Chapter 15: Mind Trip Between The Prints
River sand is now pushing between my toes. In the moonlight I see the dead logs lying in the river bed casting dark purple shadows over the moon yellow sand. Thorn trees are guarding the sides with dark black shadows that hang like the fingers of fear over the edges of the now dry summer river. Animal track decorates the yellow sand with indents and colors of shade. I can see the place where the water ladies scooped their water from this morning. The shine of water that reflects the surroundings. I see the small stream that trickles from the small mass of water for about twenty meters before it disappears into the yellow sand close to a few dark rocks.
Water straight out of the earth, clean spring water that only surfaces here where the water ladies use it. Pipes is running all over the sand making more and more jackal dog prints. He knows not to bark at night, but his little tail announces his ecstasy with the river bed, with the water that he has found.
With our water canteen filled, washed faces and rinsed hair I moved to the rocks to rest for a while. To rest my injured knee that I had to ignore during the mimic walk, a walk to ensure that trackers cannot pick the limp in my tracks up. The forced straight walk for the last five kilometers put a strain on the muscles around the knee and my ankles. It is now time to stretch them before I start the rest of my journey between the thorn bushes. On the route that the water ladies never walk where their tracks that I have mimicked does not exist. I will walk new tracks towards the military base not too far from here, I guess about four kilometers.
For a few moments Pipes and I sit around the rock, both with eyes staring into the empty spaces of nothing. Thinking of our journeys and memories of the things that we miss, some of which we do not even know if they exist.
My mind slips back to the sewers to the fight for control and secrecy;
I have just entered the chamber for my morning rest for the break that I normally take as the sun comes up. Pipes my little jackal dog jump against my leg for some attention. My sewer dirty hands rest on his little head and I rub his little ears. The bond has become a friendship that both of us depend on. I have learned to love the little creature over the past weeks that we traveled through the pipelines together. My legs are moving this morning the pain in the wounds on my legs are sore and infected but I am glad for the feeling. I now use the painful legs to push my body against the back wall of the chamber up, to raise my head so that I can see through the opening. I have to anchor them with my feet against the corner, made by the floor and the side wall below the opening. Bending my torso to enable my knees to straighten as the muscles is still weak and they cannot carry my body weight for long. My weight is now distributed with a triangle between the back wall my legs and the front wall of the chamber. For the first time since I have left the dump area, I can see my feet they are swollen and red. Toes that look like little pork sausages pressing together in their fight for space on my feet. I see the burn wounds of the drag in the pipes and on the dump. The skinless areas covered with dirty stinky sewer mud. I know that the swelling will go of that my toes will become normal again if my legs get some exercise but the infected wounds will claim their toll on my health in the next few days.
Medication is now moving to the top of my most wanted list, it passes the need for food and water.
I am also aware of the fact that this war-torn city will be in short supply of crucial medicine like that. That all the medicine will be transported to the troops that fight in this civil war, that their needs will be priority one, while the local population is dying of small infections and sores.
With this thought in my mind, my eyes start searching the street outside. It searches the shadows of the lonely lampposts. Shadows that will indicate the position of the sun. I look down at the new markings that I made this morning and realizes that the pipes have stolen my direction, that my marking is almost 45 degrees out. My west has become the North and that I am moving away from home, away from my target.
My heart stops for a second my breathing halt as two feet stop at the opening of my new room. The toes are pointing towards me. I see how the lady who drive these feet squat lift her skirt and start urinating. A golden stream of water is now squirting towards me. Towards the opening that separates me from the hostile world above. The water trickles down the front wall and runs over my infected feet, over the sores and mud. The little jackal dog has now joined me watching the fountain show. The urine running down the side wall. Before I can get my hand to him, he utters a small playful bark. A bark that is loud enough to reach the ears of the urinating beast. I see how her legs open wider, how her torso bend, how her head fill the opening to the street. Our eyes now meet and I know I have been found.
The growl next to me rips me back from the pipes. From the lady that have found me, to the reality now in time. To the river sand and water next to me. I raise my head and see the source that caused the growl from Pipes my little dog. I look into the beady eyes of two hyenas staring at Pipes and me. Staring at the water that they want to drink, to the hostile little Jackal dog that is growling at them. The time has come to leave our dreams behind and move out of the river bed into the tree line into the thorns where I will need my boots to move. With my boots still hanging around my neck, we move away from the hyenas, away from the water and from the tracks of the water ladies.
Other than the hyenas and my dreams of the pipes, the rest of the night pass without any major events other than feeding, drinking and moving.
Little diamond balls, formed as the afternoon sun reflect over a spider web. Some of the web strings have rainbow colors reflecting from them.
From my new look-out in a tree, I can see the movements in the military camp against the small hill in front of me. I see how the guards on the Northern side change their day duties for rest. How men with AK47 guns walk in the dust roads of the FAPLA stronghold. Soldiers that have no idea of my presence of my eyes that comb through their movement. I see their weak points, their failures. My eyes search through their small vehicle park through the trucks and Unimogs that stand like four-legged animals waiting to be fed. Their shadows flow over each other while only the metal roofs and guns on their backs shine in the red dying sun.
Pipes is pushing his little nose into my lap. His little-crooked tail wag as I rub my fingers through the hair between his ears. He is hungry his little stomach are longing for the protein that his body needs. But his little black beady eyes are still friendly they forgive me for not feeding him.
Fires are now burning in the camp, smoke fills the clear Angolan skies above. I watch the action that I will have to see and watch for a day or two. Actions that I will have to file in my mind, patterns that I will have to remember, weaknesses strength analyses that I will need.
I have to enter the head of the man that run this camp, the heads of the soldiers that protect it and the heads of the drivers that will take me to the South. While all these thoughts flash through my mind, my hand are working on my home made knife. The angle iron that I brought with me from the dumps. During the past weeks, I have shaped it to a masterpiece against the rocks and sand at night. The handle that I have built from cloth thorn tree resin and bark to protect my hands. My mind slip to the days when this piece of metal was just a movement tool it slip to the lady that caught me in the pipes and I see again;
I hear the words that form on her lips. I see the hands that want to cover her private parts that she opened to Pipes and me. Her head is close to the opening of my concrete water chamber. Before she can announce me my hands move, one grab her mouth while the other grab her hair. I pull her with force into the chamber. Her head bounce off the urine wet side wall and I feel how her body go numb in my arms. I know that I cannot let her go, I cannot let her talk to those that will hunt me in the pipes. It will put me back in the room of torture. Into the mass-graves of hell. I turn her face away, turn her back to me. My right arm is now around her neck locking with a figure eight with my left arm. I move my shoulder in to separate the vertebra in the neck. I know that if I tighten the cross between my arms her neck will snap with the dull sound of bone cracking and the sound of ligaments tearing. Many men have died like this, many ghosts are marching in the chambers of my mind with broken necks like this. But there is no lady in these chambers, no civilian lady whose stiff dead eyes haunt me at night.
Gunfire diverts my thoughts back to the thorn trees. To Pipes that are now looking at me with big scary eyes. The shots ring out again and I can hear that they are coming from the bushes on the western side of the camp. The shadows have now swallowed the last sun rays, and the only evidence of the day is the last red color in the sky.
I move slowly towards the next tree, to the next point, from where I can see. I need to know the cause of the shots, but in the twilight, between day and night, my eyes cannot see. They only see the black shady thorn trees against the red sunset.
For a few minutes, I wait to see if the shots will raise through the quiet and young night again. I wait to hear if the gun bearers are moving and if so in what direction. But the night remain quiet, the silence makes space for the crickets and insect of the night.
I now move closer to the tree where I saw a bird sitting in her nest before the sun left me alone between the trees.
My body now hoisted between the thorn branches, with hands chasing the little bird out of her nest. Finger that fiddle in the soft feather bed finding the two small eggs that glued the mom to the nest during the day. That is my hunt for the day our food for the night, one for me and one for Pipes.
Raw egg chased with a mouth of water become the meal of the day. The last drops of water are now shared with Pipes. The feeling of Pipes on my lap bring me a comfort zone of love. Love from the little fellow that will die for me; and so will I.
Small action movies flash through my mind, movies recorded by my eyes. With my eyes still open watching the camp the movies play in my subconscious mind;
Back at the mission that starts this ordeal.
Heavy gunfire has now broken the night silence. I see how Chappies run behind the rock in front of me. With the bush radio on my back, I call the iron birds for help. Between the shadows of the trees, we are outnumbered we have been out maneuvered by the soldiers of the camp. Four by four vehicles have outrun us, and now we negotiate with the loud tin like sound of barking machine guns.
“Firebird four, Romeo Echo Charlie one, we are under heavy fire, recover and assist,” I scream into the radio,
“Romeo Echo Charlie one, firebird four, we are out of range repeat we are out of range”. The message cut through the truth, through the essence and reality that we are alone. That death has drawn his line in the yellow sand. The reality that the full moon will be our witness in our marriage to death, in our fight where death will do us part.
“firebird four, Romeo Echo Charlie one, read you clear, request Gama six ground assistance, Repeat Gama six ground assistance”,
“Romeo Echo Charlie one, Hotel Quebec Bravo that is negative, repeat that is a negative”, come the word of denying support from my headquarters over the radio, denying us G6 cannon assistance. I am now moving to the small rock formation slightly East from Chappies, to observe the enemy line to find a way out and to cover Chappies. To cover his left flank, from the heavy gunfire on that side.
“Romeo Echo Charlie one, Red Bird one on case vac flight sierra one zero, fly by in two zero minutes, repeat direction sierra one zero,” break the radio through my ears. My mind welcome the ambulance flight that can do a flyby in 20 minutes. But we all know that the contact will and cannot last that long, that we will be captured or dead long before the iron bird can do his distractive flyby.
Chappies and I have now eye contact, and in the full moon I can see his posture behind the rock. I use my hands and fingers to give him signals, to establish team communication. I point with two fingers, my index finger and the one next to it, to my eyes, telling him that I have eye contact. I now point with my index finger into three directions. Directions where I observed the white star like flashes from rattling machine guns while I was moving. With a fist up into the air I indicate that he must stay where he is, that he must wait, wait for my signal.
Dust jump from the soil between the rocks as the fire on us intensify. I see how Chappies signal that he is moving towards the larger rock in front of him and without any conformation he start running. I roll to the left of my rock cover and fire randomly towards the areas that I have identified. Fire to keep their eyes on me, giving Chappies time to reach his new cover.
My new movie that I now see is in slow motion. I see how his body stops, how the backpack on his back move away from his body. His body rip back again and again. I see the liquid spattering from behind his back pack in the moon light before his body fall down. First on his knees and then face first into the thick sand. The slow motion movie of bullets hitting my friend play again and again through my mind.
The wet tongue of Pipes leaking the tears that are now flowing over my cheeks bringing the small camp fires that I am watching back into focus. It stops the repetitive movie that played in my head, it stop the pain for a while, the heart-sore that fill my chest. The guilt that I could not save him, that I could not carry his body home.
My mind move into a bad place a place of sorrow, of guilt and of regret. I close my eyes close the camp fires from my mind. Close the reality of the moment in exchange for a dream.
My mind jump into the grass fields.
I see the flat grass fields, grass fields where the thorn tree have not occupied the space between the grasses. The full moon show the shadows of a few white rocks that break the grass lines. It light the grass with a grey shine, it lit the statue of a figure standing in the middle crying next to a wooden self-made cross in a little heap of soil. I walk closer to see if I know the woman next to the cross, but her face is covered in tears. Tears that I cannot see through, tears of sorrow. The grave that lie at her feet reflect grey red sand to my eyes. I see the movement in the grave, the sand that move. I see a blood soaked hand now waving at me, a hand that I do not know. The tears from the woman next to the grave wash over the dry blood on the hand. The soil move again and I see the head lifting through the soil. The stiff sand filled eyes that now stare at me. The teeth smiling at me. I walk closer to the face, to the eyes to see, to see if the eyes belong in my darkroom in my mind. If the eyes belong to my hands, to my deeds. I am now next to the tear face mother the tears are now filling the cavities between the sand before it start to trickle down into a small stream. A steam that the dry sand fail to absorb. I look at her face again and I see that the tears have now turned from the salt water to red blood from her veins.
My eyes and mind flow over the stiff eyed child. The boy not older that twelve years. I now see the round hole in his head the darkness that crawl into his lifeless face, into the brain that once driven the waving hand.
My mind now drift with the face with the waving hand, drift away from the grave.
The late afternoon sun colour the grass fields yellow. Boots of men walk on patrol through the grass, patrolling for terrorist that attacked a farm in South West.
Foot for foot we push the grass out of the way. We have now spread out to observe the tree line as we are very vulnerable while we crossing the grass. We are now closing the white rocks.
The silence of the afternoon suddenly become alive gunfire fill the air an ambush settled around the rocks has drawn a death acre around us. We roll and fire the R4 riffles into the general direction of the ambushers. From between the grass I see the smoke from a gun barrel firing at us. With my gun now on rapid fire I fire a single shot at the gun. I see how the body of the gunner lift into the air, I fire again.
The movie is now back in slow motion, the gun that push into my shoulder, it is so slow that I can see the white path that the bullet push through the air. I see the grass pieces scattering on the path of the bullet, the body behind the gun rips and lifts from the ground. I repeat the action, the bullet through the grass, the body that rip into the air, the movie is stuck again and play over and over before it slips forward into fast action. I see how three soldiers run from the rocks. There AK47 are leaning over their shoulders and keep firing in our direction. I hear how the guns of the troops with me spit bullet and see how the three soldiers fall into the grass.
With the contact over the gunfire silent I crawl a few yards forward, to make sure that we do not attract more fire. But it remain quiet, the birds return to the trees.
I am now walking to the body between the grass the body that jumped to the rhythm of my bullets. The body lie still on his face, carefully I move his gun away and I lift his head. The head of a child not older than twelve. I see the bullet hole in his head, the bullet that I have fired, has killed a child with a gun.
The child on the ground now turns into a grave a grave under the moon, a grave with a woman crying for her son.
My body rips with fear back to the thorn bushes, to Pipes lying on my lap sleeping. My mind still see the woman and the blood drenched sand. The red mix stream that wet the sand in the small grass field. I still see the eyes of the boy, the hole in his head. The face are now transparent and I can also see the fires in the camp, the shadows of soldiers walking in there TB (temporary base) between their tents.