“I could put my cigarette out in it,” the man said and laughed a little. Blond and tall and lean, he rolled the window up to keep the ashes from blowing back in his face, making the jeep unbearably hot. It was barely past breakfast.
“It’s only kerosene,” he said.
Jay and the girl rode in the cargo end of the jeep with their backpacks and the big five gallon jerry cans. The man, and the man’s friend and their gear, rode up front. They were all heading to the beaches on the east side of Zanzibar. Jay and the girl had been in the Old Stone Town for a night after arriving from travels on the Serengeti and climbing Kilimanjaro. Or trying anyways.
“It’s gas,” the girl said. “Gasoline, petrol – whatever you call it.”
The man’s cigarette dangled from between his fingertips and she watched as he punctuated the air with the glowing tip as he talked.
“Please, can you put the cigarette out?” she asked.
They hit another bump and everything went flying, including the cap on one of the cans. Jay reached down to put the cap back on and found it was broken and wouldn’t tighten properly. They hit another bump and more gas splashed out of the can soaking the front of his t shirt.
“You Americans. You think you call tell everyone what to do,” the man said.
The road was so pocked with holes that soon a shallow pond of gas sloshed back and forth between the rear door and the back seat, seeping into the packs, running over the top of their shoes.
“The gas cans are leaking,” the girl said.
Fumes filled the van, made the girl nauseous and before the man could reply, Jay lunged forward, and grabbed the cigarette from the man, crushed it in his hand then threw it out the window.
“Good god,” the man said and looked at Jay as if Jay was crazy. It’s possible Jay appeared crazy. They had had a rough night, Jay and the girl. Their room had been newly fumigated and even with windows open and the fan on high, it was impossible to sleep – the heat suffocating and the smell venomous. The stone walls of the old town holding the heat in and keeping any hope of a breeze out. And now the gasoline.
It was she that insisted they stay in the heart of the old town, all that charm and history. Ancient labyrinths in which to lose your way. Whether you desired to or not. Passages you thought would end one place went somewhere else altogether. She didn’t realize this at first – the impossibility of not losing one’s way. That hard as they tried they would get off course.
(What I’m working on or attempting to. It’s part of a longer fiction about travels in Africa, climbing Kilimanjaro, relationships, family, the usual…)