The room was still. A break in the curtains confirmed the sun wasn’t up yet. But I was. It was as if a switch had been thrown. One minute I was asleep, the next, eyes open searching the dark. I listened for strange sounds, murmurs in the hallway. Nothing.
Our hotel sat a short distance from Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe. We’d arrived from Botswana the day before. A short stop over on our way to Namibia. I’d already seen elephants, chatted up tour guides and the guys who let us in and out of the park. So when the van pulled up to the front entrance and we spotted a man in full ceremonial regalia welcoming guests and moving luggage, I cringed. We’d arrived in African Vegas.
The place was big. A bit gaudy, but everything you’d expect of a truly touristy location. Marble floors, giant plants, gold accents. Our room was on the second floor. You could get take the elevator or a grand staircase that wound up from the open air restaurant. After dropping our bags, we regrouped to grab lunch.
Turned out you could get to a casino without even going outside. There were places to shop and down one hallway, a largely empty food court. It was fast and easy. A winning combination after a day of travel. We picked the one with pizza and crowded around a short turquoise table. The stools were covered in brown and white cowhide. A rare sight outside the Midwest, I thought as I scanned the floor for discarded peanut shells.
The afternoon included a dip in the pool and probably a nap. As the hour clicked over from afternoon to evening, we climbed into cabs and headed for our first non-buffet meal of the trip. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is stunning. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, I wholeheartedly recommend it. We sipped cocktails on the patio, high above a family of giraffes and watched the sun set over delicious plates of fish and game.
Arriving back at the hotel, we ordered a round of drinks to the garden and set ourselves up for a board game to close out the night. I’m not sure what time we finally climbed into bed, but it was in a state of exhaustion. I expected the kind of the sleep we joke about getting when we’re dead. Yet here we were, staring at the ceiling just a few hours later.
I couldn’t put my finger on it. Had someone shouted? Banged on our door? Did a train detour off it’s track and drive directly through our room? I could still feel the disturbance reverberating through my bones. The best explanation was that we’d heard an explosion. Maybe not nefarious, a gas line or a transformer, something like that. I lay there, waiting for a fire alarm or the wailing of approaching sirens. But there was nothing.
At some point I must have drifted off because I woke up to rays of sunlight peeking in. Hours had passed and clearly the hotel had not burned to the ground. I showered, got dressed and opened the door to head down for breakfast. A few feet off, snaking along the carpet was a cable. It was thick, silver with smudges of black, and there was something familiar about the way it looked. I’d seen one before. In a movie.
I turned and looked over my right shoulder, making eye contact with a man standing there. He was wearing navy coveralls and leaning over the spot where the cable culminated in a shiny coil. Behind him, an empty space where something should have been. As I took in the scene, I realized what had happened. It was the elevator. The cable had snapped, sending the car plunging down the shaft in the middle of the night. It was the impact that woke us.
I’m pretty sure the man could read my mind. He raised his arm to point towards a set of closed metal doors.
‘You can take that one. It’s working fine.’
I laughed. — ‘We’ll take the stairs.’