He was turned out in a crisp bush ranger’s uniform and handled his assault rifle like a man hardened in the field for years to take on bandits and elephant poachers. ‘Ah Mario, what a pleasure it is to meet you again after all this time,’ I said. His severe military face collapsed into a beaming smile as he snapped to attention and slope-armed his weapon. He then relaxed and we chatted for a while on the roadside in our farming district, where I’ve been around so long now that I frequently encounter people whom I’ve known all their lives. Some, like Mario, even have a few wrinkles, greying hair, a couple of wives and several children.
The farm has always been a refuge, remote from towns and the life outside. Over the years, we’ve had a succession of guests who also made it a temporary haven, passing through to forget their troubles among our herds and flocks and fever tree woodlands. The older visitors you tend to leave alone to decompress, the younger ones you push to turn in early and get up before the dawn to work in the yards or go out in the wind and sunshine. Ranch routines are physical and therefore pleasant.
The lost souls find comfort among the animals and like other farms the place is filled with orphaned creatures. There are the cats Bernini and Omar, rescued from a sack about to be thrown into a lake on Mount Kenya. Our collie Sasi lost her mother right after she was born. There have been foundling calves, partridges and a warthog called Pig who had big eyelashes, a straight tail and a coat of wiry hairs sprouting up from his dark-grey hide. In the rains there are lambs swaddled in rags, sleeping before the sputtering fireplace, and in the kitchen there’s always some guest on the mend, tucking into breakfast, while we chase around after calves with old baby-milk bottles.
Mario was a teenager when he appeared in camp from nowhere one day many years ago.