Laura and Andy are archetypal British characters, but I swear I didn’t make them up. They exist in real life. They are tidy and proper, with amusing highbrow accents that had me laughing with delight at literally everything they said. Yes, they were quite clever and funny, but if I’m honest, I probably laughed too hard at their jokes.
Yuk-yukking like a goddamn schoolgirl. Too giddy and enthusiastic. In my neon athletic shorts and backwards baseball cap, I’m sure I came off like an unrefined American simpleton.
Oh, what’s that now? Well, it takes one to know one.
As I leaned over to shake their hands, they explained that they too are on their honeymoon and that we’ll be paired together for the next four days. “That’s awesome,” I said, crashing down onto a nearby couch. I picked my head up and saw an unrolled park map on the beautiful dark wood table in front of us, weighted down with books about wildlife on each corner.
The grounds at Siwandu were so masculine and idyllic that Ernest Hemingway would have spat out his whiskey in disbelief.
It was almost too literal; everything leather-bound and perfectly weathered, in shades ranging from red-brown to tan-brown to brown-brown. If big game hunters used Pinterest, Siwandu is what their “Dream Home” boards would look like.
The staff practically ran laps to bring us ice water and iced tea before we headed on our afternoon riverboat safari. We sweat like Texan linemen doing two-a-days, the staff seemed completely unfazed. They elegantly patted themselves with handkerchiefs and kept moving. Show-offs.
I tried to charm Laura and Andy with my dumb jokes, remembering that America would be counting on me to make a good impression abroad. Anything for my country, I thought.
And then, the conversation paused awkwardly. I nervously sipped my ice water, condensation falling from the glass onto my bare legs. They all stared at me, and I could tell they were waiting for me to do something obvious. But here’s the catch, folks: it wasn’t obvious to me.
I did what I always do in these circumstances. I smiled cluelessly. And then I noticed a shape moving toward me from the corner of my eye.
I looked left and noticed a man, slowly standing from his seat. A man, full-grown, and I missed him entirely. Didn’t even see him sitting there, not four feet from me.
To be fair, he wore neutral safari colors head-to-toe. But I’ll tell you, I knew this reflected poorly on my ability to spot living beings in their natural habitat, which, I need not remind anyone, is the whole purpose of a safari adventure. How could I have missed this man, this full-grown man?
“Hello! I’m so sorry!” I said, overcompensating with niceties and exclamation marks, like adding sprinkles to overbaked brownies. “I’m Kelaine!”
He reached out to shake my hand, and I reached back, blushing and feeling like a tremendous dickslap.
“Apollo,” he said, smiling.
In that moment, my face lit up, and I found myself positively drunk with wonder.
“You know of Apollo?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“From mythology?” I knew the answer should carry a period, a hard stop, but I didn’t want to sound like a know-it-all.
“Yes,” he nodded. “I was named Apollo, for my grandfather—” He paused for effect, because he knows how to tell a story. “—because we both love adventure.”
If Laura and Andy were textbook Brits, this whole thing was setting up to be an honest-to-God epic in the making. A story of magic and spirit and corporeal creatures roaming freely, the kind you’d only ever imagined. An epic story I’d have to tell.
And while all the while I had thought myself a protagonist, a new one had moved in for the kill. Apollo. The man, the myth, the legend.