“Dogs are not allowed in the reserve.” Leon spoke sternly to the older man wearing a camouflage-patterned hat and T-shirt, noting the shiny brass and copper bangle adorning his bony right wrist.
“Muffy won’t harm anything,” Camo-man responded. “She goes everywhere with me.” He flashed a grin of even white teeth against a deeply tanned skin, revealing a deep dimple in his right cheek.
“Not here she doesn’t.” Leon stared at Camo-man unflinchingly. “The rules clearly state that no dogs – or pets of any kind – are allowed.”
Camo-man was fondling Muffy on his lap. “Come on, man, she’s just a little dog.” Was the man wheedling or whining? Either way, Leon was in a hurry to check on the roadworks near the waterhole some distance ahead.
“Take that damned dog back to reception or leave,” he said tersely, slightly revving the engine of his 4 x 4 bakkie to emphasise the point. Why did Camo-man look so teasingly familiar? “I’ll radio through for Jonas to keep it in the yard. Are you planning to be here for long?” He was already holding the receiver to his chin.
“No, no, she wouldn’t like that.” Camo-man nuzzled the little dog’s fluffy neck. “You wouldn’t like that, would you Muffy girl?”
“Best you get going then.” Leon eyed him curiously. “I’ll radio them to expect you.”
At that point, Muffy leapt out of the car window and raced into the veld barking furiously. “Muffy! Oh Muffy! Now you’ve frightened her!” Camo-man was visibly upset and opened his door. “Muffy!” he called helplessly. “Muffy!”
Leon glared at him, replaced the receiver, switched off the engine, and opened the door of his truck in one fluid movement. “Stay there!” he ordered Camo-man and set off after the little dog trotting ahead in the long grass.
“Muffy!” Leon felt stupid calling out such a name for that floor-mop of a dog. “Muffy, come here!” The dog stopped briefly, wagged its tail furiously and tore off after a Three-striped Field mouse scampering between tufts of grass. It got away, leaving Muffy looking bewildered. “Muffy.” Leon’s voice was gentler now. “Come here, Muffy.” He sat on his haunches, extending his hand towards the dog.
In the background he could hear Camo-man still calling his floor-mop. “Come here girl.” Leon eased his way forward. “You’ve had enough adventures for one day.” The dog edged closer until Leon could just fondle its ears. “That’s it, Muffy. This is no place for you.” He could stroke the floor-mop’s back now and watched the fluffy tail wagging at full speed. With a quick movement, Leon scooped up the dog and, holding it firmly against his chest, he strode back to the car.
“How can I thank you enough?” Camo-man was standing next to his car as they approached. “Muffy! You were a bad dog. A very bad dog,” he remonstrated as soon as he had taken charge of his floor-mop once more. “You could have been eaten by a lion or a leopard – or even a hyena!”
“See why dogs aren’t allowed in the reserve?” Noting the obvious attachment between Camo-man and the floor-mop, he spoke more kindly. “You’re welcome back at any time – but without the hound!”
As Leon settled back behind the steering wheel he became aware of Camo-man asking softly, “Do you ever come into town?”
Leon stared at him in surprise. “Of course, why?”
Camo-man held out a card. “Man, I owe you a meal. Join me at the Ball and Beetle sometime for supper. I’ll be there for the next ten days.”
Leon nodded, stretched out to take the card and waved to Camo-man who was driving away with his windows rolled up. What an odd-ball Leon thought, slipping the card into his shirt pocket. He drove off to check on the repairs being done to the road ahead, still wondering if he had ever seen Camo-man before.
Much later that afternoon, Leon halted to watch two black rhino emerge from a mud bath in a pool next to a road not yet open to tourists. He marvelled at their steady, myopic gaze in his direction and at the patterns of the mud drying on their hides. He guzzled the last of his water and wiped the back of his hand across his brow: another day without lunch, he thought grimly as he headed for home.
It was four days later that Leon wearily entered his house as the sun sank behind the hills, tossed his sweat-stained hat onto a chair and opened the fridge: not even a beer greeted him – a clear reminder that it had been a while since he had purchased supplies in town. He sniffed at the contents of a closed container on the bottom shelf, wrinkled his nose and tossed it into the bin. Now what?
He idly picked up the card Camo-man had given him and turned it over, then he smiled broadly: Camo-man was actually Philip Redfern, the country and western singer whose music had kept him company on the many long trips he had made between the Eastern Cape reserve and his parents’ farm in the Lowveld. Philip Redfern! That’s why Camo-man had such a familiar look about him. Impulsively Leon dialled the number on the card.
“I’ve missed lunch again,” he said bluntly after introducing himself. “Any chance of that dinner tonight? I could do with some company.”
“Sure thing.” Camo-man – Philip – sounded oddly pleased. “It gets lonely on the road too. Stay for the show, or at least a part of it. I start singing at around eight.”
It takes all sorts to make the world, Leon mused as he changed into a clean khaki shirt and trousers.