My entries for the WDC Survivor Game
Fierce African sunshine blazes through the windshield as we bounce along this remote road in northern Cameroon. The gold in my band has absorbed so much heat that I wonder why I haven’t scorched Christian’s ring finger by now. Or maybe it’s the burn of passion I feel, eagerness to return to my beloved, the band around Christian’s wife’s finger. We’ve been apart six days; an eternity for newly-weds. God, I can’t wait to see her.
Christian’s last site inspection is three hours behind us, and four hours down this road is the encampment and our ladies. I’m basking in the glow of this thought when sudden shrieks pierce the air. Men rush out of the bushes and into our path. They form a jagged line and point machine guns at us.
Christian slams a boot on the brakes. The Land Cruiser skids, tires scarring the earth, and comes to a halt in a thick, red cloud of choking dust. He clutches the steering wheel, crushing me against the sweaty flesh at the base of his finger. The men swarm the truck.
“Merde ,” Christian mutters.
Merde is right. I’ve seen this gang before. I recognize their facial features, finer and more delicate than what’s typical for this region. Ridges of shiny scar tissue decorate their cheeks and foreheads, vestiges from rites of passage performed in neighboring Chad. These are the infamous Sarangenas , professional road bandits who cross the border to steal whatever wealth can later be sold on the Chadian black market.
This is bad. Very bad.
We’re traveling with a lot of what they’d consider wealth. Including me.
The men bark words in a language neither of us understands, but it’s clear they want Christian out of the truck. He climbs down, chest out. Tells them in French to go screw themselves. But his bravado isn’t fooling anyone. He’s trembling.
A Sarangena moves closer, nudges Christian with the gun’s barrel. "Argent! " he shouts.
Christian balls up his left hand, and I realize he’s attempting to hide me. From my vantage point, I see him reach into the front seat. He hands over a satchel with about 400,000 francs inside. Not a bad haul for these guys, but they aren’t finished pillaging.
I hear the Land Cruiser’s back hatch open. The hollow slosh of liquid against metal containers tells me they’re removing the jerricans of spare fuel. We need that to make it back to our wives. The irony of my optimism strikes me. First things first, Alliance, I chide myself. After all, dead men can’t drive.
The Sarangenas need all their manpower to roll the jerricans through the bushes, so just one stays back to guard Christian. When he looks away, Christian wiggles me off his finger and clutches me in his fist. His grip is pure iron, and I feel safe for the first time since the ambush began.
More bandits join us. They jammer in excited tones, speaking over one another. Sounds like arguing. A little light penetrates where Christian’s index finger coils into the groove of his thumb, and I strain to peer out. What I see chills my metal.
One of the Sarangenas is wearing Christian’s prescription eyeglasses. They look strangely out-of-place paired with his dirty turban. He makes a grab for Christian’s belt buckle.
Christian protests but is immediately silenced when another takes aim at his face. He stands, rigid but impotent, as the man yanks his belt free of its loops. Then the thief points down and kicks Christian’s foot.
"C’est pas vrai ," Christian sneers. “Putain des sauvages! ” He kicks off his boots, flinging each as far as a flick of the foot would send it.
The Sarangena wearing Christian’s glasses steps forward and spits in Christian’s face. "Chaussettes ,” he growls.
Christian is clever as he peels off his socks, keeping both hands curled up and using just the tips of his fingers. I remain undiscovered.
I can hear a lot of commotion, but I can’t see what’s happening. Christian’s hand is suddenly very sweaty, though. The voices are close, pressing in. I hear Christian grunt. His body shudders, as if he’s being tugged but he’s doing all he can to resist it. The heat in his fist is stifling.
Suddenly, Christian drops to his knees. A second later, he’s shoved face down in the dirt. By the sound of it, the whole band of Sarangenas is back on the road, in heavy discussion. Their voices sound menacing.
Christian’s fist opens. No one guards us, but the men bicker close by. Christian turns his head slightly, eyes darting in their direction. His hair! The long, loose curls that once brushed his shoulders are gone, leaving closely-hacked ends in uneven clumps. Anger boils inside me at the thought of Christian’s silky hair, sold to dark magicians and woven into dolls used to curse paying customers’ adversaries.
Christian scratches a shallow grave in the dusty road, hastily kisses me, and drops me into it. A flick of his hand and I’m covered by dirt and darkness.
In the quiet my emotions scream. Christian has protected me, saved me though he can’t save himself. The Sarangenas will kill him. I don’t know why they haven’t already. Maybe they’re fighting right now over who gets to pull the trigger. My heart breaks for him and Nicole. His new bride, the love of his life, bearer of the ring cast from the same gold as I. My solitary diamond was cut from the same brute gem as the seven that grace the front of her band. We four are meant to share our lives. How can we live apart?
A rumble startles me. The earth vibrates like underground thunder. It grows louder and chaos breaks out. Rapid gunfire rips through the air. Rat-tat-tat! Bullets whiz overhead; they come from every direction. I hear Christian yell, “Merde!” over and over.
Within ninety seconds, the gunfire ceases. I hear scuffing noises as someone helps Christian to his feet. Voices reassure him the ordeal is over. It’s okay. The bastards have run off. I’m dug up and slid back onto Christian’s finger. My diamond catches the sun, and I beam.
Cameroonian soldiers in fatigues salute us. They stand beside the driver of a Petroca tanker, idling behind us. Villagers have appeared out of nowhere, talking excitedly.
From what I piece together, Petroca was making its scheduled run to deliver petrol to the northern territories. Villagers working their fields spotted Sarangenas, laying in wait. They must have been targeting Petroca, but we happened along first. Farmers raced to a village three kilometers up the road to intercept Petroca and warn them. News spread like wildfire. An off-duty Corporal drinking in a buvette offered to climb aboard with his troops, to add artillery leverage to the situation. They’d come as fast as they could. I’d say they arrived just in time.
The driver fills our tank and gives Christian enough spare gas to get us back to camp. Christian will settle up later, with cash or by dispatching a crew to repair the inevitable washed-out road next rainy season when Petroca can’t get through. It’s Africa; “currency” is merely an umbrella term.
Christian hikes up his pants and climbs, barefooted, behind the wheel. We wave our final thanks and head down the road. A late afternoon breeze cools me through the open window, and my thoughts drift to my girl. I smile. Four more hours, and the second honeymoon shall be underway.