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21/06/2018 13:26 SAST | Updated 21/06/2018 13:45 SAST

EXTRACT: 'Captive' By Tony Park

‘Scary, but sad and romantic all at the same time.’ Graham hauled himself to his feet. ‘Africa.’

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Graham looked at Kerry. There was an innocence about her that hadn't been stolen from her by life. That was good, for her, especially given what Africa had thrown at her already.

Perhaps she was one of those people who were made stronger by adversity. She had lost her mother and Graham knew how hard it could be to lose a loved one. But the death of her parent was not her fault.

That was the difference.

'What rules are good?' she asked.

'You're taking a malaria prophylactic? Pills?'

'Yes, I am,' she said.

'Good. You look like the sort who would.'

'The sort who keeps their arms and legs covered and sprays with repellent in the evenings?'

'Yes.'

'Are you mocking me?'

'No.' He managed a smile. 'Not right now, at least. Big towns like Victoria Falls are where there's a high risk of malaria — plenty of people here will be carrying the disease and the mosquitos spread it from person to person.'

'Why are you so concerned about malaria, but happy to drink and smoke yourself to death?'

'Malaria kills about 20-million people a year and it's preventable.'

'Yes, I read that,' she said.

'Well,' he sighed, 'what you didn't read was that my wife was one of those people. She caught cerebral malaria and died.'

Her mouth fell open. 'Oh, Graham. I'm so sorry. I didn't know.'

'How could you?'

'I'm so very sorry.' She paused. 'Did you come here with her?' 'Yes. That was the last time I saw the falls, with Carla, my wife. We should be getting back. Come.'

He turned away, not wanting to see her pitying expression any longer.

'Yes, all right.'

'Oh, by the way,' he reached into his pocket, 'I thought you might like this. It's an old family heirloom.' He handed her the carved stone pendant.

'Really? Was it... did it belong to...'

'The guy who bought my beer for me gave it to me.'

She rolled her eyes, then took the pendant and held it up to take a closer look. 'It looks like a snake with a weird head, like a fish.'

'Yes, that's it. Exactly. It's Nyaminyami.'

'I've seen these, there are guys selling them around the falls.' He nodded. 'Yes. Nyaminyami is the river god of the Tonga people, one of their protectors. But like all gods he's vengeful as well.'

'How so?'

'The locals say that when the Kariba Dam wall was being built on the river, downstream, to form Lake Kariba, Nyaminyami was disturbed and he was angry. There were unseasonal floods, accidents on the dam and workers were killed. Three men were drowned, and when the construction authorities couldn't find the bodies they went to the local Tonga people to ask for their help in retrieving them, as the grieving families were coming to the site to bury them.'

'How terrible. What happened?'

'The locals said Nyaminyami needed another sacrifice. The government men agreed. A black calf was killed and placed in the river. The next day, the calf was gone — hardly surprising given the number of crocodiles in the river — but in its place were the bodies of the three workers, floating there, three days after they had gone missing.'

'Spooky.' Kerry tied the leather thong around her neck and straightened the pendant.

'Nyaminyami had a wife.' Graham looked away from her bright eyes. 'The locals say they were separated, upstream and downstream, when the dam wall was built. They say the earth tremors that occurred after the dam was built were Nyaminyami venting his anger and calling for his wife. One day, so the legend goes, he'll succeed in destroying the dam and he and his wife will be reunited.'

'Scary, but sad and romantic all at the same time.' Graham hauled himself to his feet. 'Africa.'

Pan Macmillan South Africa

* This is an extract from "Captive" by Tony Park. It is published by Pan Macmillan South Africa.