The Eye of the Leopard Online - Henning Mankell

PART I

MUTSHATSHA

Chapter One

He wakes in the African night, convinced that his body has split in two. Cracked open, as if his guts had exploded, with the blood running down his face and chest.

In the darkness he fumbles in terror for the light switch, but when he flips it there is no light, and he thinks the electricity must be out again. His hand searches under the bed for a torch, but the batteries are dead and so he lies there in the dark.

It's not blood, he tells himself. It's malaria. I've got the fever, the sweat is being squeezed out of my body. I'm having nightmares, fever dreams. Time and space are dissolving, I don't know where I am, I don't even know if I'm still alive ...

Insects are crawling across his face, enticed by the moisture that is oozing from his pores. He thinks he ought to get out of bed and find a towel. But he knows he wouldn't be able to stand upright, he would have to crawl, and maybe he wouldn't even be able to make it back to bed. If I die now at least I'll be in my own bed, he thinks, as he feels the next attack of fever coming on.

I don't want to die on the floor. Naked, with cockroaches crawling across my face.

His fingers clutch at the wet sheet as he prepares himself for an attack that will be more violent than the ones before. Feebly, in a voice that is hardly audible, he cries out in the darkness for Luka, but there is only silence and the chirping cicadas of the African night.

Maybe he's sitting right outside the door, he thinks in desperation. Maybe he's sitting there waiting for me to die.

The fever comes rolling through his body in waves, like sudden storm swells. His head burns as if thousands of insects were stinging and boring into his forehead and temples. Slowly he is dragged away from consciousness, sucked down into the underground corridors of the fever attack, where he glimpses the distorted faces of nightmares among the shadows.

I can't die now, he thinks, gripping the sheet to keep himself alive.

But the suction draught of the malaria attack is stronger than his will. Reality is chopped up, sawed into pieces that fit nowhere. He believes he is sitting in the back seat of an old Saab that is racing through the endless forests of Norrland in Sweden. He can't see who is sitting in front of him: only a black back, no neck, no head.

It's the fever, he thinks again. I have to hold on, keep thinking that it's only the fever, nothing more.

He notices that it has started to snow in the room. White flakes are falling on his face and instantly it's cold all around him.

Now it's snowing in Africa, he thinks. That's odd, it really shouldn't be doing that. I have to get hold of a spade. I have to get up and start shovelling, otherwise I'll be buried in here.

Again he calls for Luka, but no one answers, no one comes. He decides to fire Luka, that's the first thing he'll do if he survives this fever.

Bandits, he thinks in confusion. Of course, that's who cut the electrical line.

He listens and seems to hear the patter of their feet outside the walls of the house. With one hand he grips the revolver under his pillow, forces himself up to a sitting position, and points the gun at the front door. He has to use both hands just to lift it, and in desperation he fears he doesn't have enough strength in his finger to pull the trigger.

I'm going to give Luka the sack, he thinks in a rage. He's the one who cut the electrical line, he's the one who lured the bandits here. I have to remember to fire him in the morning.

He tries to catch some snowflakes in the barrel of the revolver, but they melt before his eyes.

I have to put on my shoes, he thinks. Otherwise I'll freeze to death.

With all his might he leans over the edge of the bed and searches with one hand, but finds only the dead torch.

The bandits, he thinks groggily. They've stolen my shoes. They've already been inside while I was asleep. Maybe they're still here ...

He fires the pistol out into the room. The shot roars in the dark and he falls back against the pillows with the recoil, feeling calm, almost content.

Luka is behind it