It had been the first occasion that Charles Howard (Jed) went to the main office of Loxton, Hunting & Associates in Mutarara, Mozambique. Survey Team Leader, Frank Merryweather, had his home and family there as well as his office and the soil testing laboratory run by Susan Tawse. We got the meeting over with as soon as possible so that we could optimise our drinking time. As I have previously mentioned, the place is odd in that it consists of four separate villages, all on the same northern bank of the Zambezi, with patches of bush separating them.
After crossing the Shiré River and heading west across the floodplain, you reach Mutarara Velho, the old town, then the administration village with the Army barracks and clinic, then Dona Ana, where the mighty steel railway bridge, built by the British, crosses the Zambezi, then lastly, a few kilometres further along lies Mutarara Nova. Our offices in Dona Ana consisted of a large front office on the street that had recently done service as a bank, and two wings that stretched backwards with small rooms used as store rooms, a laboratory, bedrooms for visitors, bathroom, toilet and little kitchen.
Just down the road from the office was a pub on a slight bend, set up on a terrace. We sometimes drank there, but it was usually crowded with Army men and we preferred to go to Mutarara Nova to Borges’ Pub. It had been on this straight piece of road between the two on which my friend, Bruce Barichievy, had rolled someone else’s Landy the previous year, coming home from Senhor Borges’ pub. It had something against us, that piece of road.
We had a tradition at Borges’. Usually about three of us would go down there and finish a bottle of whiskey, eating buns and butter and raw garlic, or piri-piri chicken, while we decided what we would drink. Then we would have one for the road; that meant a bottle each to sip on the back steps of the office out of chipped enamel mugs, while we breathed whisky and garlic fumes over everyone else and agreed with each other what fine chaps we were.
That time I went with Derek Tawse, and Jed with Brian Nicholson. We ordered the think-about-it bottle and piri-piri chicken and introduced Jed to Senhor Borges. He was a very short, round man, who due to a misunderstanding, also thought I was a fine fellow, so he gave us his personal attention and me an embrace as he hadn’t seen me since the previous year.
You could hear the squawk of the terrified chicken as they chased it around the yard and then its last protest choked off as someone stretched its neck. Then it was opened flat and grilled over the coals, basted with piri-piri sauce until it was crispy outside and juicy inside. And hot. We ate it with fingers that we licked clean in satisfaction afterwards.
Then, one for the road.
Derek and I left first and got back to the office. We were waiting on the steps for quite a while with our enamel mugs before Jed came limping up the road.
“Brian drove into the pub on the corner,” he said without any particular emphasis. What surprised us was that he had not dropped Jed off with us first and we said so.
“No, I mean, he drove into the wall of the pub on the corner. He’s cut his nose off.”
Sure, enough, Brian came walking up the road, swearing and holding his nose to his face. It was hanging on by a thin thread of skin. Derek and I bundled him into a Landy and roared off to the clinic. The only medico available was the male nurse that ran the place. His English was non-existent and our Portuguese was not so hot, but it was obvious what was needed. He didn’t look particularly phased. He led the way into a two-bed ward and switched on the light. The cockroaches were caught unawares and scuttled everywhere until, at last, they disappeared behind the skirting.
By a lot of gabble and hand waving, we eventually got the message that there was no anaesthetic available. We got the nurse to hold the patient’s nose out of the way so that we could feed him some more whisky. He fetched a sterile pack and set to work as our friend lay on the bed, first putting the inside of his nostrils together before lifting his proboscis and stitching it to the bridge. He seemed to be doing a brilliant job, but we stood around the bed, telling Brian that his nose was being stitched to his cheek and did he mind? He giggled and said he was sure the guy was doing his best. From time to time we interrupted the operation to administer more whisky before we finished it ourselves.
Obviously, that’s how No-nose got his name. When we had got him to bed, we went to rescue his Landy from the wall of the pub down the road. It was all stove in, in front. Jed said No-nose had resisted the impulse to take the bend and went straight. The inside mirror took care of his nose. Jed’s knees were a bit bruised but he was otherwise unhurt.
The next day, Jed and I went to Borges’ without No-nose. A think-about-it bottle, buns, butter and garlic, then one for the road, of course. Then we sat on the steps of the office with a pale green vapour hanging over us…
About mid-afternoon, we set off back towards the Shiré and our respective camps. Crossing the river involved putting my Landy onto a flat-bottomed, hand-winched pontoon that was hauled on cables. We hooted to call the ferry handlers who lived in a hut nearby. The sun was just setting as we drove on. The handlers sang as they cranked the winch and moved us away from the bank. Islands of floating Kariba weed (Salvinia molesta) moved down river with the current. Sometimes we saw hippos and crocodiles moving up or down.
“Race you across!” Jed ripped off his clothes. I whipped off my shirt, also, and took three paces towards the bow ramp before there was a splash as Jed dived in. I managed to stop without falling in as it dawned on me that he was out of his bracket. I yelled at him to stop, but he was off across the river in a powerful crawl. His forward progress was far outweighed by being carried downstream by the not inconsiderable flow. We were still fifty metres from the bank when he disappeared into the gloom as night fell. Eventually, as I took the Landy ashore, I heard a crashing in the reeds, away downstream and with enormous relief, heard a yelled reply to my call. At last, he fought his way out of the tangled growth, cut and bleeding from the reeds’ razor leaves. But he chuckled and said:
“That was bloody silly, wasn’t it?”