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In search of a duck

I wake at dawn, rested and comfortable and urged out of my hammock by a biological imperative in tune with the sun. As we go through the ritual of morning, the brushing of teeth, the washing of faces, the greetings, the slow waiting around while chai and rice is prepared I gently encourage a discussion of the day ahead. We agree we are going to leave at 4pm this being the generally acknowledged point when it gets cooler and therefore easier to ride in the heat. Laurian has hinted that they have nice big fat ducks out by the lake so I am determined to bring him one back. Meanwhile one of the bikes has a puncture and the other needs a second fly wheel. My bicycle has survived admirably though it has developed a slight wobble I will need to correct soon.

In the town we stand around waiting for the bikes to be fixed. I talk to the stone mason and he tells me that if god wills it we will meet again. He asks me for 100 shillings. Mzees manage to get away with this, it’s a pension contribution. I have seen Laurian hand over 200 shillings to the tall, slightly stooping figures that come to visit the hospital and sit around with quiet dignity. They have survived a great many years; many of them have been soldiers, some of them fighting in African wars, in the fight against Idi Amin. The oldest guy I’ve met brought round his coffee pot, perched on the portable charcoal burner and told of his travels in the Second World War. He had been in London and had seen Queen Elizabeth.

When the bikes are fixed we jump on them and ride out again, exploring the country, heading out to a different beach where the fishermen bring in their boats and store their nets. They’ve already packed up for the morning so we cycle on looking for a duck. I’m so much happier when I’m on the bike, the movement, the sense of discovery and the sheer physical pleasure of keeping the bike and I in one piece is a real joy. We end up back at Constantine’s dada’s house and she directs us in the direction of a duck.

But first there is more food to eat; sweet potatoes and peanuts again. The potatoes are starchy and stick in the mouth but the oil and protein in the peanuts and their slightly salty roasted flavour helps them go down. I ask Constantine what price the duck will be and he says he has found one for 5000. I ask him if this is a good price and he says yes. We head over to the women’s house and survey the ducks, but I am embarrassed, unsure who is conducting this sale. Has Constantine already agreed the price? I point out a duck but they all look the same to me and I don’t know how to tell. I know I should wade in and have a good feel but I just want to get it over with.

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