The Air France 747 banked hard left; they would soon be landing at King Shaka International Airport. Jean squinted outside through bloodshot eyes. Sun shimmered across the Indian Ocean; ahead lay Durban bordered by infinite miles of golden sand. The rolling distant hills were a rusty red. They were here, Africa.
Marc and Tomas had already moved to unload the overhead locker. Jean pushed his arms out stretching them above his head.
Tomas caught the eye of Jean saying,
“Here buddy you might need this, seems a bit chilly outside.”
Tomas tossed a tan leather jacket onto Jean’s lap.
“You look rough Jean; did you get any sleep last night?” Tomas enquired, concerned that his friend might not be in a fit state to drive.
Jean stretched and yawned giving Tomas his answer. Overnight Jean had downed a dozen small bottles of red wine while his companions snoozed.
They were in South Africa for a week to relax and perhaps play some football with the locals. They travelled light with just carry-on baggage. Within thirty minutes they had picked up their rental car and were heading to Durban’s North Beach for breakfast.
The African air blowing in from the ocean was a change from the fume filled streets of Paris. Tomas studied the junctions for the drive down to Hamburg. It appeared East London would be the best place to have lunch and re fuel on their eight hour drive. They were headed for an organic farm and luxury boutique hotel owned by an old friend of Tomas.
“Seems once we hit the N2 we stay on that road for most of the way, should be a breeze.” Tomas announced, his head lingering over the map.
Marc was high on adrenalin. It had been a childhood dream to visit Africa and now here he was.
“Africa. oh man Afreeeka!”
Jean meanwhile was struggling, his head throbbing.
The roads were good and they cruised most of the way at a hundred and twenty kilometers an hour.
Marc swapped seats with Jean and flopped into the back seat. He had driven for seven hours. It had been an educational journey. Now he could relax and take it all in. Jean got the car up to speed and settled down.
The light faded quickly and after just a few kilometers it had become dark; the headlights now cut a line through the gloom.
“Not long guys just another fifteen or so to run,” quipped Marc.
There had been a shower, the aroma from the African soil and grass smelt fresh. To the right the land rose up quickly. To the left the land fell sharply. They had just crossed a bridge where a fast flowing river boiled on its way to the Ocean.
“Can’t wait to taste some of the organic beef your friend is producing here,” interjected Jean who had turned his head round to look at Marc.
“Watch out!” Screamed Tomas
Jean flicked back to the road just in time to make eye contact with her. A small local girl, her large eyes illuminated by the headlights; eyes that were filled with fear.
Jean pumped his left foot on the brake pedal to the floor but too late. The three men exploded forward. Tomas smacked his forehead on the dashboard; Marc was thrown from his seat hammering his face against the headrest of Jean’s seat ending in a heap on the floor.
Jean gripped the wheel with such force his knuckles shone white in the dark interior. He stared straight ahead, eyes bulging, his face frozen in terror. There was silence until Marc groaned.
“What the fuck was that, did we hit something?”
“I HAVE KILLED HER; I HAVE KILLED HER, OH DEAR GOD!”
Unable to contain his emotions, his esophagus burning, Jean pushed the car door ajar falling onto the dusty surface before vomiting over and over. Marc and Tomas staggered to the front of the vehicle. The headlights revealed a small body, the tiny girl lay motionless.
Her petite body was twisted into an unnatural shape, her arms jutted out at sickening angles. Blood trickled between the cornrows on her neatly plaited head.
Marc grabbed Jean by the neck forcing him against the side of the Korean saloon.
“You killed her, you fucking killed her, you stupid asshole you’ve killed her, she is only a baby.”
Tomas stuck his hand between the two friends to leverage them apart.
Jean had no fight in him, distraught with grief, his eyes full or tears, traces of bile on his chin.
“She just came out, I had no chance; she just stood there.” Jean mumbled the words to himself.
“We have murdered her, oh shit we are in trouble. Oh Jesus we are going to prison here in Africa. We will be lynched, this is a nightmare; WHAT THE FUCK JEAN.”
Marc swung a fist at Jean. He threw his hands up for protection before sliding down the side of the vehicle. Jean crouched down on his haunches, his head in his hands.
Their car had covered seven hundred kilometers. The engine was creaking and a trail of water ran out from under the front of the vehicle. There was a smell of burning rubber; somewhere in the distance a dog barked.
Tomas and Marc examined the infant who lay like a rag doll ten meters in front of the car. She was face down in the dust. Blood running from her ear had collected into a small pool.
“She’s dead Marc there is no pulse, no breathing. What are we going to do?” Tomas was on the verge of breaking down.
“We have to do something now! For Christ’s sake, hurry up another might come soon; COME ON!
Marc tried to clear his head but he kept seeing a scene from his childhood in Marseille. His best friend lay dying, a knife protruding from his side. Death had been part of his young life in the Quartiers Nord of Marseille.
“Throw her in the river,” said Marc.
“Are you crazy? We have to take her to the police or the hospital.” Tomas paced in a circle.
Marc kept his voice low and repeated.
“Throw her in the river and let’s go. There are no witnesses only us three. Be practical, throw her in the river.” Marc barked at Jean.
“Jean you do it hurry up do it now.” Tomas made it unanimous.
“DO IT!” screeched Tomas as he kicked dirt across the pool of blood.
Jean, his arms trembling like autumn leaves in the wind, bent down and scooped up the shattered corpse. Her lifeless body felt heavy and disturbingly warm. He staggered to the mid-point of the bridge and closed his eyes as the broken body slipped from his grasp. The infant body tumbled, to the river below. There was a splash, and she was gone.
The African dream break had turned into a nightmare.