To Die On Kilimanjaro, Part 5

Phillip and Gina arrived in Malindi together but not as a couple. It was crowded in the hotel and rooms were scarce, but because of the connection made by the teacher in Arusha word had reached the Blue Marlin about Arthur and Kilimanjaro. Gina was given the honeymoon suite that was isolated from the other rooms, overlooked the Indian Ocean, and just yards from the water. Phillip was given a small room rented by hikers, and without hotel amenities, [though breakfast tea was left on his doorstep early each morning.]

Gina and Phillip stayed in the Blue Marlin for five days. On the third night they made love for the first time. “It kept coming at us,” Phillip explained to me on the beach that winter of ’69, eleven years after he had first arrived in Malindi with Gina. “It was like an approaching storm,” he explained, in the dramatic way he had of telling me his tale. “We could feel it on the horizon. A dark massing of clouds which were unavoidable. We kept waiting, all tense about what we knew was inevitable. Finally, it swept over us as the rains do in East Africa.

“It was a drug. We could not get enough of each other. It was magically and intoxicating and sad. Gina wept in my arms after we had sex. We never left her room. We had meals delivered to us and never went to eat in the dining room.”

The British owner, Phillip would later learn, was furious at their behavior. It was the owner’s wife who made sure they were not bothered, understanding Gina’s state of mind.

Phillip and Gina made grand plans of a life together, of returning to England where he would finish his schooling and she would find work. They would get married. They would live happily ever after.

Phillip stopped talking. He had fished out a cigarette and was staring at the sea, seeing nothing in the dark night. I found myself concentrating on the rhythm of the waves and half afraid that someone–April perhaps, returning from putting the children to bed–would interrupt Phillip before he finished his tale. I couldn’t imagine myself going up to this stranger the next morning at breakfast and asking, “Say, buddy, what happened with you and Gina?” It was now or never.

“She left me on the morning of our last day we were here,” Phillip went on quickly, now summing up. “We had plans to return to Mombasa in the early afternoon. The ship wasn’t scheduled to leave until evening. Gina sent me into town to buy some items for the trip. It was her ruse to escape. The owner’s wife had arranged for a car to drive Gina to Mombasa. When I returned from the village there was a long letter saying all the things, I guess, one says at such a time. She had left it on the bed. The letter was written on Blue Marlin stationary.”

He went on to say how she wrote that she couldn’t do this to him, that it was all impossible. She was too old for him. She told him over and over how much she loved him, and that she would never forget how he saved her life. She begged him not to follow her to Mombasa.

“I didn’t follow her,” Phillip told me. “As upset and crazed as I was I also knew at some place in my subconscious that she was right. We had no future away from Africa. Africa was our paradise, so when I said I knew someone who had died on Kilimanjaro, I meant Arthur, of course, but also I meant what had happened to me here at the Blue Marlin. I died here, too, when I was a boy.”

He stopped again. I looked up and saw April was returning. She was striding through the lobby of the hotel, a beautiful blond woman crossing the lobby, lit with lights. She was coming to us like the rising of the sun and Phillip said one more thing, and that was the last thing he said about Gina.

“Whenever I’m back in London on home leave, I go into a Harrods and wander the floors looking at the shop girls behind those endless counters. I half hope and half fear I’ll see Gina. It is a fantasy I have written and rewritten in my mind thousands of time. I have never seen her again, but that daydream, out here in in the Africa bush, enchants my life.”

With that, he stood and welcomed April and asked if she would care for a drink. Then he offered his wife his beach chair and turning to me, smiled and said, “May I get you a pint, Yank?”


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