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Steaming Breathing Hippo

by Greg du Toit

A short story describing my surreal encounter of the hippo kind:

I awoke with a jolt in my bed and a frosted nose. Wonderful, the river might be steaming today, I thought as I reached for my clammy leather bush boots. Shaking them vigorously before slipping my feet inside, I felt like an obsessive-compulsive. Winter was not, after all, scorpion season! The sleepy Land Rover, without a roof, roared into life. Bouncing along the winding bush track, I felt alive and hoped to see the meandering river steaming like a warm cup of early morning coffee...

Living close to the equator, winter is not so much a season but rather only a slight drop in temperature, which offers respite for but a few refreshing weeks each year. Having never felt or touched snow, the cold air brushing my face and the hopeful prospect of seeing a steamy wintry river, seemed like the African equivalent? Rounding the last bend and gazing down upon an ancient arm of the Great Rift Valley, I fixed my eyes upon the Ruaha River, snaking its way through the Tanzanian bush like a gigantic python, with furious steam rising off its skin. Instinctively my pedal-foot eased off and the cold rush of fresh air loosened its tight grip on my nose, knuckles and face. Free wheeling into the valley and turning right, onto an even narrower bush track, I followed the languid river in a westerly direction.

The viscous water seemed to be brewing like a giant kettle having just gone off the boil, and I wished I could get closer? I inhaled and exhaled deeply. Both the river and I were expelling hot condensed air and how utterly exuberant I felt! Jumping out the 4x4 I raced to the steep bank and there in the glowing water below, lay a raft of hippopotami. Hypnotized, I leapt down the bank and onto the soft granular river sand. I so wanted to be a hippo, to feel the steaming water slide over my smooth skin and to be so utterly immersed in nature’s jacuzzi.  Reaching the water’s edge, I lay down in the cold thick sand with fat wallowing hippos just thirty metres in front of me, snorting disdain at my alien intrusion upon their muggy watery abyss.

Shuffling my body deeper into the sand, I became a part of the very canvas that just minutes ago, my Land Rover and I had been admiring from higher up. In a transient state of nirvana, I lay in the sand like an anorexic crocodile staring into the gently bubbling, gurgling, churning, deep dark water.

After a few minutes the hippos settled down, and so did their profuse snorting cynicism. The dominant bull in the pod however, began ever so slowly, almost nonchalantly, swimming in my direction? As each nervous second passed, the shape of his flat elongated head became increasingly large. He kept coming, closer and closer, now more directly towards me! His peculiar small ears flicked constantly, dispersing vigorous droplets of translucent water in every direction.

His gigantic nostrils exhaled early morning smoke reminiscent of an ancient dragon. His tiny black beady eyes stared at me with what I hoped was intrigue and wonder? Now just three metres in front of me, I could see the deep furrowed battle scars on his rump. His skin, thin and smooth, mysteriously contained the swollen bulging bulk of a body much like synthetic sausage casing does a cheap pork banger. My tummy rumbled as my hasty retreat from camp excluded breakfast of any kind. His nostrils, active volcanic craters from the rim of which erupted whiskers as thick as pencils! Every second slowed to a minute as I inappropriately and curiously paused to ponder how sophisticatedly the delicate pink-pigmented marshmallow creased skin surrounding his eyes complimented his long liquorish-like jet-black whiskers? Water steamed about him as he gazed at my own comparatively peculiar features. To him I must have been an odd sort of creature with a tiny white frosted nose and minuscule nostrils sporting ridiculously thin and barely visible nose hairs. He seemed unconvinced of my flat round face and neat rows of equidistant equilateral teeth lacking in substance of ivory.

 ‘Sploosh’ was the sound as his large head disappeared down into his churning chasm. The gigantic beast before me had disappeared in a mere instant! I felt as if I was waking from a deep slumber for the second time in the same day. Looking up, suddenly blinded by the equatorial sun, the horrendous thought of the now defrosted crocodiles entered my mind like an unwanted virus entering a computer. Pulling myself to my feet and taking a few giant steps backwards, I dusted the sand off my belly and trudged back to my Land Rover. The day was about to become intensely hot.

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