“We’ll let you know in a few weeks,” the interviewer said.
He had a nice plastic smile, and I flashed my own in response. The truth was I’d bombed another one, and further unemployment beckoned. You need a job to get job experience, which is required to get a job. He shook my hand, wished me luck, and ushered me to a pair of impeccably clean glass doors, through which the harsh light of midday poured in, reminding me that I was a failure as an adult. Real adults weren’t supposed to be idle at this time of day. I stepped outside into a spotlight of inferiority.
A car honked.
It was my girlfriend and soon-to-be fiancée, Jen. The plan was I’d propose as soon as I found a steady job. These days, any job would do.
I shrugged as I got in to ward off any lurking questions. “They’ll tell me in a few days,” I said.
“You’ll get it eventually.”
“You have a degree in management, you’re tall, you’re good with people—”
“Yeah,” I repeated.
Maybe in another eight months I can find a job cleaning glass doors, I thought.
She kissed me and hit the gas.
Although I tried not to admit it, I was increasingly jealous of Jen, with her bachelor’s in biology, Masters in primatology, and looming years of scholarship-funded doctoral studies. Her life seemed set. She was happy, and the only question left about her future was for how long she would choose to put up with a loser like me.
“Up for lunch?” Jen asked, interrupting my train of self-loathing.
The question seemed innocent so I knew it wasn’t. She was planning something.
“Great! I told Marcus we’d meet him at The Brass Arrow.” She bit her lower lip and glanced over at me. “There’s something I want to propose.”
I sank into the passenger’s seat.
The last lingering lunch eaters were filtering out of the pub when we arrived, which made it easy to spot Marcus waiting in a booth by the window.
Marcus was a friend Jen had made as an undergrad, and he’d kind of become our common friend over time. Kind of because I’d always suspected he was in love with Jen, and on my worse days it didn’t take much to imagine the pair of them running off together. Marcus, after all, had a job.
After the normal niceties Jen made her pitch:
“I was thinking,” she started, “that now might be the last time the three of us could take a trip together. I start at Columbia in September, Marcus has that promotion that likely means no vacation for a while, and—” She looked at me, hesitating for a painful second.”—once you find your job, you’ll find it hard to get away.”
She produced an atlas and plopped it open on the table.
“So I propose we go on an adventure, see the world, experience a foreign land…”
She rifled through the pages, blitzing through South America and Europe, before slowing down on Africa, until she found the exact spot she was looking for and declared, “And I was thinking specifically of here!”
She pointed to Uganda.
“Huh,” Marcus said. “Not really a big tourist destination.”
“Exactly! What do you think?” she asked me.
I thought I wouldn’t have known where Uganda was if not for the atlas in front of me. “Could be interesting,” I said, to say anything.
She could sense my hesitation. “If you don’t want to go, I totally understand. Backpacking in Africa is not for everyone.”
She went on: “And Marcus and I could always go by ourselves. Right, Marcus?”
We both looked at him.
Did I want to go backpacking in Uganda? No. Was I going to let my hopefully-wife go backpacking in Uganda with a guy who was in love with her? Not a chance!
“Oh, I’m in,” I said.
_ – _ – _
We landed at Entebbe International Airport on a rainy afternoon and proceeded by shuttle to Kampala, where we checked into a downtown hostel run by a Brazilian named Santos, before heading out into the colourful chaos of the city’s nightlife on boda-boda motorcycle taxis whose drivers didn’t wear helmets and drove like madmen, to experience the local culture and cuisine.
As we sped along the street, winding dangerously between cars and people, the warm wind on my face felt like the stripping away of jet lag and civilization. To my American sensibilities, Uganda was from the very beginning raw and honest, like an unwaxed, misshapen fruit: visually unappealing but absolutely delicious. And as the city passed me by, a glowing panorama, I wanted to sink my teeth into it and bite down until the juices ran down my chin.
This was the opposite reaction to Marcus, who found the place “dull, dirty and disgusting.”
Jen wanted only to leave the city behind and head for the mountains.
In the end, we spent three days in Kampala before venturing out. On our last night, Santos treated us to drinks and a conversation that would change our lives forever.
After inviting us to the hostel bar, a permanently dusky room smelling of fried sausage and alcohol, he poured us four shots of hooch, reclined in his personal armchair and, staring at the homemade bottle lights dangling from the ceiling, asked us about our plans.
“Kibale National Park for some hiking and gorilla or chimpanzee trekking,” Jen answered.
Santos downed his drink.
I followed suit, though it nearly burned a hole in my throat.
“Kibale is nice,” Santos said.
“That’s what I’ve read too,” I said, mostly to check if my voice still worked.
It hoarsely did.
“What do you mean nice?” Jen asked.
“I mean it’s a nice place to visit. Safe, family friendly.” There was definitely a note of derision in his tone. “It’s just that…”
The unfinished sentence hung enticingly in the air.
“Just that what?”
Santos looked at the three of us in turn, then leaned forward in his armchair. “Just that the three of you don’t seem like tourists. More like travellers, and travellers wouldn’t waste their time on Kibale. There are far more memorable places to go hiking in Uganda.”
He held out the bottle of hooch. “Interested?”
We held out our glasses.
“Tell us about some of these memorable places,” Jen said.
Over the next hour, Santos weaved a mystical tapestry of adventure, wilderness and self-discovery, gleaned largely from tales told to him by friends and former hostel clientele. To our booze-softened minds, it was pure magic. Uganda was already exotic, but in its furthermost corners it sounded downright otherworldly. Even the place names were evocative: Heaven’s Cylinder, Greenwhisker, The Mane. “The only place I would caution against is Runside,” he finished.
A soft breeze whispered through the hanging bottle lamps.
“What’s wrong with Runside?” Jen asked. Her eyes were torches and I knew Kibale was already a forgotten memory.
“There have been rumblings about—”
Jen laughed. “Folklore is fascinating,” she said,”but I’m a scientist, so you’ll have to excuse my skepticism. I’m afraid of machine guns, not so much of evil spirits. Is there anything else wrong with Runside?”
By now, I knew nothing could dissuade her.
“You may have trouble finding a guide willing to go,” Santos said.
Jen pulled out a stack of American dollars.
Santos put down his bottle. “On the other hand, willingness is a relative concept. I am sure I could find someone as scientifically minded as yourself.”
“Or we could all go to Kibale like we planned,” Marcus suddenly piped up. He’d been silent for most of the evening.
“Scared of demons?” Jen teased.
“More like I don’t think it’s wise to hike to the middle of nowhere in a foreign country when there’s a perfectly good national park instead.”
We decided to vote.
Jen was for the demons in Runside, Marcus wanted to stick to the family friendly plan of Kibale, so the deciding vote fell to me, and despite my own preference for staying in a non-hiking capacity in Kampala, in the end I couldn’t pass up the chance not only to support Jen over Marcus but to do so while highlighting his cowardice.
“Runside,” I said.
Jen kissed me, Marcus shook his head, and Santos greedily counted his American money.
“I love you,” she whispered in my ear.
“I love you too,” I said back.
“I’ll have a guide for you by tomorrow,” said Santos.
_ – _ – _
Santos was true to his word. Our guide’s name was Mukisa, he was a former soldier, and we were to meet him in a village several hundred kilometres outside of Kampala.
We rode to the village by bus.
Not an air-conditioned, roomy tourist bus but a cramped, humid and smelly one meant for the locals. The ride was uncomfortable and the vehicle seemed to lack shock absorbers, but we did feel an unbridled glee. If we wanted an adventure, we were certainly getting one.
We got off to the sight of two dusty roads, a few rundown buildings and children playing in the dirt.
Mukisa met us in the town office, which also housed a schoolroom and what might have been a museum, although its only exhibit was what to my layman’s eyes appeared to be a small gorilla skeleton, but which Jen emphatically told me was a chimpanzee.
Mukisa wasn’t one for chatting.
He was tall, thin and stern, and despite wearing civilian clothes still had the impeccable posture and demeanour of a soldier. Although he spoke English fluently, he usually chose not to use it, and his communications with us were short and functional:
“Put your belongings in the vehicle. We are already behind schedule.”
The vehicle was Mukisa’s old Jeep, into which we piled as snuggly as our backpacks, and within minutes left the last vestiges of society behind.
We drove along a hard-packed dirt road, through grassy plains, skirting lush jungle and towards the permanently looming mountains, which seemed perpetually out of reach.
Mukisa spoke Swahili over the radio but was otherwise silent. The rest of us chatted until the landscape awed and overwhelmed us. We ate snacks, took pictures, listened to music on our phones.
Somewhere along the way we left the dirt road behind.
As darkness began to creep up on us, Mukisa brought the Jeep to a standstill and we made camp for the night. Mukisa had his own tent; we had another, a three-person. Before going to sleep, the four of us ate a communal supper as the sun sank behind the blue mountains, turning them black.
When she had finished eating, Jen asked Mukisa about the demons in Runside.
“Maybe that’s not the best topic of conversation,” Marcus suggested.
Birds took flight in the distance.
“Not demons,” Mukisa said. “Lost spirits of the dead warriors.”
I didn’t sleep well.
Mukisa woke us before daybreak, and I was relieved despite feeling like my mind was wrapped in cotton balls.
The sounds of the wilderness coming to life in the dawn light gave me goosebumps, but Mukisa paid them no mind so I pretended to do the same. Still, I was thankful he had a rifle.
Jen was bouncy and excited, squinting at a map she had opened on the Jeep’s hood while coolly tracing our route with the sharpened point of her favourite knife. “We should be there by late afternoon.”
Mukisa hurried us along.
When I went off to take a piss, I heard Marcus telling Jen it wasn’t too late to turn back.
I felt I could turn that to my advantage, so as I climbed into the Jeep I said, “I am thrilled we decided to do this. It’s amazing out here. I feel absolutely alive! You had the best vacation idea ever.”
I kissed Jen on the cheek, she kissed me on the lips, Marcus shook his head while putting on headphones, and all was right in the world.
The Jeep rolled us away toward the mountains.
_ – _ – _
Jen’s prediction was right, and by late afternoon we reached the foothills. Mukisa parked his Jeep, we took down our backpacks, and he retrieved his own rifle and supplies before emphatically throwing a camouflaging tarp over the vehicle. “Time to proceed on foot,” he said.
Jen helped me fasten my backpack.
I re-tied my boots.
Marcus watched us as if for a sign that everything was a prank, that any second now we would burst out laughing, pat him on the back, throw our stuff into the Jeep and call it a day.
“We must go,” Mukisa said.
The jungle ahead looked moist, verdant and enticing. It was like staring into a jewel—albeit one held firmly in nature’s open, drooling maw.
“Wow,” I said.
But for the first time, I was scared enough to consider that Marcus may have been right. Maybe this was a little crazy and a little unnecessarily dangerous. The thought that kept me from saying anything was the embarrassment of having objectively the least to lose. How could I tell Jen we should retreat when she was the one risking an actual future?
In the end, I convinced myself it was merely the first glimpse of untamed wilderness that had increased my heart rate and made my legs rubbery.
You can read all the guidebooks you want, but reality is still a sucker punch to the nose.
We went hiking.
Mukisa’s plan was to hike several hours in, make camp and start the true adventure tomorrow.
Everything went accordingly until nightfall.
_ – _ – _
I’m not sure if I awoke first, but within seconds I was aware of cold sweat gathering on the nape of my neck, of holding my breath and feeling both Jen and Marcus stirring claustrophobically beside me in the three-person tent, which felt significantly less like shelter and more like a burlap sack we’d gotten ourselves trapped in—beyond whose synthetic skin the jungle creaked and moaned and rustled in the windless, imagined dark…
“Did you hear that?” I whispered.
I felt their breathing warm and irregular on my skin.
“Yeah. The fuck…”
“Is that like normal jungle sounds?” I asked Jen.
“I… think so,” she answered.
Mukisa’s tent was close to ours, but of course we couldn’t see it. We couldn’t see anything.
“Many here are nocturnal. We’re just not used to them,” Jen said, before beginning to list them like some kind of nervous encyclopedia.
Something fluttered past.
“So should we stay in here and like try to go back to sleep?” Marcus asked.
“If anything was wrong, Mukisa would come get us?” I asked.
“He’s just out there,” Marcus said.
The sounds subsided, before coalescing distantly into repetition: emin-idi… emin-idi… emin-idi…
“And that’s just a birdcall,” I said or asked as I felt simultaneously the need to pee and to get the hell out of that tent and out of the jungle!
Marcus lunged forward.
But Jen grabbed him by the arm. “Mukisa,” he choked out.
“It’s animals and you’re safe in here,” she asserted with unexpected confidence. “Going out into the darkness would be the worst thing to do.”
The repetition faded to silence.
I stayed put too, and that’s how we spent our first night in the jungle, like little kids camping for the first time, their imaginations making nightmares out of the unseen and unfamiliar. But we didn’t dare exit the tent until the rising sun had tapped comfortingly on the walls, after which we crawled one by one out into pale daylight to see:
Mukisa’s tent was gone!
We stood, scanning the land around us. No tracks, no signs of struggle. Quite peaceful if you didn’t find the situation as pregnant with menace as I did.
“Best case scenario—”
“He screwed us out of our money, turned tail and drove home,” Marcus said. “Leaving us alone in the mountains without a way of getting back to civilization.”
“Worst case scenario: demons,” I added.
Jen shot me a look. “We just need to find our way back to the foothills, then go from there.”
“We should check for the Jeep,” Marcus said.
“Like he just decided to walk back?”
“I meant in case something got him at night and he’s dead.”
“Seriously?” Jen asked. “Nothing got anyone. No one died. Someone happened to strand us here alone. That’s our problem, and it’s enough of one. Not any kind of demon.”
“Mukisa had our maps,” I said.
“And our compass.”
Jen planted her hands on her hips. “Do either of you remember from which direction we hiked here?”
“Sorry,” Marcus said, “but I kind of decided to put my trust in the guide we hired.”
“There’s a compass on my phone,” I chipped in.
“See,” Jen said, still boring holes deep into Marcus’ soul with her beautiful brown eyes. “Now that’s the kind of practical thinking we need.”
“Amazing how it hasn’t translated into stable employment.”
“Oh, fuck you!” I yelled.
We sat and simmered, drank purified water and set out based on my phone’s compass in what should have been the right direction, but after several hours of walking in terrain that none of us recognized, we decided we were going the wrong way. As Marcus helpfully pointed out, we seemed to be going up- rather than down-hill, which meant we were heading deeper into the jungle.
“According to the compass it’s the right direction,” I said while rotating with my phone in-hand.
“When’s the last time you calibrated it?”
“Guys! Stop it,” Jen said. “You’re both fully grown men. One of you please use your natural sense of orientation and find us a way out of here.”
Marcus turned to face her. “Are you being unironic? Because as far as I remember, you wanted to go on this trip, you wanted to come here, and you’re the one getting a PhD in jungle fucking studies.”
I failed at avoiding Jen’s gaze.
“That’s funny. Because as I remember, everything about this was a mutual decision,” she said. “And I’m an academic. I study primates. I’m not a survivalist.”
In the brightness of day, being lost in the wild didn’t seem quite as bad as not-being-lost at night. The landscape didn’t seem like it was out to kill you.
Marcus trudged off ahead—
“Oh sh-it! Ohshit! Oh… shit! Oh shit!”
Jen and I ran to him, and almost immediately I saw what had caused his eyes to bulge.
Jen put a hand to her mouth to keep from retching.
Lying on the ground in front of Marcus was an arm: long, muscled, and still clutching the handle of a machete. Flies buzzed nearby. Where the arm should have been attached to the shoulder, however, there was but a single clean cut, revealing a small circle of white bone surrounded by a mass of pink flesh.
The arm looked freshly lopped off.
We backed away.
I tried to hear if there was any danger over the sound of my beating heart.
All I heard were the flies and the general hum of the jungle.
“Do you think that’s his?” Marcus asked.
“It’s not Mukisa,” Jen said.
“How do you—”
“I don’t think this is the right direction,” I said. “I think I should calibrate my compass…”
“I don’t know about you two, but I am really starting to freak out right now and I really want to be back in America.”
“Stay calm. This could be innocent,” Jen said.
“Innocent? In what deranged fucking world is a dead man’s arm holding a fucking sword in the middle of the fucking jungle innocent?”
“I don’t see the rest of him,” I said.
Jen leaned her body against mine and I could feel her shaking. “Different customs,” she said weakly.
That’s when I heard the chanting again:
“Did you guys hear that?” I asked.
“No,” said Marcus, stepping carefully towards the corpse arm, before nudging it with the toe of his boot—
“What are you doing?”
He stepped on the dead palm, applying pressure, making the most disgusting sounds. “Trying to get the sword loose so that we have a weapon.”
It didn’t work, so he crouched down and pried the machete loose with his hands.
He waved the machete around.
Blood stained it’s blade.
“Now let’s please get the hell out of here,” I said.
But a half day’s worth of hiking brought us no closer to a way out. My phone was apparently shit, Jen and Marcus had drained their batteries listening to music on the Jeep ride out here, and I couldn’t stop hearing that chant, over and over and over like a song stuck in my head, and I prayed that’s all it was: in my head. But mine certainly weren’t the only nerves fraying at the prospect of spending another night in the jungle, this time knowingly alone, without a rifle, without a solution to what was becoming an existential problem.
As if to make things worse, the evening sky clouded over, plunging us into a pre-darkness gloom that only underlined our unenviable options: make camp for the night or continue hiking in what very well could be circles upon circles.
“Enough. We need to stop, find a place to sleep and get some rest,” I said.
“And then what?”
The first drops of rain delayed the answer, and we worked quickly to pitch our tent and at least stay dry. Inside, the rain drummed. We sat as far away from each other without touching the sides of the tent as possible.
“I love you,” I told Jen.
“Jesus, not now.”
On one hand, it was comforting to be cordoned off from the wilderness, able to pretend we were safe in somebody’s backyard. On the other hand, we weren’t five years old and knew our lives were truly in danger.
emin-idi… emin-idi… emin-idi…
“You sure you guys don’t hear that?” I asked.
Marcus held his breath for a few seconds. “I can most definitely hear something,” he said.
“Birds,” Jen said.
Marcus clutched his machete.
“You know, I would really like to believe you,” I said to Jen, “but that does not sound like birds to me.”
“I suppose you’re an ornithologist now.”
The chanting grew louder, as if amplified by the pounding rain. Birds, birds, birds, I kept telling myself in a mental counter-chant.
Marcus was sitting with his knees up against his chest and playing with his dead man’s blade, running his fingers up and down, up and down…
Birds, birds, birds—
Something brushed up against the tent.
Jen crawled toward me, grabbed my hand with hers and squeezed!
“Oh fuck this shit!”
Marcus sprung toward the tent entrance—ripped it open:
The rain roared.
And the darkness stared at us like a sponge that had sucked up all light and human existence.
Marcus screamed, disappearing head-long into it—
“We have to go after him!” I yelled over the noise.
Jen wouldn’t let go of my hand.
I pulled her behind me.
—out: into the descending sheets of torrential water, soaking me in seconds in the absolute black of night: the unfathomable volume of nothingness!
emin-idi… emin-idi… emin-idi…
But even in the total dark, I was aware of things moving out there. Circling, stalking. I pulled Jen; we ambled blindly forward through the slick vegetation. Pressing. Across the greedy muddy ground. “Marcus!”
And I realized—
emin-idi… emin idi… amin idi… idi amin…
Idi Amin… Idi Amin…
I felt the shocking warmth of flesh and instinctively I leapt away—
The thump of blade finding wood.
She was alive.
I felt her scrambling frantically away, as above me Marcus struggled to dislodge his machete from a tree trunk.
“There’s something out there!”
Inhuman velocities in the near and far distances.
Screeching, and that hideous chanting—monotonous and overpowering the drumming of the rain—enclosing us…
Idi Amin! Idi Amin! Idi Amin!
“I’m going to die,” Jen sobbed. “We’re all going to die!”
Marcus swung madly at the threat weaving in and out of the unknown.
Metal cleaving air.
And the first hairy arm reaching towards us!
Metal embedding itself in bone.
“Take that fucker!”
I grabbed the hairy limb and forced us both into the ground—”Jen, hit it! Now!”—wrestling the short, wiry beast, giving Jen precious seconds to regain her senses, seeing her crazed, wet face: mouth open, teeth bared—”Bite the motherfucker!”—and smelling its blood before smashing its temporarily defenseless body in the face with my fist!
Jen stomped it with her boot.
My eyes were adjusting to the darkness and I could see blood dripping from her mouth, and ten feet ahead Marcus hacking at one of them with the machete.
“Stay together!” I yelled.
We moved in tandem as the jungle threatened to tear itself apart with shrieks and chanting.
“They’re chimpanzees,” Jen said.
One leapt at us from above, catching me in the chest, knocking me over—
I couldn’t breathe.
Another two emerged from the front. Marcus sliced one open but the other climbed on his back and pinned his arms.
He flailed, unable to shake it off.
The chimp that had knocked me over hit me in the jaw, then brought its terrible face close to mine, shrieked and displayed its repulsive teeth.
Struggling, I tried desperately to find Jen.
The chimp smacked my face again.
The pain lingered.
Marcus was writhing on the ground, machete beyond his reach, and the chimp whose shoulder he’d sliced was picking it up.
More and more of them materialized out of the darkness.
The chimp gripped the machete by the handle and raised it purposefully above its head.
The one on top of me bit my shoulder until I screamed. It was getting ready to take a bite of my face when—
A shot rang out.
The chanting and the shrieking ceased.
The chimp still held me down, but it seemed the assault was over. The primate merely looked into my eyes until I defeatedly averted mine.
The other one obediently lowered the machete.
The downpour too had eased.
“Idi Amin!” the chimps said in deep, horrible unison.
I felt long fingers wrap themselves around my ankles and I began to move—pulled along the wet, rough underbrush…
I received a sharp smack to the cheek for my disobedience, but there was no response. As far as I knew, Jen had succumbed during the battle. In my head, I heard her voice echo two overlapping sentences: “I love you. We’re all going to die. I love you. We’re all going to die. I love you…”
I cannot say for how long the chimps pulled us or how far they moved us, but it must have been hours, because when my body finally came to rest, my shirt was stuck painfully to my raw back. I lay there staring at the stars in the sky, thankful I was alive yet hoping I soon could die. The stars twinkled coldly, their light reaching me from an irrevocable and unbelievable past, cosmically devoid of empathy and offering not even a delusion of God or understanding. They didn’t even have the decency to mock me.
I was shivering and abandoned.
A light approached.
When it neared it split in two, and soon a trinity of chimpanzees came into view: two had thick dark fur and carried torches, and the third stood between them in the flickering torch light in skin the dark pink of ripe grapefruit barely covered by thin strands of greying—almost snowy white—hair.
The torchbearers eyed me with disdain.
But the gaze of the third chimp, whom I would come to know as Pinkerton, was more complex, with hints of hatred, fascination and devotion.
“Idi Amin?” one of the torchbearers said.
“Idi Amin,” said Pinkerton.
Then he motioned for me to rise, and when I had:
“Idi Amin?” he asked.
I stood still and silent for several seconds, perhaps waiting for them to pounce, certainly thinking about my own abysmal situation and the sheer absurdity of it, until I felt a tranquility come over me and I responded with the only words I knew they would understand:
One torchbearer took both torches, and the other stepped toward me.
I made no movements.
Eventually he came within an arm’s length, grabbed my wet and bloody shirt with his powerful hands and ripped it from my chest. He then retreated to a safe distance and asked, “Idi Amin?”
“Idi Amin,” I responded with perfect understanding, and proceeded to strip out of what remained of my clothes until I was left wearing only my boots.
The final surge of the rain shower cleansed my naked body as Pinkerton and the torchbearers escorted me through the jungle to a cement amphitheatre that I knew immediately was the work of human hands.
Marcus was already there.
One of the torchbearers pushed me inside, and I heard a metal gate swing shut behind me.
“Where the fuck are we?” Marcus asked.
He was as naked as I was. “Have you seen Jen?” I asked back.
I was aware of increasing numbers of chimpanzees gathering in the seats above and around us.
“This is insane,” he yelled. “What do you think they want from us?”
I said I didn’t know.
That’s when I heard Jen scream my name. From somewhere. I spun trying to find her. “Where the hell are you?”
There was rattling of metal against metal and I saw:
Jen looking down at us from a cage.
Her body muddy and bruised.
Her hands grasping furiously at the cage’s metal bars as a chimp beat them with a machete.
“We’re fucked,” Marcus yelled. “Totally fucked. Best case scenario—”
A machete landed audibly in the middle of the amphitheatre.
Marcus rushed toward it.
I stayed where I was. “Maybe we can…”
But my words trailed off as the chimps in the audience began clapping their hands and chanting, birthing a cacophony of violence and chaos. It was almost infectious. Deep within me, I felt an urge to join in, a desire for bloodlust, and when I saw Marcus I knew he felt it too.
He brandished the machete—
“They want us to fight,” he said, moving suddenly to his left.
Idi Amin… Idi Amin… Idi Amin…
I moved to my left as well, keeping him directly in front of me, glancing sporadically at Jen’s cage, feeling my heart threatening to burst out of my naked chest, trying to retain a semblance of control over the situation.
“Winner survives,” Marcus barked.
“You’re insane,” I yelled at him. “They’ll kill us both.”
But I didn’t believe it. If they’d wanted us dead, we would already be dead.
“Winner gets Jen!” he—
rushed at me.
Jen’s scream pierced the ambient discord like an air raid siren.
Marcus lunged, slashing at me with the machete.
I evaded once, twice—
The third slash caught me on the outside of my left forearm, raised to shield my neck, and in that instant of my sharp pain and his hesitation, I reacted a fraction quicker, and before he could follow through on his advantage, I had angled around him and—still in the act of rotating—caught him behind the knee with sufficient power and momentum to confuse his balance and send him scrambling forward to his knees. He barely managed to crawl forward before I was on him, on his defenseless back, and without thinking but acting on some primeval instinct pummeling his face into the concrete floor as hard as I could, time after sickening time, long after he had lost the grip on the machete, then on his consciousness, finally his life, and I was so exhausted I was barely smearing a sludge of blood and bone on concrete with the remnants of what were once his face.
The bloodlust ebbed.
I stood, slid Marcus’ corpse aside with my boot, spread my arms and beat my triumphant chest while basking in the wild reverie of victory.
In her cage, Jen sobbed uncontrollably.
But I didn’t care. In that moment, I heard the chimps chanting and I knew they were chanting solely for me. I grabbed the machete from the ground and thrust it into the air, joining in their call: “Idi Amin! Idi Amin! Idi Amin!”
The amphitheatre doors swung open and Pinkerton entered.
He was alone.
He was holding a pistol.
“Idi Amin,” he commanded, and Jen’s cage opened. She blinked in disbelief, then stumbled out.
I tightened my grip on the machete.
Jen picked up speed as she ran along the inner edge of the amphitheatre, before finding her way down to the entrance and joining me on the inside.
Then assumed a back-to-back position. I could feel her heavy breathing. Her heartbeat. Her very lifeforce, with which I longed to live and spend the rest of my life…
A hush fell over the audience.
Pinkerton watched us.
There was an undeniable wisdom in his ancient eyes.
“I love you,” Jen breathed.
Three tender words. I closed my eyes and remembered her face: how young when we first met, how peaceful while she slept, how vulnerable when overcome with sadness, how understanding when I needed her, and how mine and beautiful in the plain everyday. I imagined our life together: a happy lifetime in the blink of an eye. Wedding, children, a house. How painful it was to consider it never coming true. How painful it was when she stabbed me below the ribs. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. And shivved me a second time.
Three tender words—
I put my hand to my wound and felt the warmth of blood.
I remained standing. There was a power to the bloodlust that had been opened in me. A burst dam never to be fixed, through which cascaded an almost supernatural power.
She attacked me with the knife a third time—
I caught her wrist.
She hit me with her other hand but the impact was dull and hollow.
I twisted her arm until she dropped the knife.
I kicked her in the side. She fell.
“I love you too,” I said.
I removed my hand from my wound, letting the blood erupt above my hip and pour down my leg, gripped the machete firmly with both hands, raised it and—in one perfectly realized arc—decapitated her.
Her head rolled away with mouth grotesquely agape.
The rest of her body crumpled.
I dropped the machete and applied as much pressure to my wound as possible, but I had already lost a lot of blood. I needed a bandage. I needed medical care.
My vision blurred.
Pinkerton stepped toward me, then knelt on creaking bones and bowed.
“Idi Amin,” he said.
“Idi Amin!” the audience erupted.
“Idi Amin,” Pinkerton said.
And in those words I heard the promise of my salvation. The job interview had concluded, and I had been chosen. They would not let me know in a few weeks. They were letting me know now. The job was being offered.
Idi Amin! Idi Amin! Idi Amin!
“Idi Amin!” I roared.