Author: Roger Ley
The Land Rover stopped, and Riley pointed, the prehuman footprints showed clearly impressed into the flat, dry, African rock surface. It was the third day of their family safari in the Great Rift Valley
‘We can spend a few hours here but we need to get to the next lodge before dark,’ he said.
‘These footprints are half a million years old boys,’ said Estella to her sons. Hank slipped off his flip-flops and tried one print for size, predictably his younger brother Cliff did the same. ‘Look, Dad, they fit,’ said Hank.
‘It looks like a family group, two adults, and two juveniles,’ said Riley.
Estella slipped off her sandals and stepped into the smaller adult set. She looked good in her shorts and tee, he’d always admired her Nordic looks. After some encouragement from the boys, he did the same. They tried walking forward, but the footprints were too far apart.
‘I think they were running Dad,’ said Hank. They all jogged forward, the hard stone became soft and damp. They were running across the mud at the edge of the lake, chasing the antelope they’d been following for the last four hours. It was tiring and slowing down.
The skin bag of flint tools banged against his side, tied with a thong around his waist, he’d wrapped the flints with grass so they didn’t rattle. He hoped to be using them to process the antelope soon. The liver would be first, easy to eat and full of blood. The woman looked across at him and grinned, she knew the end of the hunt was coming. Her white teeth contrasted with her dark skin, her dreadlocks flailed around her shoulders as she ran. They were all sweating freely and covered in dust, but they didn’t need to carry water this close to the lake.
He gestured to each of the juveniles to move around and flank their prey. He listened to the world around him and scanned ahead, hearing the birds call, the grunting of the antelope, a dust devil rose from the plain in the distance. There was a cluster of rocks ahead, some as big as an elephant. As the antelope passed one, part of it detached and jumped on to its back. The hominids stopped as more lions appeared and made short work of their kill. Three of the younger ones, who would have to wait their turn, were looking towards the hunters and sniffing the air.
At his gesture, the family turned and ran back in the direction they’d come. Their tracks in the mud ran parallel to the ones they’d made before. The ground was soft but hardened into flat dry rock as they ran.
‘Well,’ said Riley puffing, I didn’t realise there were tracks going in both directions. Our ancestors were running both ways, I wonder what that was about.’
They sat and replaced their footwear. ‘Okay boys, get in the car, you in a heap a trouble,’ said Riley. Nobody laughed, it was an old joke.
‘I wish you wouldn’t keep saying that Martin, we’ve heard it so many times before,’ said Estella.
‘Car start,’ Riley sighed as the engine whirred into life. ‘We need to get to the next lodge before dark,’ he said.
‘Yes, and you said that before.’
‘Car go,’ said Riley and the Land Rover set off.
The hominids washed and cooled down in the shallows, the lions had lost interest and returned to the kill. The female pointed at a fig tree a few hundreds of paces away. She gestured that the fruit was ripe. The male motioned to hold back and went ahead with his pointed stick, he circled the tree checking for leopards, there were none. He gave the ‘all clear’ and the family got on with the serious business of filling their bellies with fruit. They found a bird’s nest with two hands of big eggs, they shared the crunchy half developed chicks. It wasn’t real meat, but it was good. The warm night fell, and they slept in a huddle under the tree.