the afternoon. "Maybe go now drink beer.
Hunt kudu tomorrow, you think?"
"You want to go back now?
We just got started." I grinned at
him but he didn't return the grin. He stared hard
at me with his good eye and I suddenly began to see that he wasn't trying
to beg off, he was giving me a chance to back out!
"Come on, you one-eyed old
son of a bitch. Hunt kudu."
The old man turned without
a word and started off on the track again and from that time we hunted
together. He let me know in one way and another that he could
see well enough close up but couldn't see much at a distance, so I left
the tracking to him and kept a close watch ahead of us. The trail
led back into the thick brush and seemed to move aimlessly around in
it. Abdu made a motion with his mouth as though chewing and I
understood that the kudu had grazed in the bush.
Once we followed the track
to the edge of the brush and out into the riverbed but there in the
sand Abdu showed me a track that seemed a little smaller than the one
we had been following, and another that was very small.
"Mama?" I asked. "Baby?"
He nodded and launched into
a whispered explanation, mostly in Italian, the gist of which seemed
to be that we had lost the track of the bull we had been following and
picked up the track of a cow and calf. By this time the sun was
hot off the sand and I was beginning to lose my taste for the whole
thing. I thought that we had probably been following the cow from
the first; Abdu was sure we hadn't. I wished I was back in camp,
or better yet, back in Asmara. I swore loudly, went back to the
shade of the palms, and sat down, and pretty soon Abdu came and sat
wordlessly beside me.
I offered him a drink from
the canteen but he shook it off. He wouldn't have any of the rolls
I had brought, either, so I munched one
and sipped water. A joke is a joke, I told myself,
but this one has gone far enough. The old phoney was following
that cow all the time. He couldn't find a kudu in a phone booth.
I kept telling myself things
like that but it didn't make me feel any better; I had a feeling I had
been tested and had flunked. I finished the roll, hung the canteen
on my belt, and got up, and Abdu got up too and started down the riverbed
with me behind him.
We were moving slowly but
the sand, even though it was fairly well packed, was not easy to walk
in, and while Abdu didn't set a hard pace, he went steadily and evenly,
his eyes on the ground.
The sun was high by now and
burning into me, my shirt was crusted with salt from perspiration that
evaporated as rapidly as it formed, the rifle sling dragged at my shoulder,
and I was just barely keeping up with the old man. We went for
nearly an hour that way; for an hour I trudged along behind Abdu with
my eyes on his heels, alternately cursing the heat and the old man and
after while including the impulse that had started me hunting the night
before, and Dave and Harry and Mike. I was several times on the
verge of calling out to Abdu to stop but I had pride enough not to,
and I wasn't certain he would stop anyway. He hadn't looked back
since we left the shade of the palms.
After about an hour Abdu
slowed his pace for an instant, then veered from the riverbed up into
the palm fringe, through it, and out onto the plains. I followed
him without a word, thinking he was leaving the river to take a shortcut
back to camp.
It was easier walking on
the plains than it had been in the sand of the river but it was hotter.
I wanted nothing more, finally, than to sit just where I was, drop the
rifle, loosen the cartridge belt, and
wait for evening. But as long as Abdu kept going,
I was determined to follow. It had become a contest and I wanted
to win it even more than I wanted to sit. He was an old man, half
blind, spindly shanked, grey; I looked at my watch and speculatively
gave him ten minutes, then ten more, positive that he couldn't last
out the half hour. The half hour passed; I studied his back and
shoulders for signs of fatigue. He hadn't looked good for five
miles when we left that morning, but if he had changed for the worse,
I couldn't tell it.
When he stopped I nearly
ran into him--I was walking mechanically and I couldn't shut off the
mechanism. I was dizzy and my vision was blurred but I had won--then
I glanced at the old man triumphantly and realized that there had never
been a contest; he looked exactly the way he had at daylight.
I didn't know what had stopped him, but I knew it wasn't fatigue.
I sank to the ground, slipped
the rifle off my aching shoulder, and started to loosen the canteen.
Abdu grabbed my arm and motioned for silence; he pointed to a massive
outcropping of rock jutting up out of the plain like the prow of a ship
going down by the stern. His lips formed the word "kudu" without
actually giving it sound. The old bastard was still hunting!
Now I understood that all the time we had walked down the riverbed he
had been looking for the track of the bull, guessing rightly that it
must have cut across the river somewhere between where we were and where
we picked it up that morning.
He waved me to follow him
and I moved off woodenly after him, my breath coming a little easier
but my head still spinning. We crept silent up to the rock, then
worked around its base on our hands and knees. Abdu stopped and
motioned me to go around him, and I inched
forward. As I came up even with him my canteen
bumped the rock, not loudly, but perceptibly. The old man fixed
me with such a reproachful stare that I felt a kind of shame I had never
known before, and, I think, will never know again. I thought for
a moment that he was going to get up and walk away and I couldn't face
him. I reached back with my free hand and as silently as I could,
worked the cartridge belt around on my waist until the canteen hung
in the middle of my back. Abdu didn't move as I crawled to the
edge of the outcropping.
About a hundred and fifty
yards to the left front and slightly below us down a gentle slope was
a bull kudu, turned sideways to us, his head high in the air and obviously
alerted. I slid on my belly backward out of his line of vision,
set the sight on the rifle for two hundred yards with no windage, and
slipped off the safety.
Abdu watched all this impassively,
noting everything I did with no sign of approval or disapproval, disassociated,
waiting. I crawled back into position, silently cursing myself
for not having zeroed in the rifle, for forgetting the trajectory of
a 30.06 bullet, for some other things--and all the time thinking of
what I was doing. I knew that the hard-jacketed military slug
would go through an animal without killing, and I decided that the best
bet was to aim for the front quarters and high; if I were too high I
would miss cleanly, just right would break the spine, and too low would
hit a bone in the front quarters and put the bull down. I aimed,
held my breath, and squeezed the trigger, and he went down in front,
staggered to his feet and took a step forward. I threw another
round into the chamber, snapped off a shot that raised the dust two
feet in front of him, and jacked a third round into the chamber, but
before I could fire it, the bull collapsed.
Abdu walked beside me to the kudu; we stood looking
down at it, at the amazing size of it and the length of its corkscrew
horns, and Abdu suddenly touched the canteen at my belt, shook his head
from side to side, and laughed, and I laughed with him.
He cut the buck's throat
to bleed it and together we got the carcass on its back. We couldn't
dress it without help but Abdu managed to open the body cavity and fish
out the liver, which he hung on a stick in the branches of a thorn tree.
He wanted to go for the truck
while I guarded the carcass from hyenas, but I insisted on going so
he pointed out the approximate location of the camp along the line of
green that marked the Barca in the distance. I left him
sitting beneath the thorn tree, slicing off bits of liver and eating
It was a long walk under
the noon sun and I walked it without stopping so that when I got there
my face was flushed and I was chilling a little. Dave wanted me
to stay in camp while Mike went after Abdu and the kudu but I was sure
Mike couldn't find the place and anyway it would take more than two
of them to dress and load the animal. More than anything else,
though, it was important to me to finish the thing and Dave understood
that finally, so we all went.
All that remained of the
liver were some bloodstains on Abdu's hands and lips, and if he was
tireder than when we left camp that morning, I couldn't tell it.
He supervised the dressing of the kudu while Mike and Harry turned the
carcass and Dave and I gutted it and skinned out the cape. Only
when we were finished and had the meat on the truck did Abdu as for
a drink and I remembered guiltily that I had gone off with the canteen
and left him there in the desert, but he didn't
seem to mind.
Harry and Mike had killed
a boar apiece that morning and later had both fired on one and wounded
it, finally chasing it into deep brush and killing it when it charged.
Both of them were keen to go again in the evening. Dave begged
off and he and I hunted guinea hens unsuccessfully until nearly dark.
I felt strangely exhilarated
all evening. Dave noticed it and mentioned it as I helped him
put together a meal.
"Lots of guys hunt them for
years and never get one," I said, glancing at where it hung drying in
a tree on the edge of our clearing.
"Well, if it makes you feel
that good, you'd better go again in the morning. How about that,
Abdu?" he called to the old man, who was squatting by the fire as though
he had not moved since the night before.
Abdu shook his head and smiled.
"No more. One kudu plenty. Okay, Sergente?"
I nodded in agreement.
"He's right, you know," I said to Dave. "I'll never shoot another.
It's a nice trophy, but it doesn't mean that much to me. I almost
wish I'd never shot it."
Dave said, "That's funny;
I could swear it meant a lot to you. But I guess I know what you
mean--a second one wouldn't be the same."