Our romantic weekend alongside the languid Orange River beneath the big, brilliant African sky was turning out exactly as I had hoped it would. My beau – let’s call him Jean-Luc because I cannot imagine why I would care to protect his privacy – had set up a dreamy, White Mischief-type safari camp on a flat, grassy site on the water’s edge. A tidy green canvas tent fluttered lightly in the breeze and, before it, a small table was neatly laid for supper, complete with white tablecloth, candles and a small bunch of yellow-green flowers, picked from a nearby white karee tree. Beneath the tree, Jean-Luc had placed a double mattress, beautifully made up with invitingly crisp, white linen. The campfire roared hot and lively – a metaphor for the night ahead, I hoped.
Dinner and a couple of bottles of wine later, I heaved myself (gracefully, I imagined but, in all probability, somewhat unsteadily) out of my deep camp chair and, as seductively as I knew how, whispered into Jean-Luc’s ear, “I am going to get ready for bed.”
Soon, squeezed into a rather meagre but gorgeously lacy new Edwardian-style corset bought specially for the occasion (after all, you can’t expect bodice ripping if you don’t wear the bodice), I stretched out on the plush outdoor bed to await my beau.
I did not notice immediately that, as I lay there – as fleshy and exposed as a freshly plucked chicken – a large swarm of ravenous mosquitoes had slid silently from the nearby bush to descend, in droves, upon my uncovered bits and bobs. It did not take long though, for my histamines to rise up against the nasty little mother suckers (only female mosquitoes feed on blood to nourish their eggs) in furiously inflammatory and itching warfare. Within minutes, it seemed, I felt my eyelids swell and merge shut. My lips ballooned and throbbed. My face raged as a heaving mass of unsightly pustules erupted from neck to forehead, and ear-to-ear.
By the time Jean-Luc sauntered across the lawn towards me, wearing only a small white towel around his waist, I was an unrecognisable and writhing red knot of bites.
“Get them off me! How could you be so stupid as to put the bed outside? Are you an idiot? Bring me my clothes,” I yelled, outing my inner fishwife in all her glory.
Chastised and deflated (the towel revealed that), the idiot dragged the mattress into the tent. Unfortunately though, because it had been left open, throngs of mosquitoes had already assembled inside, awaiting our arrival it seemed.
“Let’s cover ourselves with the sheet,” muttered the castigated Jean-Luc, as we lay down and turned irritably away from one another.
As if the itching was not disturbing enough, the high-pitched whining of the many insects inside the tent plagued any hope of rest: “I’ll never sleep,” I griped, pulling my long-sleeved t-shirt close around my neck.
For a while Jean-Luc was silent and then, inspired by a sudden brainwave (was it possible he possessed such tissue?), he leapt out of bed and dashed through the darkness. I heard him fumbling about in his Jeep and shortly, he returned: “Here, try this,” he said brusquely, reaching over and forcing some coarse (one-ply, I am sure) toilet paper into my ears. He briefly fiddled with his own, lay down, pulled the sheet up and, within seconds, was snoring loudly.
It was a long, sleepless night for me. My itching body prickled and pulsated, and the paper in my ears did little to dampen the grating sound of the pests. I was astounded and irate at how undisturbed Jean-Luc was. How could he sleep through the racket?
It was only as dawn broke that I noticed the small perspex case alongside the mattress. “Industrial Strength Earplugs,” read the label. Of course, Jean-Luc worked at a large production site. He wore earplugs at work. He had a pair in the cubby-hole of his car, alongside the roll of toilet paper that he always carried, just in case.
Reflecting the sun as it rose across the Orange River, his dark brown eyes opened slowly. The sneer that trembled upon my bloated lips took his breath away…
(This article was first published in The Weekender in September 2007.)
Wonderful, Penny. You have a bright future as a writer of bodice-rippers.