By Gabi DiMarco*
I woke to my friend Anna poking me repeatedly in the ribs. “We’re here! We’re here!” she shouted, her blond hair whipping back and forth with excitement as she tried to look out both sides of the bus at once.
The winter South African sun shone weakly through the window I had been resting against. The rest of the bus was beginning to stir as our classmates stashed their iPods and books and reached for the matching navy-blue windbreakers we had been instructed to wear at all times. We filed out one by one and waited patiently for our guide, Mr. Brown, to instruct us on what to do next.
Mr. Brown was dressed in his usually uniform of high socks, cargo shorts, fanny pack, and safari hat. He looked the part of a stereotypical tourist, except he knew everything about everything, and had traveled all over the world. Standing in front of the 112 Washington D.C. high school students, members of the National Cathedral School Chorale, he addressed us in an accent befitting an Oxford professor.
“This,” he said, pausing for dramatic effect, “is Cape Agulhas.” In the next fifteen minutes, we learned more than we ever wanted to know about Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of South Africa and the entire continent. It is often confused with Cape Hope, which many “naïve and uneducated people erroneously assume is the southernmost tip of Africa.”
“From the lookout point,” Mr. Brown concluded, “you can see both oceans at once. The Atlantic to your right and the Indian to your left.”
We advanced towards the start of the half-mile trail that would lead us down to the shoreline. There was a restaurant and gift shop at which Mr. Brown allowed a five-minute break. Anna and I waited outside. We gazed off into space, still tired from the bus ride and not yet adjusted to the six-hour time difference.
Then, through my glazed, half-open eyes, I saw a dark shape resembling a motorcycle approaching from the other end of the parking lot. It appeared to have two giant wheels and was barreling down the line of parked cars. Suddenly I realized with terrifying clarity that it was not a motorcycle; it was a giant baboon. And it was running straight at Anna and me.
Mr. Brown had warned us briefly about baboon attacks at the start of one of our many bus rides. Most of us had listened skeptically as he explained that baboons usually attacked humans who threatened their territory, or were eating aromatic foods.
“In the event of such an encounter,” he had advised us, “surrender your food to the animal and back away slowly.”
Fear gripped my body and random thoughts now flashed through my head. “Oh my God, I’m going to die. I will be torn to pieces by a creature half my height. What would the newspapers say? ‘Schoolgirl mauled by angry baboon on choir trip gone awry.’ Then again…if I have to die, why not like this? Eaten by a giant baboon. My classmates would tell the story for years. But I don’t want to die, even memorably. I’ll just run away. Why aren’t my feet moving? WHY AREN’T MY FEET MOVING?”
The baboon was now barely an arm’s length away. I closed my eyes, waiting to feel claws on my skin, or fists in my stomach, or whatever sorts of things one feels when attacked by a large African primate. But I felt nothing. I opened my eyes and saw that the baboon had decided to spare me. Instead, he had veered towards the restaurant. He stopped just outside the door, raised his gigantic fists, and pounded against the glass. The noise was deafening, and the glass seemed to bend beneath his knuckles. We watched in horror as the baboon attempted to break down the door with his bare hands.
When the pounding finally stopped, there was dead silence. The baboon stood motionless, as if contemplating the impact his tantrum had had on petrified tourists and wait staff. Then the baboon lowered his arms and took off the way he had come, back across the parking lot.
From behind me, in a barely audible whisper, came the response of our well-traveled Mr. Brown: “Holy shit.”
*Gabi DiMarco is a student at Duke University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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