I stood outside the monolithic social sciences building, at the end of Manor Road. It is an imposing thing, a commanding structure of glass, steel and concrete. Its devotion to right-angles and relative dearth of texture gives it a sense of aged calm, like a forgotten statue enduring the millennium. Its insides are maintained with a tomb-like regularity, climate-controlled, logically crafted and endlessly utilitarian.

I looked over my shoulder at the wet asphalt and at the dripping trees waving in the wind. The deepening autumn weather had broken for a spell, on a day I planned to study and work at Manor Road.   I walked in through the revolving door in a whoosh of air, as my ears adjusted from the breezy orchestra outside to the steady vibration of the air ducts.

Normally the building is actually quiet pleasant, it’s large slabbed frame echoes with the conversation of students and faculty. On a Saturday though it is nearly silent, save the footfall of the steady stream of undergraduates funnelling into the library on the bottom floor.

I ascended the wide concrete staircase to the economics department, which was locked during the weekend. I swiped my student card and walked in. It was silent. Narry a tap of a keyboard nor the whispering of procrastinates. In the back I could spot one graduate student at his desk. The others were empty. Unusual, even for a Saturday morning.

I walked to my desk in the back of the department, a computer terminal seated in a large table shared by six. I dropped my stuff and listened again, but only the distant hum of the copy machine could be heard. I shrugged and, picking up a used plastic bottle from my desk, walked across the department to the water cooler.

I pressed the option for cold water and misjudging the task of getting it in the bottle, managed to spill some on my hands. It was surprisingly cold, not bound by tepidity like much of what can be found in an economics department. I stopped for a moment and thought. The cold water awakened a memory.

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I stood there stripped to the waist in the icy water, my shoulder bag held over my head. I looked at the three children, perched on a rock above the stream.

“What is it you are worried about?” asked Vera, standing nearby, looking hesitantly at the cold water.

I looked around for somewhere to set my bag.

“I’m not totally comfortable leaving my stuff on the shore.”

“Gah!” exclaimed Ann as she stepped into the water.

The three Malawian children who had followed us on the half-hour hike up the stream, looked back at me.

“My bag has the rest of the money I’ve got for the next few days in it.” They should be ok, but I’m just worried leaving it by those kids.

Vera considered the water again.

“I’ll stay here and watch over it if you want, I don’t think I’ll go in.

We were in Dzalanyama, a forest reserve near the border of Mozambique. South of Lilongwe. It was my last weekend in Malawi and, as a communal goodbye to me and several friends who were leaving soon, everyone showed up for a relaxed weekend away. We stopped to visit the waterfall on our way back. The children had followed us from a nearby village. Children often did that, either out of boredom, or hoping for the chance to earn a guide salary.

I handed Vera the bag and slowly sank into the frigid water. The others were laughing and splashing around, although with less vigour than they had displayed earlier that day. Several had climbed up onto the ridge to warm up a bit.

I clambered up to join the others, shivering in the breeze. We chatted for a bit as some of the other men took it in turns jumping off a low ledge. There wasn’t much room for landing.

We waded ashore. Most were shivering. The sun had begun to sink behind the tree line. That close to the equator, the sun would retreat with surprising enthusiasm at dusk. We didn’t have much time. I borrowed Alex’s towel to dry off a bit, then pulled on my shorts over my soggy trunks.We checked the area for anything left behind, then set off.

The path to this part of the stream was narrow, and we had to climb up a steep, earthy incline. To accomplish this, we had to proceed in single file. The three children followed as the sun continued to set.