We finally approached the border town of Chipata. Sam, a few seats away from me yelled across the aisle.
‘Are there going to be any white people, Dad?’
I tried to ignore him.
A taxi driver approached me as we got off the bus.
‘Hey, I remember you guys, I took you to a hostel a few days ago.’
I tried desperately to place him. By the time I had figured out he had just made that up to get our attention, he had our bags in the back of his taxi. I realised where Sam got his naivety from. Oh well, whatever, we needed a taxi anyway.
To the border, through the border, another country, another taxi. Immediately it was apparent the prices had dropped. By the time we exited the third taxi of the day on the Malawi border town of Mehinji, this time the two of us sharing a backseat with two very obese women, we were both over the day. Neither of us had slept a wink of sleep on the bus.
In Mehinje, we tasted our first experience of an African minicab. Basically, they wait until they fill up and then go. You figure out which is yours by reading the hand drawn signs on the front dashboard or hearing the driver yell out the destination. Given thick accents this can be tricky.
Seventeen tightly packed passengers, two hours to the capital, and the sun getting lower. Sam and I both willed the appearance of the city. Finally we came to Lilongwe.
The footpaths were mostly dirt tracks. Some seriously shanty suburbs lined the dirty garbage-filled river. Lilongwe was no Windhoek. The minivan pulled into a chaotic ‘bus station’ where drivers negotiated who had right of way over the bumpy dirt by shouting and waving out the window.
We snatched our packs and stumbled out of the bus. A tut-tut driver bustled into us ahead of his competitors and half dragged us to his vehicle. A fight broke out between him and some taxi drivers. I had no idea what it was about. Turf war? Did he break protocol by grabbing us too early? I was too tired to care. He eventually won the battle but lost some commission in the process and the two-stroke engine zipped us through the occasionally turbulent traffic flow.
We landed at Mebuya Camp, recommended to us by Kevin in Lusaka. Taxi, bus, taxi, taxi, minibus, tut-tut. Six forms of transport spanning fifteen hours. There was a restaurant at the hostel where we could get a beef stew and rice. I had promised Sam pizza but sure as hell didn’t want to head out in a taxi to a restaurant, and didn’t want to figure out how to order pizza in, especially since I didn’t have a SIM card for the country and my computer had run out of battery in the bus. I just wanted to eat and go to bed.
In the reception / bar area, in front of ten people, Sam lost it completely.
‘You changed your mind! You said PIZZA!’
‘I know but it is just too hard Sam, we’ll have pizza tomorrow night.’
‘NO! F**K OFF! GIVE ME PIZZA!’
He put his hands around my throat and growled at me. I hustled and bustled him out the door and to the room, where we had a ten minute shouting match, which included Sam throwing the room key and the water bottle at me and some reasonably effective punches to my shoulder. Teaching Sam boxing has proved to be a two-edged sword.
‘I HATE you! I want a NEW father!’
I eventually left him to cool down but only after I had stupidly threatened all sorts of punishments that knew I was not going to implement, including throwing out the precious DS. I was breaking all the rules of effective parenting. But I just wanted to eat and go to bed.
Eventually he calmed and the restaurant managed to rustle up some buttered bread instead of the rice. While I read my book he collapsed asleep on the bed. He hadn’t slept in 36 hours.
The next day on Skype, Benison reminded me that a) even typically developing teenage boys can have issues with anger management and b) she would have wanted to strangle someone if she had gone 36 hours without sleep. True, true. It’s not always about autism.
Today was a new day, and we both felt a bit more human again after a 12 hour sleep.