Geoffrey is sitting on a carved hardwood stool just by the front door. His wife Gwen, a square-jawed woman, the determined set to her mouth undermined by the wateriness of her eyes, stands aside to give us some room in the hallway. Geoffrey is wearing a curious, native silk wrap, its bright pattern complicated by bloodstains. There is a constantly replenished drop of blood trembling and then falling from the end of his nose.
‘Dreadfully sorry, chaps,’ he says, and then clears his throat, hawking up a clot of blood and spitting it into a sodden facecloth. ‘I just can’t seem to get it to stop.’
I show him where to pinch his nose, and tell him not to tip his head back.
‘It’s been like this since yesterday,’ says Gwen. ‘We’ve reached the end of our tether.’
‘Let’s just see if this works,’ I tell him. ‘We’ll give it fifteen minutes. If not, I’m afraid we’ll have to take you to hospital.’
‘It’s awfully kind of you to come - out like this,’ says Geoffrey, retching on a consonant.
But his nose will not stop bleeding.
‘I’m afraid we will need to go in, now,’ I say, tying a bolster to the end of it. Gwen has already put a little bag of things together.
‘Should I come, too?’ she says.
‘No, darling. It’s late. You stay here and get some rest,’ says Geoffrey. There is a steadying, old-school timbre to his voice, an amused set to his old gray eyes, that counteracts the effect of the ludicrous dressing on his face, the whole bloody affair. ‘I’ll only be dozing at the hospital. You’re better off here.’
‘If you’re sure.’
He walks out to the ambulance, shuffling along in a pair of hand-stitched leather sandals. A tall man now, he must once have been a striking figure. Six foot six, broad shouldered. I can imagine him striding out into the wilderness with a big forked stick; now, he leans on an aluminium walking aid.
The moon is full in a sky thrown with stars. It is glassily cold.
‘That’s better,’ he says. ‘That’s much better.’
On the truck he sits on a forward facing seat, resting his hands on the handle of the stick that he places in front of him. The bolster is sodden with blood so I change it for a fresh one. We set off for the hospital.
‘You’d never think to look at me now,’ he says, ‘but I used to run a game reserve. Out in Tanganyika. I had been working for an oil company in the middle east, doing all right, you know, but really looking for something different. Well I heard via the friend-of-a-friend route about a place going in Tanganyika, as it was then, middle of nowhere, nothing at all, was I interested? So we headed out there, built a house out of mud and straw, and lived there ten years. Amazing place. Incredible. You could walk for two hundred miles across what was actually the crater of a defunct volcano and not see anyone at all. Just animals – the most extraordinary range. One thing that always struck me: how quiet elephants are. There you were, sitting outside your hut, busy fixing something or other, you’d hear a faint little snap of a twig or some such, you’d look up idly – you know – hardly aware you were doing it – and there you were, face to face with an elephant.’