At first you had imagined that camping in Botswana would involve staying in those nice wooden lodges, with their lovely floaty mosquito nets and an army of staff waiting to cater for your every whim. Charlie soon disabused you of that idea, and you are prepared to ‘rough it’ for a couple of weeks. You’ve even had to buy a pair of ‘lightweight walking trousers’ at Blacks, to your horror. You were hoping to rock a Virginia McKenna in Born Free look, with nice sand coloured safari shirts and sexy jodhpurs. Instead you are forced to wear very dull khaki trousers with unnecessary zips and pockets.

Your first couple of nights, at least, will be spent in comfort as you stay at a lodge just inside the boundary of the game park. The guide is satisfyingly like Bear Gryllis in his looks and general demeanour, and you settle happily in for the safety talk, Charlie’s arm round your shoulders. You’re distracted by the pink sky, studded with stars, black blasted-looking trees silhouetted against it, and the call of distant birds. Being the sensible type, Charlie will, you’re sure, be paying attention to the talk. He can be in charge of safety for the two of you, you decide.

The next day you are given the opportunity to attach an image to those calling birds, as you sit in a small hut with binoculars watching for movements in long grass and far-off trees. Charlie’s beside himself at the sight of a short-clawed lark, but you are unmoved. It’s hardly big game, is it? Still, the landscape is incredible, and it’s got to beat the old desk safari at the very least.

You’re preparing to head to the veranda for sundowners, and putting mosquito repellent around your ankles. You refuse to wear the boots and socks Charlie recommends, insisting on making the most of being in civilisation while you can. The green and gold vest, cute brown shorts, and your favourite gold Havaianas is a less literal interpretation of safari-appropriate. As you rub the ointment – 80% DEET and powerful smelling – onto the backs of your knees, a drop or two fall onto your flip flops. With frightening speed the chemical liquid burns a hole right through to the floorboard below.

‘Shit! Did you see that?’

‘What?’ says Charlie, jumping to his feet, expecting to see some wildlife spectacle, perhaps a cheetah racing towards the lodge, or a couple of monkeys swinging past the window.

You point to your flip flop and drop some more mosquito repellent on it. ‘Look – my favourite flip flops, ruined by this stuff.’

‘Why on earth you brought Havaianas I’ll never know.’

‘If they’re good enough for the streets of Rio they should be tough enough for anything’

You laugh, you can’t sustain that position. ‘This stuff’s toxic. I shudder to think what it’s doing to my skin.’

‘Put some proper trousers on and tuck them into your socks then.’

‘No fear – I’ve got another pair of flip flops somewhere.’

You sit in silence as you enjoy your gin and tonics, overlooking an expanse of scrub land where lions roam, trying not to think too hard about the lack of physical barriers between you and the lions. You turn your thoughts to the man at your side. A month ago you were out of each other’s lives for good. Two months ago you were at each other’s throats. Now you sit here watching the sun go down like a couple of old bids on a sea front bench in Torquay.

When you wake in the morning you realise you are covered in bites – huge, red mounds of itchiness all over your ankles and calves. Charlie is decent enough to look sympathetic, and restrains himself from saying ‘I told you so’, but you are big enough to admit without prompting that he was right after all. Is this another sign of your new found appetite for compromise and harmony? For the rest of the holiday you apply as much DEET as your skin can carry in the evenings. Sure, it’s toxic, but out here you’ll take chemicals over nature every day of the week.

The size of the game you see gets more and more impressive as the week goes by. From short clawed lark to oryx, hyena to lion, as they get bigger you seem to get closer to them. This is, of course, the aim of a safari. But you’d be as happy sitting on the terrace having a gin and tonic and just talking about nature, as to be so close to natural born killers. You keep your views to yourself.

When you’re sitting in the back of an open roofed Landover about ten feet away from an actual lion, you try not to feel any fear – in case it’s true that they can sense it. No-one else in the group seems to be remotely bothered, and Charlie is actually hanging out of the vehicle to take photos, in what looks to you like a breach of the safety rules. If only you had listened to the safety rules, so you could reprimand him with confidence. As it is you stay quiet and hope the lion doesn’t mind the rule-bending.

Charlie’s happy for the opportunity to use his expensive new camera to shoot the Big Five. And you’re happy because he’s happy. To be honest you couldn’t name the Big Five if your life depended on it (though you’re pretty sure the short clawed lark isn’t one of them).

‘I’m impressed by you, you know,’ says Charlie, on the last night of the holiday. You are rubbing on the last of the DEET, wearing the same khaki Millets trousers you have worn every night.

You smile, proud of yourself too. Mainly for not having a go at him for 12 whole days. You wonder if he is thinking of the same feat.

‘Why’s that then?’

‘I don’t know, I suppose I just thought you might find this a bit tough. It’s not exactly your usual beach holiday is it? Or a shopping weekend in New York. All these hours spent bumping up and down in the back of a Landover, all your bites, and you’ve hardly complained.’

‘Hardly?’ you say, pretending indignation. ‘I haven’t complained at all! Not one word of complaint.’

‘All right, not one word. Anyway, I’m impressed.’

‘Well I’m no princess – but you knew that already, surely?’

Charlie raises a sceptical eyebrow. It’s true, you haven’t always been the most easy-going girlfriend. But you shrug off the silent accusation, kissing him and saying,

‘I’m all about going with the flow these days.’

Despite your nonchalance about it, you have surprised yourself with your ability to rough it without complaining. You’ve even developed a taste for the bitter, dust-based instant coffee they give you in the mornings. And you haven’t reminded Charlie once that you are here for him, and it’s a sacrifice on your part. Wow, Sarah, you’re really growing as a person. Are your selfish days behind you? Maybe you’re ready to take the next step, make a bigger commitment?

Charlie seems to think so. That night as you fasten the mosquito net around the bed and snuggle into his embrace, he broaches the subject.

‘I’m going to miss waking up with you every day when we get back.’

‘Mmmm,’ you say. ‘Me too.’ (Though the return of proper coffee and almond croissants will probably soften the blow).

‘Listen, I know we’ve only just got back together but things are so different between us this time around, I think we’re ready...’

‘Ready for what?’

‘To move in together.’

You say nothing.

‘Well, what do you think?’

Still, you say nothing. You’re really not sure what you think.

‘I don’t know,’ you say, eventually. ‘I know what you mean, things are different between us. But that’s quite a big step, isn’t it?’

‘It is, yes. I mean, I was only thinking of renting at first, don’t panic. Listen, we don’t have to decide anything now. It’s just a thought. Why don’t you sleep on it?’

‘I might need to sleep on it for more than one night, you know.’

‘Take as long as you need. Just promise me you’ll think about it.’

For the next few days, throughout the long flight home, the three loads of laundry, the reunion drinks with Alice, Simon and the crew, and your return to work, you think of little else. Are you ready to take the next step with Charlie?

You are cautious in part because you can’t forget how much the two of you used to argue. Maybe these last few weeks have just been a sort of honeymoon period – and the peace might not last. Moving in together is a serious step, requiring much more compromise than you have to make on a two week holiday. And it’s a commitment that says ‘this is it’, and that you’re not going to look around and wonder what else you could have won. It’s only a couple of rungs down the ladder from marriage and babies. Even if they are years away, they are the logical next steps. Charlie was only talking about renting, it’s only just the bottom rung. Who else would you get on that ladder with, but Charlie?

 

What will you do? Time to make one last decision...

 

If you decide you're ready to move in with Charlie, go to Chapter Seven I to face the consequences

If you decide to stall for a whilego to Chapter Seven V to face the consequences