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Let Sleeping LIons Lie.. Chapter Ten

by BobCurby 

Posted: 22 February 2008
Word Count: 2786
Summary: I recall the events surrounding my face-to-face encounter with mercenary assassins 'The Simbas' while in the Congo.
Related Works: Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 1 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 2 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 3 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - CHAPTER 4 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 5 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 6 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 7 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 8 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 9 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie {SUMMARY/ SYNOPSIS} • 

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Chapter Ten - - SIMBA COUNTRY

I stood and looked out of the hotel window and my gaze traversed the waterside of the Solent round to what I took to be the old walls of Southampton. Looking down on the car park I could see my car glinting in the summer sun. I reflected on how glad I was to have air-conditioning in this car with the summer temperatures getting up into the high 20’s, often into the lower 30’s by early afternoon. I glanced at my watch and noted that it was a little before six o’clock yet the sun was still high in the sky. How different the sunrise and sunset times are between the summer and the winter. I had found that difficult to cope with when I first returned to England from Africa.

I smiled as I recalled my young boyhood days and how similar each day was, month in, month out. I remembered being in Congo Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, where the sun rises at 6:00 a.m. and sets at 6:00 p.m. every day all through the year. Added to this strange ‘equal day’, at midday the sun is directly overhead and shadows are mere circles round everything. This phenomenon occurs because of the fact that Zaire is one of the countries that is on the Equator and the sun traverses the Equator from sunrise in the East to sunset in the West, in a straight line, always. The tilting of the Earth seems to have no effect in the way it does in countries further away from the Equator.

I had worked briefly with a British company based in the Orient who needed to increase business in the Equatorial Region of Africa, so it was that I came to be standing looking down on the magnificent Stanley Falls, positioned right on the Equator, with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern. I was minding my own business and admiring the view – when suddenly I heard a faint sound and turning, gasped to see that I was facing a small band of armed men, bandits from over the border in Uganda, just three hundred miles or so to the East. As I came to terms with the fact that I could die there, standing in the rising mists of the thundering waterfall, my mind began racing through all the actions left undone, the words left unsaid and promises I was about to break. Back in Zambia 1,500 miles to the South, was my home, my mum and dad – who had said on my departure a few days previous – “Be careful Rob, come back safe please, won’t you!?”

I had laughed; said nothing was going to happen to ME. After all, who’d be interested in a negotiator for a mining exploration company based in the Orient!? Now I was preparing to eat those words.
The leader of the bandits, (who I realised were ‘Simbas’ – lion-like assassins and mercenaries), prodded me in the stomach with his automatic rifle and waved the barrel in the direction I was to go. He was a surly character, with shaven head, heavy brow and unusually thick lips. He spoke in Chichewa, and then Chitonga, two common East African dialects. I knew a little Chitonga but virtually no Chichewa, so I responded as best I could in a local dialect of Swahili. This only invoked a string of abuse and the rifle butt was slammed down hard on my foot. The bandit leader then repeated his question, so I tried French, again invoking the same reaction. Now I was angry! I stamped both feet hard and shouted in very poor German at the man, who was visibly shaken by this reaction! He raised the rifle to his shoulder and placed the barrel against my chest. Then he repeated the question again, this time in a very broken German dialect.

I gasped with relief; I thanked God for the German occupancy of East Africa! I understood now what the man was asking. He was demanding to be taken to my farm and then to be given food and money. I thought for a few moments, looked down at the barrel of the gun and decided I just had to rely on English and so began –
“Sir, - I am not French, Belgian, or German, I do not live in this country as I figure you do not either, I have no farm near here----“
I saw the man stiffen and the finger tighten on the trigger so continued quickly “—but I can help you with food – plenty – do you understand English?”
The bandit leader lowered the rifle, he stood and looked hard at me for several minutes, and then he raised his hand and began to speak in reasonably good English. “English I speak, yes you right, I not from Zaire, I—WE—are from Uganda – but we control this area, now that white farmers mostly gone”

“O.K., so you control the area – why do you not just take food from the people in this area then?”
“We came to do this – you were here so we ask! Now YOU help with food!”
He propped himself up on the rifle and gestured at the rest of the band who now applauded and laughed. I thought for a few seconds – how was I going to get out of this one!? I had a helicopter up the ravine in which I had some beers, a few packets of crisps and a couple of bread rolls – hardly a meal for a hungry group like this. The rest of the mining survey team that had accompanied me were a good half a mile away. If I told the Simbas I had the helicopter they’d just kill me and attempt to take it, on the other hand, if I didn’t go to it, I had nothing to give them!

The situation was diffused for the moment but I knew that my life was worth nothing to these bandits and my body would never be found. I looked over at the long drop of the falls and then slowly allowed my eyes to traverse the group before me, looking into the eyes of each as I did so. Several of them dropped their gaze and I knew my chances had improved. I slowly opened my jacket. Hands went down to guns, the leader raised the rifle.
“No worry – I am getting something for you from my jacket – no guns or knives in here o.k.?” – I reached into my pocket and between the thumb and fore-finger I withdrew a small wad of notes.
“Are dollars o.k. for you?”
I handed the folded notes to the man. There were around eighty US dollars in the fold, this was more than the man would see in a month as a full-time regular soldier.

As he wasn’t one, it was probably more than they all saw in a month.
The man’s eyes bulged.
“You give ALL this?!”
“Yes, it’s all I have – but it’s yours, take it – go, buy food and feed your families.”
“If you have all this, what else you got? How you come here. Where your car?”
“Shit!” I thought, “This is what I feared. So I just took it calmly and replied in the best way I could.
“I have nothing else on me, unless you want this Timex watch? I came here with a mining crew, ten of them.” (I lied, there were only three), “They are all down in the valley, I just came up here to look at the falls. They have weapons and it would be shame for some us to get shot when you already have my $80.” I have to confess that I was very scared, this might have turned very nasty and there could be a lot of dead or injured people as a result. I stood motionless with arms partly outsretched and palms upward, a gesture of peace, I hoped. For several seconds nothing happened, then the leader muttered something in his own dialect to the others. Although I didn't understand what he'd said, I knew that when they all said "Ey." They were agreeing with what he had said, now it was a matter of finding out what he'd asked them.

He regarded me through eyes like slits for a few seconds and then lowered the rifle. I nearly fell down with relief.
“You tell no-one you hear! – if anyone knows you give us money and we let you go – we then come and kill you o.k.!?”
“I will not tell anyone I saw you.” Well, not until I got away that is.
“You leave now, we go!”
Then, almost as silently as they had appeared, the ‘Simbas’ melted back into the bush and I was left contemplating my future in the rising mist of the waterfall.

Later as I lifted the ‘chopper’ out of the ravine with the team on board and flew back to the hotel in the town, I had time to take stock of just how lucky I’d been. I knew it wasn’t the fact I had the money that saved my life, but rather my calm and honest attitude, coupled with my ability to diffuse volatile situations.

I smiled now as I thought how those qualities were needed in my present job. I raised my un-seeing eyes from the car park where I had been staring blankly while I day dreamed, and looked towards the water. One of the Isle of Wight ferries was just returning to its berth. That morning I had used the high speed hover ferry from Southampton to Ryde, it had taken just nine minutes to make the crossing. I watched the docking ferry, a much larger vessel than the hover craft, and as I looked down from my eighth floor room, it dropped its bow ramp and a stream of cars poured out of its open ‘mouth’, like bees out of a hive. I laughed as cars, bicycles, and pedestrians all streamed away. It wasn’t long before another stream of cars, bicycles and people began to make their way into the open mouth of the ferry. I looked down at my watch. It was almost exactly six o’clock; this was the last one out. I remembered suddenly that I hadn’t showered yet, and, turning away from the window, I made my way towards the bathroom to set that matter straight. I was looking forward to my dinner, it had been a long day and I had an extensive report to write before I settled down to sleep. I thought about the consequences of not doing the report, or not dialling in to the main office server and sending an e-mail to the team to let them know that I had achieved the objective for the day. Whilst it wouldn’t be a major disaster, the special activities I was involved in day by day could run on into an issue effecting National Security, which had become evident after September 11, 2001. I logged in and sent the encrypted e-mail with the basic details. I would return to the report later.

I strolled out of the room and took the lift to the ground floor, and then made my way to the dining room. I noted that the décor was the same as the last hotel of this particular chain, and the waiting staff wore the same uniform clothing style. There was a strong smell of something spicy, either a curry or maybe chilli-con-carne – I’d have to wait and see. I selected a table tucked away in the back corner and sat facing the door so that I could enjoy my favourite pastime of observing my fellow guests. A waitress handed me the menu, I smiled at her and thanked her and her pretty face smiled back.

“One good mark for putting the guest at ease….” I thought to myself, running through the quick checks Sara always does when visiting other hotels. The waitress had up until then looked quite sombre, but now, smiling, she went on to hand a menu to another guest who had just sat down. I never looked at her or thanked her. The sombre expression returned, but for a brief second I caught her eye, nodded towards my fellow guest’s back, winked, shook my head and made a ‘thumbs down’ sign. The smile returned.

“Let’s see if we can keep it that way…” I challenged under my breath.
Somehow I seemed to get better service than the other guests, and my meal was ready quicker. I later spoke to the restaurant manager and thanked her for my meal. She was taken aback but then smiled and thanked me for bothering to say so, something I’d appreciated when I was the one providing a service.
Back in the room I began typing the report, it was going to take until midnight to complete it, but as I had already reported in with my findings, it didn’t matter if it got late. I couldn’t let my thoughts take me back to the distant past of my African life, not now, this report was too important, so I soldiered on until it was complete and then flopped back onto the bed and slept soundly until the alarm woke me to yet another glorious day.

I didn’t know at that time that I only had a few more weeks in the job, that my employers had already put the plans in motion to shut down the operation in which I was involved. Nor did I know just what events ahead would change some aspects of my life completely and that I would be involved in an environment that very few of the general public and even many of the high-ranking civil servants had no knowledge of at all.

As I made my way home I thought how far away the land of the ‘Simbas’ now seemed.
“Must go back there some day,” I promised myself, "and take Sara – she’d enjoy that.”
I had many times suggested that we take an extended holiday back to my childhood stamping grounds, but Sara, having heard some of the stories, said she had no desire to go anywhere near the place. I chuckled as I recalled her recoiling in disgust as I talked of some of the large insects and spiders that wandered around in the house by day and night and the enormous Nile Monitors that occasionally wandered into the cow sheds looking for food and scaring the daylights out of the twelve year old cow herder. Oh, and then there was the time I lifted the lid of the outside toilet only to find I was about to pee on a small python curled up inside it! NO, getting Sara to visit Africa was definitely a non-starter. It would take a lot of coaxing and begging to get her to even get on the aircraft.

The drive up the M3 is boring and I sat at cruise speed, observing the other motorists. I found it strange that apart from the trucks I was the only one being overtaken by everyone else, and yet my cruise control was holding me at 72 mph. At least doing this meant that anyone who wanted to follow me had to do the same and would be conspicuous by the fact that they too were being overtaken by everyone else. My mirrors were clear. Twice I had seen vehicles joining but they had quickly sped up and overtaken me. I watched every overhead bridge or overpass, where there was a figure standing I slipped behind a truck until I had passed the spot and then quickly overtook it and took up position in front of it. Paranoid some may say, but a person with a sighted rifle can take out the driver of a vehicle so easily from a bridge.

My boss, Dora, had sent me through an e-mail to say that I should be very careful over the next few jobs, the person involved was known to try and prevent us from doing our jobs, by whatever methods he saw fit. She told me that I should be in the Derbyshire dales for the next week and close to one of his operations. I had that on my mind all through the weekend, Sara could see I was pre-occupied and didn’t ask, she knew better.

You are reminded that work by Bob Curby is copyrighted and can only be reproduced by permission of the author. FA©T 2008

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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 22:56 on 25 February 2008  Report this post

Much tighter writing - and I felt that the now/then transitions worked better than in some of the earlier chapters.

Hope you won't mind what I'm just about to write (being bravely honest!) but one of the things that slightly alienates me is that, despite all the dangers and setbacks, you seem a bit Bond-like a lot of the time, coolly in control! I know that you refer to being scared once or twice but it doesn't feel that way. You've had much more risky experience than most others and you wouldn't have surived without being very competent but I think readers might identify more if there were a few more intimations of fallibility.

Just a suggestion.


BobCurby at 02:10 on 03 March 2008  Report this post

I always value your comments. What can I do, do I invent a different me? Of course I do make mistakes, if you didn't get a chance - look back at the re-written chapter 9. However, I faced some serious issues from the age of 6 onwads. I became quite blase about things that would throw many people into a mad panic or emotional collapse. As long as I can remember I have never been afraid of death, but no, I do not want to die and will take steps to prevent that happening to me or my family, but I face it with an extreme calmness.

To say that I am cool, and in control, well if you add calculating and mercenary then I will say "yes that describes me". Frankly, now that I am older and wiser I can say I was a cold uncaring b****ard in the past. Upset someone? "Tough" is what I would have said. Stand in front of me with a gun and I would attempt to break your arm, if you got the shot off first, ah well, such is life. (or death if that was the result).

So, how should I write, should I invent emotions I don't, or at least once upon a time, didn't have? I've made some big mistakes in my life and I'm not proud of some of the things that have happened. They wouldn't make good reading so I don't include them in this book. These are memoirs of most of the 'best' times (bad as some of them were) I don't really want to talk about the some of the bad ones! (Except perhaps the experience down the caves and maybe the last chapter of the book...)

I am wrestling now with what to do next to make me appear more human, I am not a 'Bond' type of person because I don't kill without a second thought, as I said in the fuel run chapter, I would rather not be in the position of 'it's me or him' and will try very hard to avoid that. The mercenaries in this chapter, the Simbas, have no remorse. When I realised that I was facing them, I was prepared to die. I thought that I should at least negotiate if I could - that's what I was trained to do - negotiate and diffuse situations.
I fully realised that even after giving them $80, they could kill me anyway - and there was nothing I could do. Why get in a state, sure I was scared, afraid that it wouldn't be quick, that maybe I'd get tortured, maybe they'd attack the others - I feared more for my colleagues than me. By and large I am a peaceful person and I do not support violence, though I have had to resort to it to prevent another from causing me serious harm, I'm not proud of doing that either.

I hope this little addition gives you an insight into 'Me' and I hope you, or someone else can help me build a more human picture of me, based on what I've said here - beacuse I'm stumped. Thank you once again for your frank and helpful comments.



Richard Brown at 18:47 on 04 March 2008  Report this post

Thank you for such a frank response. It does put things in perspective.

One factor is that it's difficult, when commenting chapter by chapter, to remember all the previous material so it may be that I have lost sight of the overall picture.

But it's interesting that you have, as you say, quite deliberately left out some of the worse events. You write: 'They wouldn't make good reading so I don't include them in this book.' I think that, to a point, this vindicates my comment. It does, after all, make things a bit lop-sided.

I wonder if a way round it might be to have a preface (maybe you already have one such) which explains the 'cherry pick' approach - but a drawback would (alas!) be that many people want to hear about the bad things - after all it's crisis headlines that sell newspapers we're often told.

Bear in mind that what I wrote is only one person's view! And I do find the book interesting. Maybe, if you want to redress the balance a bit, you could just hint at the darker things without going into detail.

One possible leading question: If you were writing this as a novel would you make many changes and if so, what?'


BobCurby at 19:46 on 14 March 2008  Report this post
Thank you Richard,

I am going to relate here one of the 'dark' ones, something that I would not have committed to paper until now.

When I was about 10 I had a best friend, (I will name him here because this is true), Brian Trice, his mum was Irish, a lovely woman and his dad worked with mine. We all lived in houses that belonged to 'the firm', close to the Congo border on the outskirts of Ndola.

Brian had suffered from a rare disorder as a baby, Pyloric Stenosis, which meant he couldn't keep food in his stomach but projected it out as soon as the stomach began to work on it. The doctors operated and corrected it, but not after he lost vital weeks of proper nourishment. Thus Brian was weaker than me, although much taller, and had a scar down his stomach.

One day we fell out, as young lads do, and the other boys in the street - all sons of my Dad's work colleagues - egged me on to beat him up. Surrounded by these cheerleaders, Brian bravely put up his hands. I hit him hard three times in the stomach and he went down like a sack of potatoes. Everyone dispersed. His mum rushed out, gave me an earful and helped him inside.

I could see the ring leader of the boys who egged me on sniggering in his garden along with two other boys. He was a year older than me and so were the other two. I walked into the garden and hit him hard between his eyes. He fell down but was soon up, the other two boys grabbed me and held me while he pummelled my body. Then when it was obvious I had had enough, they let me drop and went inside. For forty minutes I lay on that ground.

I didn't go to school the next day and my relationship with Brian was never restored. At the weekend that followed, I was out in the back yard playing with Bobby, our pet baboon, when I saw the ringleader leave his house. I think he was off to another friends house, possibly for a mango hunt, something we all did regularly as they began to ripen on the trees. In thirty seconds I was behind him. I called him, he turned, I hit him twice in quick succession, breaking one of his teeth. He fell down and I turned and left him there.

I felt no remorse, no sadness. I would have gone back and done it again.

However, now I feel that remorse and I hate those times in my life - I really don't want them in the book.


BobCurby at 22:32 on 21 March 2008  Report this post
Chapter 10 to Archive now.


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