“I could put my cigarette out in it,” the man says and laughs a little. Blond and tall and lean, he rolls the window nearly all the way up to keep the ashes from blowing back in his face, making the jeep unbearably hot. It is barely past breakfast.
“It’s only kerosene,” he says.
Jay and the girl ride 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, ride up front. They are all heading to the beaches on the east side of Zanzibar. Jay and the girl have 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 says. “Gasoline, petrol – whatever you call it.”
The man’s cigarette dangles from between his fingertips. She watches as he punctuates the air with the glowing tip as he talks.
“Please, can you put the cigarette out?” she asks.
They hit another bump, and everything goes flying, including the cap on one of the cans. Jay reaches down to put the cap back on and finds it broken. They hit another bump and more gas splashes out of the can soaking the front of his t shirt.
“You Americans. You think you call tell everyone what to do,” the man says.
The road is so pocked with holes that a shallow pond of gas soon sloshes back and forth between the rear door and the back seat. Gas soaks into the packs, runs over the top of their shoes.
“The gas cans are leaking,” the girl says.
Fumes fill the van, making the girl nauseous. Before the man can reply, Jay lunges forward, and grabs the cigarette. Crushes it in his hand then throws it out the tiny gap of open window.
“Good god,” the man says. Looks at Jay as if Jay is crazy. Its possible Jay appears that way. They had had a rough night, Jay and the girl. Their room newly fumigated and even with windows open and the fan on high, sleep was impossible. The heat suffocating. The smell venomous. The stone walls of the old town held heat in and kept 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…)