“It’s a, what did you say? Pilla Pillad-d-d,”
“Pileated!” Chelsi laughed, over the jumbled sounds coming from the mouth of the blonde haired boy straddling the picnic table bench beside her. “Pileated, pileated, is the word I meant,” her breathing slowed but the words still came out of her as if on a bubble.
“What the fuck is pileated?” the boys English-Zambian accent put a tone on the word in a way Chelsi had never heard before.
“Pileated. It’s just in the States, we have a bird call the Pileated Woodpecker.”
“No, we don’t have that here,” he cut her off with a smile.
“I know, stop it!” She swung her leg over the bench to match his posture, then landed a solid bunch on his shoulder.
“Ssss, Oww,” but even Chelsi was a little surprise at how hard it landed.
“Oh, stop, you’ll be fine,”
He smiled up at her and winked.
“What I’m trying to say is that I got confused, I know there’s no Pileated Kingfisher. I meant what you said, Pied Kingfisher, what Laura and I saw was your Pied Kingfisher.”
“It’s a beautiful bird, isn’t it?”
Staring up into the night sky, Chelsi reimagined what she had seen that morning. A small bird had been perched on the railing of the deck build out over the edge of the lake. Her and Laura had seen it fishing, swooping in from the front with a glittering silver fish wiggling, in its long, sturdy black beak. Laura had looked away, uninterested in the tiny gem of an animal, but Chelsi watched on, while it a moment the bird threw back its head and in three gulps made the fish disappear. When it spread its wings to fly away in to the trees at the water’s edge it displayed a dazzling plumage of white with black spots.
“It’s absolutely magnificent.” Chelsi replied, reaching for a drink on the table, her copper rings clinking against the glass as she picked it up.
“Here, let me top you up,” he offered, tipping the cubical bottle so amber colored liquid flowed into her glass. “And this too, if you wanna finish it.”
“Thank you,” they sat quietly for a minute, their hands and mouths occupied.
“That’s one of the things I like about this job. Getting to see the birds and the Lake every day, you know? The yellow-billed kite, the purple heron, that pied kingfisher, and the swallows; so many swallows. I haven’t had the chance to look through the fish books yet.” He had turned his head towards the glowing screen of his computer, and was scrolling through hundreds of music files, trying to decide on just the right one to play next.
“Well, you’d better get on it. You said what? Your year here’s up a month or two.” Chelsi kept her gaze down, distracting herself some ashes that had fallen on the bench between them.
“Yeah,” the sound of glitter began to pour from the speaker, followed by the woeful voice of a woman. “Ahh, but it’s time to see new things. You know?” he fidgeted with the ball cap on his head.
“You’re preaching to the choir with that one. I moved like, ten times in the five, six years before I came to Zambia.”
“Fack, then what? You come here, but you’re going to have some crazy stories by the time you go back, huh?” He turned to face her, Chelsi catch the flash of hunger in his eyes.
“Ha, yeah, they’ll be crazy alright. And the first one is going to be how you, the acting lodge boss, greeted Laura and I on the dock when we go here the other day; ‘The crazies are here!’” Chelsi couldn’t keep from laughing and she could see him blush a bit in the glow of the computer screen.
“In the year that I’ve been here you two are the only one who have ever taken the ferry here. Everyone else drives, or takes a bush plane.”
“That also makes it clear that we are your first volunteers to visit.” Chelsi raised her glass, “I have no car and little money, so I will be taking the 70 kwacha ferry, camping under the beautiful, yet painful acacia trees and eating rice and soya for the hundredth time in two weeks,” and with that knocked back the remaining contents. Replacing the glass on the table she slid closer to him on the bench. “Hear, I want to pick the next one.” He made short protest, but Chelsi slapped his hands away. “Just listen,” she said leaning in closer to better see the features of his face. But even with the glowing screen and the closest moon in a century she found herself leaning closer and closer; looking to count every eyelash that ringed his water in rock eyes.