"How did you sleep?"
"Are you serious?" was my disbelieving reply.
For once the otherwise smiling camp manager looked unsure. "Did you not sleep well?"
"The crunching of bones is not conducive to sleep" was my exasperated reply. Surely someone else had heard what I had?
It all began in the middle of the night with a moaning. As I was slowly roused from the depths of a deep sleep, the scenery lit up in the stilting and illuminating flash of lightning. The moan was one of distress. Splashing of water made me think of a crocodile.
I was in tent number one - the furthest from main camp at Sanctuary Puku Ridge Camp in the South Luangwa, Zambia. I had enjoyed an exhilarating afternoon and evening's game drive which had included sightings of nocturnal rarities such as a genet with her very young kitten, a python and a porcupine. The food that evening had been exquisite.
How could I be thinking of food when something was clearly going through its death throes outside? It was most probably a puku. We had been watching a small herd at dinner that was grazing on a flood plain in front of camp. Maybe one had strayed too close to the edge.
Incredible I thought. The thrill of being in the bush. This was what it was all about.
But then I heard a snarl. More snarls. That wasn't a crocodile. It was lion. I sat up, suddenly paying a lot more attention to the plight of the poor puku. How far away were they? I reassured myself with the knowledge that sound travels far at night, especially over water.
More snarls. Splashing. I was now wide wide awake, adrenalin coursing through my veins.
The sucking, tearing of meat quickened my pulse. They were not far away. Surely they weren't close by. Cautiously, carefully, and I must say unconfidently I crept out of bed and pressed my nose against the thin netting that gave my tent such wonderful views across the floodplain. I peered into the darkness beyond my wooden verandah.
It is not a good reflection on my parents or my upbringing to give you a literal translation of what I whispered in my head when my eyes accustomed to the night and I realised that the lion were literally only five metres from the end of the wooden verandah.
The dark of night played tricks on my mind. My imagination began a frenzied assessment of the dangers of my predicament. The netting, which during the day provided light and views, made me feel vulnerable. I was vulnerable. Help. I retreated slowly from the edge of the tent.
A loud resonating clack as the wooden towel stand hit the concrete floor. My heart began racing wildly. The lions stopped. They seemed to stare at me with disconcerting intensity. I looked about the tent for possible vantage points to escape their imminent arrival in my tent. I was scared. No, I just wanted to survive.
I was being ridiculous. Lion had not been known to attack anyone in a tent. Maybe so but earlier on John our guide had said that lion do not like to get wet yet here they were splashing in a foot of water devouring a puku.
Such was the proximity of the lion, such was my distance from the main camp, such was my loneliness and the fact that nobody else was aware of this kill at my doorstep that for minutes more my mind was unreasoned and ruled by fear. But slowly as the lions' appetite became sated and snarls were replaced by the gnawing and cracking of bones, I too began to calm down. Slowly I began to appreciate this for what it was - a truly amazing wildlife experience.
The lions finished their puku pie and drifted past the side of my tent into the night oblivious to what they had done to my blood pressure. Amazingly I was able to drift off to sleep.
This was my first night back in Zambia after an absence of too long, of over twenty years. This is why I had come back: the country is raw, it is wild, where else could this happen? It was testament to the fact that Zambiais clearly deserving of its epithet, 'the real Africa'.