The final part.
On the following day, the untiring billionaire decided to repeat the double distance march, thereby spoiling the moment of rising above the clouds. By that time everyone was on pills. I held out for two days, but then decided to stuff it and asked Sanjeet for the rocks at breakfast – my skull was cracking up. Perceptive Chugunkov pricked his ears up: "Are you saying you’ve got cerebal edema?" – he asked like that was what he had been waiting for. I explained very slowly and carefully, like I would to a foreigner, that no, of course I did not have an edema, I simply had a slight headache, just as everyone else has had for quite a while now, but it's only just now that I started having it, so that's allright. Chugunkov let me be.
The final push towards the summit was in 24 hours. We were walking along what looked like a Martian landscape – some volcanic desert without signs of water ice, wind blowing from all four sides. Johnny, our British tour guide was having a social conversation with Sanjeet: "Usually dicks fuck pussies, but sometimes dicks fuck assholes" – Johnny was saying. Sanjeet was replying in kind. Their conversation followed the pace of their breathing, and the breathing followed the sluggish pace of their steps. In a few hours I realised that they were both just reading mantras. Another nagging thought was an embarrassing realisation that the idiot was me rather than Chugunkov. I almost knew why, but every time I tried concentrating on that knowledge, it was slipping away like a ghost under a direct gaze.
We went out for the final stretch at night, having rested for about three hours. It was planned that we see the sunrise at the summit. The headlights were snaking around the mountain slope like some con-demned souls into Dante's Hell. Desite the bitter cold, I kept feeling thirsty. Plastic water bottles did not warm up in the pockets, and I was guzzling the water down ice cold. I no longer cared. There was no purpose, no willpower, no strength, and no air – nothing but the eternal torment in freezing darkness; a deadly sin is not hard to come by. Simiar shadows walked alongside. Some of them stopped and flowed around boulders, trying to hold on to their breath. Others crawled straight uphill. They were not merely similar, they repeated one each other identically. Everyone was alone there. With a bit of effort, I recognised in one of the ghosts what was previously Fraser. Fraser was vomiting up bile with the forlorn fortitude of a mortally wounded Spartan. It is the weakest part that gives in first in the mountains, and Fraser was a bon vivant with a significant mileage on his liver. I walked indifferently past. Luckily I ran into Sanjeet soon after. Despite his dark face, black beard and pretty standard equipment, he looked somehow lighter than the rest. "Fraser feel bad," – I said – "liver." Sanjeet nodded and flew off. The dawn was breaking and I was starting to realise that I was going to miss the romantic part. I didn't give a spit. Nobody cares. I wasn't glad to see a post with a "Congratulations! You did it." sign, and I wasn't even surprised to discover that that wasn’t actually it. There was a glacier behind the post, very nearly flat, and Moomin was stomping on it towards me.
– "About an hour and a half still to go until the spot" – he waved his hand to indicate the direction – "let's quickly get there and then get back. He says we depart as soon as we are back down. We might make it in time for the plane. I think you are fine to go…"
We made it to the summit with Moomin. Forethoughtful Boris reached into his bag for a proper camera – the iphones had all frozen up. A snap with Boris, a snap with an ape… I don't like looking at those pictures, I get embarrassed. I don't have a victor's face on them. For a compensation, I pissed on the summit of Kilimanjaro.
We were getting down from the clouds at top speed – being late would have meant getting out of Africa on our own. Everyone waited for Chugunkov, but he had waited for no man.
The descent was eleven hours of Spanish boot torture. The additional drop in the support height in-creases the stress on the joints during walking. The fingers on the feet, the knees, the hips, the spine… excruciating pain and no way around it. No strength left at all, but the air gets thicker as you go down and that saves you. I didn't curl up and die, and so the stones gradually gave way to the shrubs and shrubs grew out into the jungle, and behind that jungle, as I knew for certain, there were camp workers, there were jeeps, and there was life. Still six hourse to go, and you must be going – rest does not count. To be honest, making it on time was unrealistic. But the gods of Kilimanjaro have heard our curses – Chugunkov's plane broke down, and that was reported to me by an SMS. Well, that was it for the day then.
I have spotted the bags next to the jeeps. A decision was made to leave those to the locals (they must still be eating), but I did spot a bag with the black-topped bottles of Hatterrall Ridge water. I did know that he'd have almighty squits from any local water. Chugunkov's body resembled a Ferrari in that it could reach surreal speeds, but it was very sensitive to the quality of engineering fluids. I was looking at the bag and I did not have any desire to take it. Hell knows, it wasn't gloating, and it wasn't about being a lackey and carrying all that water (well, and who am I then?), I just didn't want to. Any action that would in any way draw me into Chugunkov's orbit was provoking an agonising internal revolt. Who knows what he's got on his mind? He might have stocked up on water somewhere else, and I am making a fool of myself again. I climbed into a jeep.
It was about an hour and a half to the hotel. I was just about to fall asleep – and then I saw The Moun-tain. The whole of it. And where would I have seen it so far?! Plane to jeep, jeep to jungle, and there from one bump to another again… Bloody hell, it was a good thing I hadn't. I would have never made it. The mountain was surreally big – it did not fit into the landscape, it was disproportionate to it; like something a young maximalist artist would have added out of principle to an old master's painting, with it barely fitting on the canvas. The mountain had the pull of a planet. Limo, our black guiding star, was tracing our path on the window with his finger, showing us where we had passed. I was looking on in disbelief at having been there. How stunning and majestic the bloody desert was from a distance…
I was sitting at a table in the hotel and watching Chugunkov with a keen interest of a natural scientist and feeling euphoric about having nothing to do with what was going on.
"Fuck my life, I have paid for everyone and organised everything, why can't you do simple things?! Like human beings?! What is this beastly attitude?!!" – whined dehydrated Chugunkov.
He was given the best water there was at the guest house. His gut revolted soon after and he went out. It felt better without him, like a tight string that everyone was trying not to touch had snapped, and nobody gave a shit. The guys opened a bottle of wine.
The charter plane was not much different from Chugunkov's – a seven seater cucumber with a little bog at the rear and the flight attendant sitting on a small train-like fold-up seat between the pilots. It's strange that such vessels wobble a lot less than ordinary planes. Nobody cared about buckling up – it's not about safety, it's about you not flailing around too much when you are dying. Chugunkov pulled his feet up onto his seat and was looking down on the guys like a nesting bird. The guys were trading tales and regarding him like they would their teacher who had suddenly joined a party table. Nobody admired Chugunkov, even though he was the first to climb the mountain and none of this would even have happened without him. Nobody even thanked him – to be honest, nobody apart from me gave a flying fuck about that sport. But he did not believe me. Besides, I had arrived last and was by that virtue already outside the scope of his interest. He had nobody to play with, but he could not be bothered.
He could not, however, be idle for long and so he got me into his sights. He rummaged through his stuff and produced a book of riddles. With an undiplomatic gesture of an infant child, he shoved it at me and pointed his finger – solve. I was solving for the rest of the flight. I couldn't concentrate. What the hell's happening?! I am flying in a charter plane with a billionaire. I've just vanquished Kilimanjaro. Well, I did what I could – Fraser didn’t even make it, and there he is, bubbling with pride. Why am I sitting and trying to compose "eternity" with only "s", "h", "i" and "t" on my scrabble board? Where's the victor's euphoria, where are the fireworks and the hookers? I should have made friends with Mick Jagger instead.
Chugunkov was looking upon me with suspicion. He obviously could not reach a conclusion: I was alter-nating between being stupid on simple tasks and acing those he considered hard, without any system-atic trend. Cautious Chugunkov didn't like not understanding. He threw his final testing stone:
– "Would you go again?"
'Eat shit and bark at the moon' – I thought, but said:
– "You bet I would."
For that was also true.