‘So, you’d like to go on a safari? No problem. We have lots of options, different locations, budgets to suit everyone.’ Tom beamed at the couple sitting in front of him. They reminded him of characters from a Beatrix Potter book. Mr Otter and Little Miss Mousy. Or was he getting his books hopelessly mixed up? He’d never been one for reading. He much preferred to be out there doing than getting snared up in imaginary worlds where goblins did battle with fearsome beasts, or a Chardonnay-swigging spinster concocted inedible soup and dreamed of snogging Jane Austen-inspired heroes. All right, these two examples owed more to DVD-watching sessions with Tabitha than to actual reading but the sentiment remained the same. Books were a poor substitute for getting on with real life. Unless you counted anything written by Jeremy Clarkson. A pure legend, in Tom’s eyes. His column in The Sunday Times had him positively howling with laughter. His dress sense might be a bit dodgy but the man knew his stuff and had made Top Gear compulsive viewing. Until he wasn’t on it anymore.
‘We were thinking, maybe, Kruger National Park?’ Mr Otter – on account of his eyes being quite scarily set apart, almost creeping off the sides of his head – looked up expectantly. His wife – Mrs Otter – clung to his hand as if she thought he might suddenly dash off in search of a tasty small amphibian.
‘Sure, that’s great, but it’s pretty expensive. Not that I think for a minute it’s beyond your budget.’ Tom could see his male client rear up slightly, a hint of defensiveness in his posture. ‘Listen, there’s a fabulous game reserve called Welgevonden, just three hours or so drive north of Johannesburg. So, a lot closer than Kruger. And they have some amazing game lodges – small, intimate, great food and hospitality. We’ve sent loads of clients there. Always come back full of praise. You can do a three or four-night package. All meals included and two game drives each day. Can’t promise you’ll see all the Big Five but …’ At which point Mrs Otter gave a discreet cough. Or perhaps she was just clearing a frog in her throat. Right, Tom. Now is not the best time to give in to hysterical laughter. Especially as he hadn’t had the best couple of months client-wise and his boss was circling like a Great White with a gimlet eye on his next prey.
‘It’s just … I’m not really that comfortable at getting close to wild animals. It makes me a little anxious. Are the sides of the Jeep thing closed in? And I don’t really like the cold. I believe it gets really cold in the mornings. And we have to wear those horrible cape things. And lots of blankets. And hot water bottles.’ She looked at him with wide, pleading eyes. Like an impala gazing down the barrel of a ruthless hunter’s gun. Shame he didn’t have one on him.
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