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Here In Africa: Games With The Littlies

Barbara Durlacher’s disturbing story highlights the dangers of dreaming up a new identity for oneself.

At nursery that morning she’d played a game with the littlies, getting them to tell her what animal they would like to be if they were big. Some chose rabbits, or a hamster or a puppy. One or two more imaginatively went as far as to opt for a snake or a horse, one boy saying he fancied galloping over the plains with the wind blowing through his hair as his strong legs pounded the ground.

Seeing how popular her idea had been she’d played it again with the older kiddies in their reading class, putting their regular story books to one side for the morning while they all indulged in a feast of imaginative identity swopping.

Perhaps it was the emphasis on the game which stayed in her mind because that night she dreamt of herself as an animal, but whether it was an animal she always wanted to be or the one she thought she’d been in an earlier life, she couldn’t remember.

She loved fish of all kinds, not as pets, or to watch, but as food; fried, baked, grilled or steamed - it was all delicious to her. Even shellfish, which could sometimes be rather risky for those with delicate constitutions, never posed a problem. So perhaps she’d been a fish in a past life, or something more adventurous like a whale. But, wait a minute, she remembered now, not a creature of the deep; she didn’t actually like the sea - those waves crashing endlessly on the beach simply bored her, but she did enjoy rivers and lakes, so maybe she’d been something that lived in that environment – a waterbuck perhaps, splashing light-heartedly through the shallows of a sun-silvered swamp, or a hippo, floating with a pod of grunting family members before opening its mouth to yawn widely and display a fearsome jaw of tombstone teeth and huge pink tongue before sinking beneath the water.

Dismissing her dream which had continued to haunt her throughout the day, she picked up a pile of papers and immersed herself in her work, the pastime job she’d taken after her daughter had walked out so unexpectedly leaving her without a focus for her energies, and which now seemed to be eating into her time far more than she had intended.

But it was something to keep her mind occupied and busy when she wasn’t caring for the children down at the nursery or helping the older ones with their reading and writing, and served to pass the time until, as she always thought of it now, ‘something better came along’.

As the days and then the weeks passed, she experienced the dream more frequently, and increasingly she remembered more from what she could only presume her subconscious mind was dredging to the surface. Great lumbering bodies heaving themselves out of muddy shallows; mock charges and widely gnashing jaws sinking into unresisting rind and white layers of fat; long minutes spent underwater amongst swirling currents and green fronds prior to long hours of supine lazing on rocky outcrops above roaring water. But these were only memories, nothing else. How could they be, when she knew nothing of these places and had never left her far northern country or holidayed in those wild places where such strange creatures could be found?

Then one morning she woke to a strange sensation in her mouth and on wiping her hand across her face noticed something shiny on her palm, and a few minutes later eased a fish scale from between her teeth. Then, when she rose from her tumbled bed she was horrified to see strands of bright pond weed clinging to the sheets and a smell of rotting flesh seemed to linger for hours although she could not trace its origin.

‘Look at this awful dry skin on my legs,’ she grumbled to Nancy, her Tuesday bridge partner, as she examined the patches of discoloured skin on her shins.

‘Whatever am I going to do? I’ve tried everything and absolutely nothing seems to help. Now I notice it’s moving up to my back.’

‘Here,’ grabbing Nancy’s hand and placing it under her crisp blue cotton blouse, ‘Feel here along my backbone; yes there, right there. I’ve looked in the mirror and there’s a big patch there and if you feel it, there’s a ridge and it’s quite scaly. I’m getting worried. Do you think I should visit a skin specialist or just wait and see what happens?’

‘Darling, there’s no stopping the ageing process once it starts, you know,’ came Nancy’s reassuring words, ‘I’m sure it’s nothing. Have you tried Evening Primrose Oil? Everyone’s saying how well it works.’

‘Do you mean that I just have to wait until old age takes over completely and there’s nothing I can do to stop it?’ she wailed, ‘how utterly, utterly awful.’

A few nights later the dream came again, more vividly than ever, and this time she could feel her powerful tail thrashing the water until it turned to foam. As she stepped out of bed the next morning, the smell of rotting flesh was stronger than before and disgusting muddy stains from the balcony to her bed made her cry out in horror.

‘Oh God! What’s happening? Who – or what – is taking over my mind and body? Am I possessed?’

Gradually she slipped to the floor, and shuddering slightly, slithered on her scaly belly before slipping through a gap between the railings and into the river.

**

South Western Area Advertiser: Our reporter has been advised that local boys report seeing a large crocodile sunning itself on a rock, close to a pile of washing and a seemingly abandoned bicycle. Please contact these offices if you have anything further to report on this matter.

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