After more than a week of non-stop desert travel with Austin Stevens, I had learned a great deal about my surroundings, about myself, and about our new relationship, which was as exceptional and satisfying physically as it was emotionally. What I had previously thought to be good sex paled in comparison as Austin proved he was as much a perfectionist in this area of his life as he was in everything else. I was in serious trouble! Getting on a plane to fly home to Australia, leaving Austin behind when my holiday finally came to an end, was inconceivable. Although Austin seemed to adore me, I couldn’t be totally sure how he felt about us until we’d had the talk. I wondered many times how to broach the issue until one morning, waking up in Austin’s arms as he showered my face with kisses, he did it for me.
“Are you awake?” he asked.
“I am now!” I chuckled, nuzzling his cheek with my nose. Austin gathered me closer to him and held me so tightly suddenly that I could scarcely breath.
“If this time is all we ever have together…” he began, “it will always be the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Even if you leave me.”
I was stunned. He was worried about me leaving him? Swallowing my fear of the words and their possible outcomes, I gathered my courage and shared what was in my heart as it threatened to pound right out of my chest.
“I can’t do that,” I said, “because I love you.”
I didn’t realise Austin had been holding his breath until it left his body in a rush of relief.
“I love you too, gorgeous,” he replied.
And with that, my life changed forever.
Austin and I found that living together was an absolute joy. We talked long into each night and picked up the next morning right where we left off. I soon discovered that we were both people who enjoyed the adventure of the unknown, and that we shared similar goals for the future. We shared the same views on global issues, religion (or lack thereof) and raising children – neither of us had ever had any desire to become parents. We shared the same values – freedom being more important than climbing the ‘corporate ladder,’ time spent with wildlife and on creative pursuits being more enjoyable than more traditional pastimes, and working together with a partner where possible being a top priority. We were both people who became restless if forced to do one thing for too long, and we shared the same dislike for the mindlessness of the standard nine to five working world. We felt that it was a waste of our most precious asset – time – and we did not want to spend a moment of it apart. We loved each other utterly and completely with a passion that I had thought only existed in fantasy, and we both agreed that there was nothing we wanted more than to continue sharing our lives together.
We had one long discussion about our thirty-three-year age difference, during which we deliberated how this aspect of our lives could affect our future. Austin seemed to feel that acting responsibly in relation to this characteristic of our relationship was a duty assigned entirely to him, and it took some time before I was able to assure him of my commitment and adequate perception of the issue. Life is so short, and I firmly believed that whatever the duration of our happiness together might be, it was worth any sacrifice or heartache in the years to come. I knew that Austin could very well lose me before I lost him, as death obeys no sequential order. I also knew that whatever the future might bring, I wanted Austin with me. He had quickly proved to be much fitter, stronger, faster, more agile and more flexible than I was due to his regular martial arts workouts, and his youthful figure and looks coupled with his wisdom and insight were immensely appealing to me. Austin promised me he would do everything in his power to remain healthy and strong as the years progressed, and I gave him my full support. With these concerns finally put to rest, we grew closer than ever and began to tentatively discuss making our relationship permanent. We realised that this would mean major changes for both of us, each of us coming from a different world and with vastly different experiences of life, but we also realised we had found something very special in each other.
Each exciting day merged into another until one morning in Swakopmund, I woke to find Austin already up and working at his desk. I smiled sleepily and Austin set down his pen and handed me a book. I glanced down at the cover. ‘Snakes In My Bed,’ by Austin James Stevens.
‘Thank you!’ I exclaimed and threw my arms around Austin.
‘You’re welcome,’ he said. ‘I know how much you wanted it.’ When we finally released each other, I opened the book. It contained various accounts of his experiences working in snake parks, as well as some illustrations, and there was a collection of corresponding colour photographs in the centre of the book. On the inside cover was inscribed in Austin’s block capital lettering,
This time – with all my love.
Austin J Stevens
Over the next couple of days, I devoured ‘Snakes In My Bed’ and found it to be the single most hilarious work of literature I had ever come across. Brilliantly written, I stopped reading only when my sides hurt so much from laughing that I needed to take a break!
One evening soon after, Austin and I were having a quiet night in. We were curled up on the living room lounge chair, talking about the future. We spoke of all the places we would go, the books we planned to write, the films we would make and the other creative endeavours we wanted to pursue together. I had never known such joy in my life.
‘You make me so happy. I love you so much,’ I told Austin, and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.
‘So, would you get engaged to me?’ Austin asked.
‘Are you asking me to marry you?’ I asked.
‘I guess so,’ Austin replied.
We both stared at each other and burst into laughter. Almost simultaneously we said, ‘We need a drink!’ and Austin went to the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with two glasses of Amarula on ice. We went back to our places on the lounge chair and sipped our drinks.
‘I’m just a simple bushman,’ Austin said. ‘I don’t know how to do these things.’
‘I think you’re supposed to say ‘Will you marry me?’’ I replied with a broad smile, and we snuggled closer to each other. A moment passed in silence and then Austin asked,
‘Will you marry me?’
And with my whole heart I answered, ‘Yes, I will.’
So it was that by the time my adventures in Namibia were meant to have drawn to a close, Austin and I were engaged. Austin had African Art Jewellers in town make two exquisite rings for us. They were matching landscape bands each depicting the Namib Desert sand dunes, mine with the addition of a diamond.
We named the evening our rings were completed as the night of our official engagement, and we spent it at the top of a sand dune in the desert, watching yet another spectacular African sunset. As the wind slowly filled our champagne glasses with sand, we celebrated our engagement in the timeless place that had become a symbol of everything we felt for each other. It was an evening we will never forget.
To be continued in Chapter 8, when Austin and I go in search of desert elephants…
In the meantime, you may like to visit Austin on Facebook and share your thoughts on the photographs presented in this blog.