Last week we began the story of a long journey. “Long” is a relative concept in Congo. Even though the distance is not that far, it may take a “long” time to reach your destination.
At 6:00 a.m. Stan and Brad met the driver and mechanic who were to take them to the Mission Station. We’ll pick up the story after the negotiations have ended.
Pascal grinned. “They will take good care of you. No problem.”
“No problem,” the mechanic echoed in French.
Stan pushed his cap back. “Well, I see a problem. There doesn’t seem to be any room left for all the stuff we’re taking to the mission station.”
“No problem. No problem.” The driver grabbed one of their parcels while the mechanic grabbed the others. They strapped it all down with ropes made from vines. Now the pile was four feet high.
The man with the chicken found another bundle to sit on.
Standing back, the driver and mechanic surveyed their handiwork.
“See? No problem,” the sober-faced driver said.
The mechanic grinned. “No problem.”
Stan and Brad shook hands with Pascal. They tossed their backpacks onto the floor of the king cab and gingerly lowered themselves onto the tattered backseats. The worn springs creaked beneath them.
The driver and his mechanic climbed in front. For the first ten miles outside Tshikapa, the road was government-maintained. They drove about thirty-five miles per hour.
The two brothers conversed quietly in English.
Brad propped his elbow on the open windowsill. “I wonder if the mission station is in worse shape than last year.”
“It sure was a shock. I expected Mom’s garden to be long gone after forty years, but I didn’t expect our home’s windows and screens to be gone.” Stan adjusted his position. A rusty spring poked through the torn leather seat.
“Boarded up windows. No air. No light.” Brad added.
“Still, I’m glad the village pastor and his family live there. At least they’re putting the place to good use,” Stan said.
“Do you ‘spose the village has kept up the maintenance on what we installed last year?” Brad asked.
Stan glanced out the window. “Guess we should prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.”
The road changed abruptly.
Their driver frowned. Slowing to a crawl, he leaned over the steering wheel, peering out the window. He
gripped the wheel tightly, still wearing his welding gloves.
Deep tire ruts created by the big transport trucks that frequented this road carved the ground as far as the eye could see. The ruts were wider than the wheelbase of the Toyota.
The driver angled the pick-up into the left rut. A little later he moved the truck into the right rut.
Brad nodded toward the driver. “Why do you ‘spose he’s wearing welding gloves?”
Stan shrugged. “Maybe he’s planning ahead. This old thing looks like it’s barely holding together. They’ll probably have to weld something sooner or later.”
They bounced through a deep gouge in the road. The truck creaked. The men on the truck bed shouted as they slid around.
The driver moved back to the left rut and then again to the right rut. Back and forth he continued—left rut, right rut, left rut. They were always traveling at a forty-five degree angle.
Stan adjusted his cap. “Do you think ‘ole Forty-five here, knows how to drive through this any other way except at an angle?”
Brad chuckled at Stan’s apt choice of nickname.
The driver glared at the brothers in his rear-view mirror. “Keep your arms in.” He pointed ahead to where the road narrowed. The brothers rolled up their windows as the truck brushed against the jungle vegetation. Branches scraped along the sides of the vehicle.
Safely past this spot, Forty-five swerved the Toyota to the left, avoiding a washout in the road.
Road? As if it could qualify for being called that. It was more like driving through a water-filled sand box. The engine sputtered a protest.
Forty-five braked. He pointed at the mechanic. “You walk ahead. Find a safe way for me to get around this.”
The mechanic climbed above the washed-out area. He gestured. “This way.”
Grinding the truck into four-wheel drive, Forty-five edged the vehicle to the top of the bank. More branches scratched the driver’s side. The truck skidded. Fishtailing, it sprayed dirt behind.
We’ll pick-up (no pun intended) our story next week. See you then.
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