A Day in the Life: Zaïre, 1972 by Nicholas Robinson
That morning I hopped the short, ornate wall surrounding the terrace and jumped into the garden. It was a short walk to the back gate and then I was on the road beside the river. This morning a low haze slung as far as the eye could see, and the opposite banks of the river were almost impossible to make out. It wasn't a river, it was more like an inland sea, I thought for the millionth time as I crossed the street to walk on the side at the top of the grassy bank that led down to the lapping shores.
A lone fisherman paddled his pirogue about half a mile out, among the vast swaths of emerald-green water hyacinth that crowded the entire river all the way to Brazzaville, on the opposite bank. Here the mighty Congo was more than a mile wide. I didn't know for sure but it must have been that. Maybe even two miles. Many, many times a haze obscured the dark outline of the opposite bank, to the point where you could almost believe it was the horizon of an ocean, not a river.
I walked briskly. It was already hot, the African sun piercing malevolently through the morning haze, bracing itself for its noontime rule, when temperatures would soar and the birds themselves would cease their flight and take cover in the shade of the mango trees.
I felt grainy, unfocused. I'd been awake for more than 48 hours. The day before I'd done eleven Ritalin. I'd spent the entire night alone in my air conditioned room, listening to Jethro Tull and Savoy Brown and cutting pieces of flower-patterned sticky drawer liner to fit on the pickguard of my electric guitar.
Now I was on my way to my job. I didn't feel like going, but I didn't feel like lying sleepless on my bed while the world awoke around me, either. It was a simple job and I could smoke as many cigarettes as I wanted. This was quite a thing for a fifteen-year-old boy, to be working with adult Africans, all in the same room, signing diplomas for students from far-off provinces like Katanga and Bandundu and many names from the interior that I'd only ever vaguely heard of. The Congo was vast, the biggest country in Africa, and there were many towns in it. And from the stacks of diplomas I had to sign, carefully, with a quill pen, there were a lot of eager students out there in small, malaria-ridden villages deep in the gigantic, brooding hugeness that was the forest.
I'd flown over it, in a Fokker Friendship, the kind of plane with the wheels just outside your window, the wings above you, and we had flown for hours above the greenness that held no sign at all that humans had ever been there. Not even a small puff of smoke emerged from that endless green carpet; not a thing moved within as we flew several thousand feet above.
I was jerked out of my reverie by something that made my hair stand on end. In a tree just off the side of a road was an enormous web, delineated by tiny drops of dew that glittered along all the strands of its silken labyrinth, and precisely in the center was a giant spider, the largest I'd ever seen, the size of a small dinner plate. But this was no tarantula, with stubby, hairy legs; it was large, sinuous and muscular, and though it was stock still, it looked like it could move with lightning speed.
I stood, mesmerised for at least a minute, as the sun sparkled along the web strands, and the giant orange insect sprawled, as if soaking in the morning sun for strength for the day's work to come.
A car stopped beside me and broke the spell. “Would you like a ride?” the smartly-dressed driver asked me in good French. Recognizing him as a coworker, I laughed and gratefully accepted and we drove off down the road towards the office.