Chapter 4: The Journey
With the morning star still floating in the sky, the sun announces his presence in the east. It declares the end of my walk for the night with a colorful display on the horizon.
My eyes start searching for a cover where I can hide from the heat of the sun and searching eyes. I have a maximum of one hour to find protection and a natural shelter in the bush. Something to eat is next on my agenda. My eyes search the tree for a juicy meal preferably with protein but I know beggars can never be choosers.
“The nests are too high,” I think while my eyes dwell through the trees.
“This bandaged up leg and the splint; it will cost me the luxurious meal of raw eggs.”
The walk through the night has cut the splints into my leg. It has scraped the skin from my sockless feet especially where the bandages of the shirt did not reach. The inside of my thighs feel raw against the blood hard pants that scraped over them and I feel exhausted.
My eyes struggle to keep my environment in perspective. It is as if everything is further away smaller than it should be. My mind jumps like a rabbit from topic to topic and for short spells, I am back in training. Then back on a mission, without hunters behind me. I am the hunter. I talk to myself. I even get in an argument that leaves me wondering.
The loss of my senses comes to mind.
The darkroom in my mind struggle to keep the eyeless monsters at bay and at times they walk next to me, they take part in my decision making, my survival.
I am not sure if they depend on me surviving the ordeal or not. Sometimes I wonder if they advise me with revenge for taking their life or if they advise me because they need to keep the dark corner of my mind viable for themselves.
Hallucinations take charge of my confused and tired mind.
Suddenly I remember that I have to radio in at sunrise or before. I force my knee to walk to the highest point on the flat land. I identify a tree, take the Arial line out of my backpack and throw it over the highest tree branch. I am now sitting next to the radio checking the battery status before I pick up the telephone like a microphone.
“Hotel Romeo, Romeo Echo Charlie one”, my voice sounds over the radio. I repeat,
“Hotel Romeo, Romeo Echo Charlie one”
I can hear how my voice travels between the thorn bushes, how the sound of my voice drums into my ears, but there is no reply. I look down at the radio between my legs to check the frequency, but there is no radio. My eyes rush to the sender in my hand, but my hand is empty. I feel how confusion rush through my head. I suddenly remember and look in the tree for the Arial, on the branch above me. I see a small piece of parachute rope that my finger must have found in the torn bag hanging over my shoulder. I feel how the pain in my knee jumps into my spine as I jump up. My eyes look but cannot remember where I have injured my knee. I now rush over to Chappies sitting on a rock under one of the trees. He is busy eating bully beef from his rat pack,
“Chappies, Chappies,” my voice repeat as I run towards him
“What happened to our fuckin radio?” I ask before I even arrive next to him
He ignores me and continues to eat the last bit of bully beef out of the tin. My finger grabs his shoulder to get his attention, to force a logic answer out of him. I rip his head back to look into his eyes, but there are no eyes. There is just a mouth chewing on the tin food in his hand. I turn back to the radio that I have left under the tree. I now remember that the radio was not there.
With a shock, I realized that Chappies escaped from the dark room in my head. I realize that the little wool string that keeps the darkroom dwellers from reality must have broken. Angry at myself I hop on one leg back to the tree with the radio.
“I have to get this thing working,” I talked to myself on the way to the radio tree.
I now look for the device under the tree but cannot find it. I only find the old torn bag that used to belong to my dead friend Chappies under the high branches. I lift my arms and remove the Arial from the branches,
“I have to pack it up and try later,” I talk to myself while packing the radio up.
My mind is back in reality.
My legs feel tired under the weight of my body and the radio bag on my back.
“Will they send a rescue mission?” I wonder by myself
“Come and look for me if I do not radio in.”
“Will I wake up with the sound of choppers above me?”
Questions without the correct answers swing through my confused mind.
I feel how my survival instinct makes space for emotions.
The pain of some kind of emotion hammers on my chest, perhaps it is loneliness or even self-pity.
“I have to regain my strength, my instinct to lead.”
I feel how the bag on my back becomes empty again. The radio becomes a fragment of my imagination.
“I need water, the dew that clinches to the leaves will not quench the thirst,” I now think as the training remove the emotions from my heart.
“My body will shut down if I cannot find water.”
My eyes feel heavy, and the thin layer of wool around my dark corner of my mind feel fragile. Before I can think of any survival procedures my body tumble into a deep hole a hole of sleep and nightmares.
I feel how the round parachute open, and I float through the air. I turn my head towards the aircraft that have left me here. The dark swallows my visual ability to see it. My head turns to see if I can see Chappies below his canvas but I cannot see him. Lonely is the feeling of uncertainty that play for a moment through my mind before I pull myself together and start concentrating on the landing, the mission ahead.
I can now see the landing area as if I am looking through night visions. I see the large hyena shape animals awaiting me. Blood drip like thick syrup from their white teeth. Red eyes stare at me while they outer a devils laugh from their lungs, an insane human type of laugh that does not belong to their four-legged bodies. I steer the parachute towards the closest tree. I need to land in the branches to avoid the snapping jaws of the animals. My arms cannot pull the strings, my arms do not respond to the impulse of my brain.
The wind rips the clothes of my body, my weapons float on the breeze away from me. My AK47 and hunting knife, my backpack with grenades the food are floating on the wind. Snapping jaws below gather to welcome their meal send from the skies, a meal that is riddled with fear. As I get closer I see the human-like faces on the animals, the eyebrows of people I know. My feet are now close to their snapping teeth. Cold sweat runs down my face, adrenaline pump through my veins. The largest one grabs my left foot and I feel how his fangs cut into my flesh……
My body tremble back to reality. I open my eyes and see how the sun is not there anymore. Goosebumps run down my spine as my eyes meet the creature in the tree, his red eyes stare at me. The prey that he lost from the sky, the wings now attached to his shoulders is large enough to fly the hyena body from the parachute dream to the reality. I know it is time to move, but I cannot leave the tree while the beast with, dripping syrup blood is watching me. I open my eyes wider to take more of the dark environment in.
The bright afternoon sun blinds me for a moment as my eyes open. I look for the dragon shape hyena but he is not there anymore. I realize that the hyena was part hallucinations within another nightmare.
The shadows under the trees have moved with the sun now shining on my legs. I feel how the exposed skin on the splinted leg sting of the sunburn.
“I am now awake.”
“It is time to hunt food while my eyes can see.”
I feel the bright late afternoon sun rays with daytime heat riding on its back.
Birds are chirping in the trees searching for seeds and berries to fill them and to carry to their nests. Nests that will have eggs and little chicks, eggs that I now need to keep me alive.
My eyes wander through the trees in search of the homes of these birds.
“Like a snake, I will slither up the branches and steal the eggs of the winged fellows,” I dreamingly tell myself, “I will crack it and swallow the little unborn chicks. Absorb the liquid into my bloodstream, but at the moment this is only a dream within my mind.” I continue thinking.
The sun has now moved towards the west, with two small bird eggs between my fingers my mission for food is complete.
I hand one of the eggs to Chappies.
“Enjoy,” I tell him.
We broke the shells and swallow the content hole.
Protein maul like tumble dryer vomit between the walls of my stomach. It threatens to push the content back to my cracked lips.
“I cannot let this happen, afford to lose the food,” I tell myself.
“Keep it down Chappies,” I verbalize it loud to my friend.
Pointing at the hill in front of me I talk again to myself. “I have to get to the top of that hill”
My aim is to reach the hill in front of me before the before darkness starts flowing from the roots of the trees.
I turn back to Chappies before I start. On the rock and grass, I see the broken egg. The shell with all its content is staring at me. I want to ask Chappies what happened but he is gone.
I realize that I have fed one of my eggs to a ghost in my mind.
Determined and full of shame I turn and take my mission at hand on.
Fever pain in my knee scratches the bones with every step I take. I feel how the raw walking stick cut into the palms of my egg stained hands. Tree for tree, I pass towards my target, the point where I will be able to plan my night.
The uphill is not too bad on my battered knee, but I know that the dark route from the top will be agony.
Step for step I conquer the terrain, I stretch the distance between me and the burning wreck.
For a moment I stop, I am now halfway up the hill, to look back over the bushy fields that I have covered. I want to see if anything is following me. I become aware of two hyenas that slowly move on my tracks, waiting for me to fall.
“I cannot see any sign of my enemies.” I think.
For the first time, my mind responds.
“Do you really think they will be dressed in pink, with trumpets and drums,” he starts, “You will not see them with a glance like that.”
My feet turn towards the top of the hill and I continue my task at hand.
“From there I will be able to look into my past and future with the turn of a head,” I think out loud.
I now pass the last tree to my lookout. As I arrive my eyes dwell over the area behind me searching for the hyenas that followed me. But for the moment I cannot see them. The bushes behind me are motionless. My past seems to be alone, without the future haunting through it.
I now turn my head to my future night where I will leave my tracks during the dark of tonight. But I only see more trees and hills. My target has moved, I see the slight valley that I need to cross before I can climb the hill to the top. For a moment I feel disappointed in the weak target that I have set; the expectancy that I could not satisfy.
Doubt break through my rock hard exterior. I feel how emotions of disappointment follow.
“I was so sure,” I say while a tear of weakness fills my eyes.
“You left your friend behind,” my mind reply
“I… had to.”
“He was dead.”
With the words,“ek sal lewe ek sal sterwe. (I will live, I will die)”
I pull myself together.
Through the tears, I see the higher ground the tree that now marks my new target. I bite hard on my teeth before I repeat my oath, “ek sal lewe, ek sal sterwe.” With these words I start descending into the valley, leading to the hill with the tree.
To accomplish my mini mission the need to transfer my mind to a better place will be essential. Where the pain in my knee will not exist, I will become the hunter and not the hunted.
I think of the soft winter rain that drenches the sandy soil in Cape Town, the shade of clouds that roll over signal hill and Table mountain. I see the market where colored people sell flowers and fresh fish. I hear the Afrikaans phrases that roll without effort over their lips.
The dry cracked corners of my lips form a smile, small impulses of pain fill the little dry cracks around the smile as they tear open.
I have created a new target a target to walk with my family through the market. We walk with umbrellas under the cloud covered skies.
With my legs now walking the bushes of Africa and my mind under the umbrella in Cape Town with my family, I continue.
I have reached the highest point, a point that opens the new view.
Movement between the trees and bushes in the distance catch my eyes, my eyes concentrate on focusing on the source of the movement. Through the twilight, my eyes identify the elephants
“Elephants need lots of food and water.”
“They know to dwell in the drylands, how to find water in the arid sand. I have to move toward them, join the herd, without disturbing them too much,” I contemplate within myself.
My heart is excited by the sight of these giants. I feel an emotion that attracts me to them it replace the lonely feeling in my heart.
I feel the compassion for these giant animals in my chest. Everything they do is only based on the best interest of the whole family. I allow my eyes to rest for a while on the elephants, on the calves that I now see next to the herd.
The red and orange stripes that form on the western horizon announce the withdrawal of the sun.
“The battlefield of the food chains await us,” I think
I start the painful descent to the savanna, to the grass flattened by the gentle giants.
“My progress will be slow, I will need to approach the elephant herd with care,” I think.
“I will need to move for an hour and rest for an hour, all depend on the amount of light that the universe provide.”
I decent reasonably easy during the twilight time, my eyes struggle to adjust, but my feet find their way between the normal field obstacles.
“I will walk North East for the next two days,” I explain my plan to myself.
“Then I will turn South East towards home after that.”
“Why fuckin walking all over the country, let’s just go home,” my mind interrupts.
“They will totally expect me to dash home,” I answer
“They will search tracks in a South East direction,” I conclude.
Awareness of someone walking next to me distract my thoughts while I decent into the dark. I feel how my mind becomes uncomfortable. How the footsteps leave tracks in the confused soil in my soul. The sound of full military outfit that shuffles against the body of a soldier fill the quietness within my mind. Adrenaline rush to the points of every nerve in my body.
My eyes turn toward the sound, towards the uncomfortable feeling. In the twilight, I can see the figure. I can see the silhouette of a soldier, of his gun hanging over his shoulder and that of the backpack that forms a hunch on his back. He is now speaking to me and I recognize the voice.
“Chappies,” I ask out loud.
I look at his stomach where I have removed his guts, but in the poor light, I cannot see any holes, any details of the wound.
“He escaped from the dark room in my mind,” I realize.
“I am glad to see you,” I said, now talking to Chappies my dead friend.
I hear the hoop, hoop call of a hyena the sound of the first crickets between the bushes as the sun withdraws his last rays from the horizon.
Without speaking a word we continue our descent into the dark. The only sound that remains the witness of human activity is the shuffle of the backpacks and the crushing of stone under our boots. The cold breeze creeps through the holes in my blood soaked wool jacket. Memories of Cape Town become memories of the bone dry Karoo.
Every hour I rest for a while, re-plan my approach and recalculate my direction. I am longing for clouds, clouds that will carry soft rain to my bone dry body, but I also appreciate the open stars, the only map that I have left.
It is now 2h30 and the night is dark, without the presence of the moon. I start looking for a suitable tree where I can hoist my tired body into.
With heavy eyelids and a tired body, I close my eyes in the tree. I need to sleep while waiting for the first light that will lead me to the elephants, the trails that might become the key to my survival.
A cold glass against my arm brings me back to the pub. I look up and see the bar lady pushing the drink.
“From the nice young lady down there,” she tells me pointing to a table not far from us.
“Who the fuck is she,” I ask.
“Ex-pupil,” she answers.
My eyes investigate the pub, now filled with young and old.
“Fuck, now ex-pupils start looking attractive, how many beers did we have?”
“Only two, she is beautiful even without a beer,” John replies.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Music of a local band mimicking Queen splashes over the voices and laughter. The dance floor decorated with a tomato red lady covered in a white stringy top.
“Vaalies,” I say, referring to visitors from the inland.
Flower panties and even a tattoo of a cat flashes as her husband swing her around.
“Well, I walked for a few days with the elephants. Through the dry rivers and savannas,” I continue.