By the time the sun rose, we were driving atop a mile-high mesa covered with thickets of pine and rangy eucalyptus trees. The road descended from there, taking us down into the border town of Tunduma. There was a look of edgy intensity in the town's residents, a look that reminded me of Tijuana's frenzy.
Just before the point where the paved highway ended, and the red dirt road leading deeper into the wildest part of the savanna began, we passed a police station.
Chowa sped up, noticeably anxious.
Mobs of people lined the roads and even congregated in the middle. They looked inside the car when we slowed to let them pass, and though Dave and Bill and I were unworried, something about those people threatened Chowa. He drove faster and began honking the horn. On a road where thirty miles per hour would be a safe and cautious speed with so many pedestrians present, he was going over forty. The crowds barely parted in time.
Which is how he hit the child.
Yet another crowd had parted and Chowa was speeding through the opening. A mother saw her little girl standing on the other side of the road. She called to her. The girl dashed toward her mother's outstretched arms. Chowa locked up the brakes, but was going too fast to stop.
For a split second I thought the girl had made it, but then I heard the awful thud of her skull bouncing off the chrome bumper. She flew through the air, and because I sat on the left side and could see it all — her flight, her landing, her eyes wide open in shock, one of her shoes flying off — I was the first to know that something truly horrible had happened. Adrenaline and disbelief and shock and fear flooded my body. I thought of my four-year old son back home and wished I would wake from this bad dream so I could be with him.
A fraction of the crowd went to the little girl's rescue, but the majority surrounded the car as we slowed to help. Some had sticks or pipes; others had knives. All were hitting the glass and trying to open the doors. Chowa sped off.
"Stop the car," Bill yelled, not even attempting to quell the hysteria in voice.
"If we go back there they will kill us," Chowa said. It was the only honest sentence I ever heard him utter. "There is nothing we can do. The girl is dead."
Those words were too awful to comprehend. The scene in the car was panic. All the air had been sucked out. It was all we could do to think rationally. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," Bill kept saying. "We have to go back there and help her. We hit a little girl."
My mouth was dry and I was having a hard time forming words without stuttering.
"We need a plan," Dave said. "We need to calm down."
"What we need to do is go back there and talk to the police," Bill said. "That's the most important thing."
"No," I said flatly. "In some countries they put you in jail until the trial, no matter if you're guilty or innocent. If Tanzania's like that we could be here months." I thought of Calene and the boys and felt helpless. If Bill and Dave and I were locked up there might not be a chance to contact the American Embassy.
I felt trapped in a world spun out of control. The only thing to do was run — though not the kind of running I had in mind.
Chowa drove like a madman as we escaped deeper and deeper into the savanna, flying over a landscape of dirt and scrub that reminded me of west Texas. The road was smooth and we went fast, sending a plume of red dust high in the air behind us.
Dave, Bill, and I were still trying to figure out a plan of attack, but we were also furious at Chowa for putting us in that predicament. He sensed it and was openly afraid of whatever fate might befall us next, but strangely unrepentant, as if the child were at fault. And while he may have been right, the fact remained that we were hauling ass through Africa to escape the law. It was absolutely nothing like the journey I had planned.
I was navigating, staring at the map and marking our progress by the small villages we blew past. Bill screamed at Chowa every time a village came into view for fear he would kill someone else and make our fate more dire. But Chowa, despite Bill's increasingly vehement tone, only drove faster. I have no idea what his plan was, other than putting ground between us and Tunduma.