They sit at my bedside whispering, but I hear every word.
“Can’t last much longer.
“Be gone before sunset.”
“He’ll be remembered as an explorer, a naturalist and author…”
“And adventurer. Spending all those years in Africa…”
“Two expeditions. Or was it three?”
“He’s mumbling. Can you hear…?”
“One word. Narina. Over and over again.
“A bird! On his deathbed, and he’s rambling about a bird?”
` “His favourite. The most beautiful of all the specimens he brought from Africa.
“Ah, yes. The Narina Trogan. I remember seeing it in the Paris Natural History museum. Papa was very proud of it.”
“I heard tell he named it after a Gonaqua woman.”
“That’s what they say, but who can tell? It was a long time ago. Before…”
“Look! His eyes… they’re closing…”
“He’s going! The time has come. His next breath will be his last.”
* * *
Voices fade. I close my eyes. When I open them, I’m on a hilltop overlooking a vast African plain. Elephants roam in the distance. Antelope drink from a waterhole. Flamingos paint the sky pink.
A woman steps out from behind a tree. My eyes open wide. Can it be…? Can it be Narina? Then doubts falls away and my heart beats like a hammer against my ribs as she runs into my arms.
“You’re back, you’re back!” she cries. “Tell me you’ll never leave me again. Promise, promise!”
Memory of the day we parted brings pain as sharp as salt on a fresh wound. I shudder and hold her close. “Never again, my love,” I vow, my words hot and fierce. “Never, ever, as long as I live.”