So this was my one entry into the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition 2020. I missed the deadline on the second round!! Its a nil-pointer, but got some good feedback – Recommendations on possible edits welcome!!
A road trip in Ghana shows that you should never judge a book by its cover.
“Akwaaba! Welcome!” said the tour guide.
“Thank goodness they speak English here, honey.”
The loud voice belonged to the other American on the tour, Latisha, who was smiling at me as she said it. I grimaced, already knowing from the sideways glances that most of the group had lumped the two of us in the same culturally inept pot.
I turned to the guide and greeted him with a cheerful “Medaase!”.
He smiled. “The vehicles should be here soon, and we will be on our way to Wechiau Community by 10 o’clock.”
This was really why I had come. Ever since I was tiny, I’d dreamed of seeing hippos in their natural environment. Misleadingly cute, the rotund body, big nose and tiny ears belied the protective maternal instincts and powerful jaws of the three thousand-pound females. The sanctuary provided the promise of an up-close visit.
“I’m splitting you into two groups. Those of you who will be travelling on to Lake Bosumtwi will be riding together so you can get to know each other.” And that was how I found myself stuck with Latisha on the road to Wechiau. We were the only two going paddle boarding afterwards.
In a way it was a blessing. The rest of the group included a family with two whining children, and a German couple with very little English between them. Five cars in all.
The journey to Wechiau was long but not as uncomfortable as I feared. The driver, not chatty, but competent, pointed out features of the land or local areas of interest.
When we got to the sanctuary gate, it was disappointing. The ranger station was pale green with flaking paint, the heat of the Ghanaian sun damaging the woodwork further, warping and buckling the boards. We dismounted to peruse the gift shop’s offering of books, maps and locally hand-carved hippos.
I picked up a particularly lurid painted hippo. Despite the drive, I hadn’t really exchanged many words with Latisha, so was surprised to overhear her talking to the guide in fast flowing Twi. Maybe I’d underestimated the other American.
“Where are you from?” I asked as we queued to pay.
“Georgia, honey,” Latisha said, “but my grandparents were from Ghana, they came over in the 1960’s.”
“Mine too!” I looked over her with more interest.
“I wanted to see the country where they were born.”
Back on the road within the park, I was busy stretching my neck to see the animals, but I soon realized it would be some time before we’d reach the main hippo wallow. It was then several minutes of uncomfortable drive in silence. I could think of nothing to say.
We were coming up to the edge of the wetlands, no signs of animal life just yet, but…
Up ahead, the lead vehicle suddenly swerved, and the convoy screeched to a stop.
“I’ll find out. Stay in the car.” the driver said. “Safer.”
“Not a man of many words,” said Latisha smiling.
I stuck my head out of the window to see what was happening.
“Looks like the lead car lost a tire. Should we go help?”
“Better not.” said Latisha, “we don’t know the lay of the land here. The drivers will sort it.”
There was commotion outside as the car at the front emptied.
“Figures!” I said. “It’s the one with the kids in it.”
The parents saw the kids into the car in front with the Germans and then came back to our car, opening the door and climbing in.
“Said we have to wait here while they change out the wheel.” said the man apologetically.
“No worries.” I said.
“I hope the kids are okay,” said Latisha.
“Maybe one of us should have gone with them.”
“Nah, they’ll be ok,” said the dad.
He spoke too soon. The door of the car ahead opened again, and the little girl clambered down shrieking at her brother and then she stormed off to the front of the convoy again.
I watched as the little girl went down to the water. “Do you think we should do something?”
“I’ll go.” said Latisha. “Y’all stay here.” She said that directly to the parents, and in a voice that brooked no argument. “Check on the boy but stay by the cars.”
She opened the door, but instead of jumping down she stood on the door frame and reached up to the roof.
Next thing we knew she was marching down the row of vehicles paddle board under arm.
Watching the little girl, we saw her point at the water and yell. “There’s one.”
The father popped open the door and standing on the door frame yelled, “Jenny! Come back here now.”
Jenny moved closed to the surfacing hippo.
As she did so there was another string of bubbles rising next to it. Large bubbles.
The mother pointed. “Oh! Look darling, that one must be a baby.”
I tensed. If that was a baby and Jenny was getting too close…
As I watched, Latisha closed in on the scene, now running as the bubbles rose more closely to the bank. Latisha reached Jenny as the mother hippo breached the surface, rising her full height and charging towards the child.
With one hand, Latisha picked up the child bodily by her clothes, and with the other she swung the paddleboard at the mother hippo, making contact just as the jaws opened wide.
The hippo clamped down on the paddle board, but the board was wedged at right angles, and the hippo was not able to dislodge the board from its teeth. Backing away the hippo charged again, but by then Latisha was running.
“What do you do?” I asked later, as we watched a hippo pod from the safety of the car.
“I’m in the marines.”
“Oh?” I really had misjudged the woman. “That’s amazing. Truly.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” She tugged her forelock.
“Sufe.” I introduced myself as I shook her hand.