When I showed the Nurse – as we call her because that’s her vocation – the email from Scott she immediately squealed, “You have to go.”
Scott is my kindred sprit from Sydney. We are uncannily alike in so many ways that it is scary: think of a mirror reflection of me. Interestingly enough, we arrived at the same space from diametrically opposed directions. Fortunately, we do have out differences as otherwise our “sameness” might be illegal.
A man of few words, Scott does things simply because he can. Or doesn’t, even though he could, depending on the situation. He wrote that he had organized a surprise for my birthday. Peter — whom he knows from his Sandhurst days — owns the River Lodge on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls and I was to go there. And he ended his message with “Transport has been arranged for 11:00. No arguments please.”
What to wear, what to wear? I travel with a carry-on and have this idiosyncratic “rule” that if you don’t wear every item of clothing at least once you didn’t get it right. Yes, yes I know I’m becoming increasingly eccentric and/or neurotic, but you have to give me a break as I had just turned 60 that morning. So I proceeded to cobble together a Carmen-inspired outfit to go with the necklace I bought myself as a 60th present in Cape Town.
The driver appeared, the passport was stamped and another driver waited for me on the Zambian side. He carried on after the sign to the River Lodge and then turned left down a buffalo trail that had grass growing between the tire tracks. A helicopter ride perhaps? Scott owns a Bell and knows I enjoy choppers.
The Zambezi River appeared before us. As I stepped out of the van Peter greeted me and said we would go to the lodge by boat. I clamoured onto the waiting jetty – being graceful in such situations has never been my forte – and noticed a man with his back to me. He slowly turned around and there stood my 60th birthday present: Scott.
We meandered back to the lodge, getting close to some hippos in the river and watching four elephants – two standing and two laying – under a tree. Very African safari stuff. Peter said the animals in the area know the sound of his outboard motor and aren’t scared, which is why he can get so close.
As I walked towards the lodge, a blond woman came towards me with her arms held out and said “And I’m Monique James.” Surprise number two as I’d introduced Scott and Monique to each other years ago. And I got to meet Sarah, a delightful woman Scott has known forever, who had come along.
Lunch was served in the gazebo. I will leave it to your imagination to droll about how good it was. Peter whacked the cork off the third bottle of champagne with the bottom of a wine glass. It cracked the glass perfectly so that it broke cleanly with the cork still embedded. The force of the bubbles kept anything from going back into the bottle. Scott sniffed and said it really should have been properly executed with a sword. I asked Peter if he had practiced on bottles of Baby Duck before moving on to Verve. He shot he a look that answered the question.
A birthday cake – complete with candles — appeared. I kept blowing and they kept relighting. Scott had brought them with him to make me puff for my wish.
After lunch we piled into the lodge van and headed to the helicopter field for a 30-minute flight over Victoria Falls. The first attempt had to be aborted as it started to rain. Walking away Scott and I looked at each other as the pilot’s rocking-landing had been so bad even I noticed.
On the second go we flew over the falls — breath taking panoramic view — and then followed a gorge. I was a touch twitchy as we were close to the rocks. Even the slightest ding in a propeller and it would have been a fast drop into the white water below. Scott critiqued the ride and said it was the “weightlessness” drops that had worried him.
High tea was waiting when we returned to the lodge. Monique decided to nap, Sarah had a pedicure and Scott wanted to fish so I went to the dock with him. After one cast a boat arrived so there wasn’t even enough time for a one-that-got-away story to develop.
We moved to the lounge in Scott’s stilted tree-house that overlooked the Zambezi. It was literally on top of the water, but the pet hippo who hangs around the lodge didn’t make an appearance. It was a delightful time. The four years since I’d left Sydney had slid away the moment I saw Scott on the boat and we had picked up where we left off. I draw on his strength and energy. He thinks I have some sort of spark embedded.
In the evening, Trudy from the lodge joined us for dinner in the gazebo. We regaled each other with stories and opinions not often found at a dinner party. She was a touch wide-eyed and confessed that her assumptions had been challenged. On the walk back to the lodge to escape the mosquitoes I stage-whispered to Scott that it was a good thing we hadn’t included accounts of our truly outrageous antics as it might have hospitalized her.
At 21:15 Peter arrived to whisk me away to the border. I was on a day-pass and had to cross before it closed at 22:00. Scott knows he is a central person in my life, and I wanted to remind him of that as we walked towards the van. He came back with “It will have to wait until the next unexpected catch-up. And no, I won’t be giving you any notice for that one either.”
My surprise sixtieth can only be described as spectacular. And, frankly, Scott is the only person on the planet I know who would do it simply because he could: flights, accommodation, meals, a helicopter trip and a birthday cake with trick candles. Magic.
My only regret is that I returned Scott’s sweater just before the van pulled away. He laughed and said, “Now that you’re going to be in Cambodia it is easier to see you as I’m in and out of Asia regularly. The plan was to collect the jumper for your 61st.” That constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Bastard!