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Night Drive Up Nyika


The rain smacks down on blood-red roadstone
laid by a platoon of English squaddies
once sent to build this route up to the Nyika Plateau
where, the experts said, a new road would bring tourists
and development to this poor corner of Malawi.
The local people said that it should not be done.
The spirits of the mountain want to be alone.

Tonight there are no lights upon this road except our headlamps
slashing through the deluge as we storm the mountain in the face
of torrents hurled like boiling oil from parapets above.
No hordes of youngsters danced and cried ‘Musungu!’ as we drove
through huddled villages below. The villagers in smoky huts   

all heard us pass and muttered, “… they should not go on.
The spirits of the mountain want to be alone.”

But we are from another world,
and we do not believe that stuff – so on we bash
while somewhere in a far-off London pub, a one-time squaddie,
now grown fat, knocks back the pints, recalling how
“… we built that road in Africa, remember? Way back when.

The natives said that we should leave the place alone.
But … ha! … we showed ‘em how it should be done.”

The storm intensifies. Our wipers slash from side to side
and hearts beat hard as deep-tread-four-wheel-driven tyres
bite hairpin bends. Unseen in darkness, rivulets of runoff
churned to blood-red by our passing, gurgle over roadstone
gather into culverts and pour laughing down the mountainside.

The road is running to the plains below.
The spirits of the mountain want to be alone.


Alistair Scott
June 2005





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