Snake in the grass? Not this time!
Lila arranged a small party to share the joy of Vi and Wil's engagement.
The three survivors had joined a group of wine tasters combined with musical evenings and had made several friends. Vi had once been at almost concert pianist standard. After giving up for several years she had recently resumed playing, at the local old age home...........'sing along stuff', she said, dismissing it with a wave of her hand. 'But we have fun,' she added with a smile.
There were going to be 10 of them altogether and Lila had written on their invitation by email.....
"Please, please, please enter the fun of the evening by dressing up and bring a memento of a survival story, not necessarily your own. "
Each person's story was their 'gift' for the happy couple and was a surprise for them.
She lived in a complex and was able to book the pretty lapa (a thatched roof outdoor entertainment area,) next to the swimming pool.
Her neighbour Matty helped her rig up a trillion fairy lights, with candles floating in the pool.
The azaleas were in full blossom and gave a generous splash of background colour.
Lila sighed with pleasure as she and Matty lit the candles as everyone began to arrive. 'This is going to be an evening of romance and lots of laughs - I guarantee it,' she said clinking her glass against Matty's.
She arranged for Wil and Vi to arrive after the main early guests had been given a glass of wine and made small talk.
Dressed for the occasion , Wil looking dapper in a black jacket with a crisp white shirt and a tiny rosebud in his lapel, brought Vi in on his arm. They stopped when they saw the small gathering of people obviously waiting for them.
Vi looked utterly lovely. Her hair framed her face softly and her dress flowed all the way to her elegant ankles which showed above her high heeled sandals.
Wil took her by the hand and turned her in an impromtu twirl.............everyone clapped and shouted 'congratulations, well done..........at last............ and good for you two!' in chorus. Lila turned up the music and 'here comes the bride' blasted for a few seconds!
The party took flight.
After lavish toasts, finger food snacks that were in the little fridge or alternatively warm in the oven of the kitchenette, the people gradually took to their chairs. They fitted snugly round the table to talk before the scrumptious fresh apple and pecan pudding was served.
'Survival stories first, pud later,' announced Lila. Wil and Vi were suitably impressed by the prospect of such entertainment and high fived each other like teenagers.
Some of the stories were 'tall' - each one trying to outstrip the other for being outlandish.
Others were personal stories of their own survival after an accident with a gun, a charging wild boar and a confrontation with a swarm of bees.
'The final story this evening is Gerry and Marcia's story,' said Lila after the laughter had died down. 'I'll let them tell the story.'
'We adore all game reserves and go often, but way back when we were young and struggling a bit, we hired a small car in Nelspruit and went into the Kruger for the first time,' said Marcia in a nervous rush. She breathed deeply and went on.
'It was a hot day and we had just got bored with watching a pride of lions, all fast asleep under a thorn tree. One tail twitch after another and we moved on.
Imagine our dismay when after an hour or so of driving slowly the car cut out completely and refused to start.'
Marcia had her audience's rapt attention.
'George said he thought it was the heat and the fuel pump but the fact was we were stranded and the motionless car grew hotter and hotter until we were almost fainting in the heat.'
George broke in, ' we knew we shouldn't get out of the vehicle but we absolutely HAD to ..........so we crept out but remembering how sleepy those lions had been we figured that most predators would be likewise asleep in the shade somewhere. The heat was extreme.'
'We sat in a small pool of shade beneath a baobab,' interrupted Marcia. 'Imagine out absolute horror, just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, when a l o n g yellowish black marked snake slithered towards our car and instead of making its way under the car, it lifted its head, with bulges on either side, and wound its way into the car.'
'We had left the doors open hoping it might help the car cool down,' continued George. 'Now there was a snake inside, to add to our woes. We could see clearly that the snake had decided to bed itself down. There was absolutely no sign of it on the quite wide sandy road.'
There was a deathly hush and the audience was IN that dangerous place with George and Marcia.
'Then we heard a vehicle, it was a load of tourists with a guide.......an open vehicle. We jumped up but they were all bulging cameras and noisy voices. The guide slowed down just enough to shout, "get back into your vehicle at once!" before they drifted past. One man responded to our frantic waving with a laconic lift of his arm, waving goodbye.'
'We were in serious trouble by the time dusk fell,' said Marcia.
'Our water bottles were almost empty and we were getting seriously chilly as the sun set.'
'And we were frightened as well,' breathed Marcia, rubbing her arms as though she were reliving the experience. 'Just as hyenas began yipping, we heard the deep growl of a Land Rover engine. We stood up and thank goodness, the
big vehicle picked up the car in its headlights and thank God, stopped.'
'It turned out that our neighbours in the campsite had got really worried and reported us "missing" at reception. They took the matter seriously and mounted a 4 vehicle search.'
'I cried with relief as the ranger got us into his vehicle and gave me a blanket and a long cool drink of water,' admitted Marcia.
'Then a different form of "fun" began,' continued George. 'When the rangers heard about the engine dying AND the yellow snake IN the car, they approached it very cautiously and hitched it up to the Land Rover and we towed it back to camp. Next day we contacted the car hire company and we were grateful that they fulfilled their guarantee and replaced our 'dead' car with a different one. We continued our holiday...........no more mishaps!'
'What about the snake?' asked Wil. 'Did you ever find out?'
'Absolutely YES!' said Marcia in full command of the story once more. 'They took that car apart, taking the advice of a snake in the car very seriously. The seats were removed, all the padding was removed. They found that critter though! Can anyone guess where?'
'Coiled in the engine? Under a seat?'
'The Mocambique Spitting cobra, a ranger told us later, was found when they removed the padded lining of the ceiling of the car and there the poor thing was.......... still alive, but only just. Rangers rescued it and took it back to its natural habitat and released it, we were told.'
'What a story,' Vi gasped in relief that in the end all was well.
'A brilliant story of survival George, Marcia.............and for the poor old snake as well,' said Lila. 'perhaps he steered clear of all vehicles for ever more,' she joked.
The evening was not yet over even though the delicious apple tart with lashings of whipped cream had been consumed with gusto. 'A final toast to our dear friends Wil and Vi on their engagement,' toasted George with his arm around Marcia. 'May their future be as beautiful and 'interesting' as this evening has been!'
The candles began to sputter their last as the guests put glasses and plates in the kitchenette and wandered down to their cars.
Perhaps even one or two of them sneaked a look into the back seat to ensure that there was no extra passenger on their journey home!