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 may be 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. It’s one of those nice wooden lodges, with lovely floaty mosquito nets and a small army of staff waiting to cater for your every whim. 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. Meanwhile you can focus on the guide’s tanned, brawny thighs.

 

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 cliff top 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’, and you, very grudgingly, admit without prompting that he was right after all.

 

 

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 jeep 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. He’s just happy for the opportunity to use his expensive new camera to shoot the Big Five. 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).

You sigh, scratch the cluster of bites on your ankle and look around discontentedly. On seeing the lion, padding across the grass toward the jeep, you gasp.

‘Whassup?’ asks Charlie.

‘Lion,’ you mutter, keen to keep your voice down. This lion looks mad, and you don’t like the way it’s looking at you.

Picking up the pace the lion is at the side of the jeep – your side of the jeep – in a second. The guide hushes you all, in a way which is presumably meant to inspire confidence, and does nothing of the sort. The lion is pacing up and down about five feet away from you, and watching you, menacingly, all the time. You begin to wonder why the hell the driver isn’t making tracks, and the thought is half-formed in your mind when the lion leaps up, his great big paws on the window frame. He jumps back, and hisses at you, before making a second approach. This time he bounds right into the jeep and goes straight for you, all muscle and claws and great big teeth.

For a lion to attack a group of people like that, sitting quietly in a jeep, in a popular and well managed game reserve, is almost unheard of. Your gruesome death – and the disfiguring attack on Charlie and the guide – made the headlines back home. The tabloids described you as ‘doomed lovebirds on the trip of a lifetime’. The Independent ran a special front cover headlined ‘Taming the Beast!’ about the impact of contemporary tourism on ‘wild’ parts of the world.

It takes Charlie a long time to get over your death. Well, it took everyone a long time, but it was worse for him because he is so horrifically injured. Poor old Charlie is left with some impressive scars and a crippling fear of cats.

 

THE END