The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the MasaP “Ngdje Ngdi,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.
“The marvellous thing is that it’s painless,” he said. “That’s how you know when it starts.”
“Is it really?”
“Absolutely. I’m awfully sorry about the odor though. That must bother you.”
“Don’t! Please don’t.”
“Look at them,” he said. “Now is it sight or is it scent that brings them like that?”
The cot the man lay on was in the wide shade of a mimosa tree and as he looked out past the shade onto the glare of the plain there were three of the big birds squatted obscenely, while in the sky a dozen more sailed, making quick-moving shadows as they passed.
“They’ve been there since the day the truck broke down,” he said. “Today’s the first time any have lit on the ground. I watched the way they sailed very carefully at first in case I ever wanted to use them in a story. That’s funny now.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” she said.
“I’m only talking,” he said. “It’s much easier if I talk. But I don’t want to bother you.”
“You know it doesn’t bother me,” she said. “It’s that I’ve gotten so very nervous not being able to do anything. I think we might make it as we can until the plane comes.”
“Or until the plane doesn’t come.”
“Please tell me what I can do. There must be something I can do.”
“You can take the leg off and that might
stop it, though I doubt it. Or you can shoot me. You’re a good shot now. I taught you to shoot didn’t I?”
“Please don’t talk that way. Couldn’t I read to you?”
“Anything in the book bag that we haven’t read.”
“I can’t listen to it,” he said. “Talking is the easiest. We quarrel and that makes the time pass.”
“I don’t quarrel. I never want to quarrel. Let’s not quarrel any more. No matter how nervous we get. Maybe they will be back with another truck today. Maybe the plane will come.”
“I don’t want to move,” the man said. “There is no sense in moving now except to make it easier for you.”
“Can’t you let a man die as comfortably as he can without calling him names? What’s the use of slanging me?”
“You’re not going to die.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m dying now. Ask those bastards.” He looked over to where the huge, filthy birds sat, their naked heads sunk in the hunched feathers. A fourth planed down, to run quick-legged and then waddle slowly toward the others.
“They are around every camp. You never notice them. You can’t die if you don’t give up.”
“Where did you read that? You’re such a bloody fool.”
“You might think about some one else.”
“For Christ’s sake,” he said. “That’s been my trade.”
He lay then and was quiet for a while and looked across the heat shimmer of the plain to the edge of the bush. There were a few Tommies that showed minute and white against the yellow and, far off, he saw a herd of zebra, white against the green of the bush. This was a pleasant camp under big trees against a hill, with good water, and close by, a nearly dry water hole where sand grouse flighted in the mornings.
“Wouldn’t you like me to read?” she asked. She was sitting on a canvas chair beside his cot. “There’s a breeze coming up.”
“Maybe the truck will come.”
“I don’t give a damn about the truck.”
“You give a damn about so many things that I don’t.”
“Not so many, Harry.”