part two of my book, i oniously havnt finished so dont worry thats not how it ends
The panic which immediately entered the village was incredible. I had never seen, nor did I ever imagine I would see again, such a transformation of emotions from a group of people in such a short amount of time. Everyone began to rush aimlessly around, they all knew it would do no good but in some ways I could understand their reaction: if you were moving it felt like you knew what you were doing, like you had a plan. No one here had a plan; no one had any idea what to do. Like young children in a playground waiting for someone to tell them what to do with their limited free time: all slightly giddy and completely naive but still slightly a buzz with excitement at the possibility that there would soon be someone who they could refuse to obey. The only very serious difference here was the immediate and very real threat of danger that now seemed determined to destroy my perfect world. We were not running away from some adult, we were trying to out run death.
I stood watching them dart past and around me. It was so surreal; we had been so safe in our own little world less than minuet ago and now we were in a different universe all together. Yes, surreal just about summed it up.
I just wanted to hide somewhere safe where the problems engulfing me could not harm me. I wanted to run, run faster and harder than I ever had before. The wave of cowardice was pushed away as fast as it had come by an even stronger surge of shame: where was all my irrational confidence and bravery now, now when it actually mattered, now when it would make a difference. I was overcome with such overpowering disgrace that I hardly noticed someone was tugging on my loose shirt sleeve, someone who was under the impression that my life was worth saving. An opinion I did not share.
“Oh for gods sake Unda!! Of all the moments you could choose to freeze up you choose NOW! Come ON!”
Keisha was filled up with all the enthusiasm that should have been within me. Why did it have to jump around?! It was infuriating! Couldn’t it just stay in one person or some how inhabit all of us, what was the point of having one uncommonly passionate person surrounded by a group of lifeless souls in comparison? But my sister was clearly not in the mood to explain what had caused this sudden eagerness and I did not have enough energy to pull it out of her. So I followed her, still totally lost in the humiliation.
I was only vaguely aware of where she was leading me so it came as a small shock when she stopped just outside my hut. She of all people had been against my rebellious attempts to find out what was missing in my life (all of which attempts had been totally pointless as I had been looking in all the wrong places anyway). Of course I should have guessed that we would not be alone, the rest of my family was either already here or in sight heading this way. Obviously this had been arranged as a meeting place in case the disease reached us, something I had not picked up on. It was beginning to dawn on me that I had so many questions and almost no answers, something I was going to have to sort out at some point. I also noticed that my family had clearly made plans such as the ones which were coming into fruition now without me something which, in any normal situation, would have bothered me in more that one way. Seeing as this was not a normal situation however and given the fact I was hardly myself at the moment, it only slightly registered as irritating.
“We need to leave.” That was all my father said. He spoke those four words over and over again. It was as if his mind had been wiped of all else but the instinct to get away from the danger and that was all he could say to tell us how he felt. Sometimes it sounded as if he was asking us what we though we should do, and other times he was just stating a fact.
We were saved from his continuous stream of the same four words by someone who wasn’t family to anyone here but who felt like part of all of us: Thembi. My whole body went rigid. It was as though someone had sent an electric pulse through me and I was now paralyzed, entirely controlled by the force that was now surging into all the corners of my body. My stomach was no longer full of food but full of a fluttering sensation: I was suddenly unbearably nervous. What would he say? Was he here to tell me he was not coming with us and that I would never see him again?! At that moment I truly understood the saying ‘you never no what you have until you loose it’, I couldn’t live without him. I needed him. I stared deep into his fathomless eyes, knowing that my face would be easier to read that an open book but not caring, wanting him to know every part of me. I needed him to know everything about me there was to know. It was only then that I truly looked at his face and saw it: he was smiling my favourite smile, the smile that made me completely and utterly sure that nothing could go wrong.
“Turns out my parents couldn’t get hold of my sister after all; they think she may have moved to a bigger village, and with so little time and such an urgent need to leave I am sorry to inform you that you are not getting rid of me just yet.” His smile was overwhelmingly triumphant: it was clear that the lack of possible communication had not been coincidence.
Before I could consciously make a decision to do so, I was running into his arms; wanting nothing more in the world but to be held by him. As soon as I was there I was home, I was where I was meant to be. Nothing else mattered: the people staring at me, the closeness of our bodies, the encroaching danger, none of it.
At least none of it mattered to me. However I suddenly became very, very aware of the extremely awkward silence that had entered out small circle, and of the fact that instead of pulling me closer as I wanted him to Thembi was trying to detach himself from me. I slowly raised my eyes so they were looking into his face and my heart broke. He didn’t wear the expression of someone who had just realized the one person they needed in life was the one person that was standing right in front of them; he did not look how I felt. He looked so extraordinarily confused and slightly uncomfortable at the situation he had landed himself in.
My arms unwound from around his waist and I lowered my eyes to glare at the ground, though I doubted anyone missed the tears pouring down my cheeks or the anguished expression which had painted itself across my face. I looked imploringly at Nuska, silently begging her to create some sort of exit for me to exploit.
“Um…well we all need to get our stuff together and … then… meet up with some other families that we will be travelling with. Unda, come with me. We’re sharing a bag and I need to make sure you’ve packed everything you need. Why don’t we all meet back here in… um … 10 minuets?” she had automatic authority over everyone there except for mother and father because of her age, and it was clear she was now using the power she had always hated.
Mother, staring at Nuska with understanding eyes, immediately caught on:
“Yes, Zaire, we should do the same. And we still haven’t decided who we are going to ask to come with us, and you need to confirm with the other elders exactly what rout we need to take. It’s going to spread so quickly now, we probably only have a couple of hours before we all have to be out!” the authority radiating from her was that of the wife of an elder, the authority she had earned when she married my father. The only person now who could overthrow both of them was Zaire. He looked at my mother, then at Nuska, then at me, then Thembi. I felt I could see his mind catching up and painfully slowly he realized what was happening. Again his eyes found me, and after giving me a look which plainly said he would be expecting an explanation very soon, spoke the words that freed me.
“Yes, back here in 10 minuets.” Then as an after thought he added, “of course Thembi you do not need to return unless your family decide to come with us.” Seeming satisfied with his apparent recue of the situation he turned and started to head towards the hut he and mother shared. Nuska, grabbing my arm, pulled me away from the gathering into her hut which was next to mine. Just before I ducked in, I glanced back at Thembi now standing on his own. He was looking at me, and another part of my heart chipped off the whole as I realized that he would never feel how I felt. I wave of such misery flowed through me I would have collapsed if it wasn’t for Nuska’s steady grip.
As soon as we were within the shelter she let me collapse on the pile of animal skins she used as a bed. Immediately turning back to the door she peered out to check Thembi had obeyed our father and left. When she was satisfied we were alone she rounded on me.
“WHAT, were you THINKING?! You aren’t honestly going to tell me you are in love with him! Your childhood friend, your best friend!”
I neither confirmed nor denied her statement; I merely stared at her, imploring her to understand.
“Oh this is just brilliant isn’t it! Just absolutely spectacular!” She took an unnecessarily deep breath in a visible attempt to calm herself. This apparently had no effect what so ever.
“How long?! I knew there was something more than friendship there, is this why you’ve been continually denying Soaves? Is it?”
“No.” My own voice was ridiculously small compared to her recent explosion.
“No? No to what?” her patience was thinning; she was about to loose it.
Deciding I owed it to her after what she’d just gotten me out of, I settled on giving her just enough to keep her quiet.
“No that isn’t why I have been refusing Soaves, I am refusing him solely due to the fact that I find him utterly repulsive!” from the small change in her expression I could see she agreed with me on this last point. “And I have only just realized the feelings I hold toward Thembi are any more than friendship! So don’t you dare start saying you knew there was more because there hasn’t been until about three minuets ago!” it was my turn to lash out. “You don’t need to worry about anything happening anyway.” This last sentence was far quieter and filled with more sorrow than anything else.
“WHAT! What do you mean there is nothing to worry about! You are in LOVE with him! I would defiantly say that is something to-”
“There is nothing to worry about because nothing is going to happen!”
“Oh sure, you can’t see him without jumping into his arms but nothing is going to happen! How stupid of me!” sarcasm was colouring every word she said.
“Nothing is going to happen because he doesn’t feel the same way! There, are you happy now? You made me say it, he doesn’t love me!”
“Of course he does.” But the conviction was gone from her voice, “I mean…look at you. What’s not to love: you’re beautiful, funny, carefree… you just never see yourself clearly. You think everyone else sees you as a monster but if only you could here what people say about you. It’s constant praise, never a mean word, never a bad comment. You are literally what every guy wants and you make yourself more appealing by not even realizing it!” the conviction was back but it had become spiked with jealousy, something I hated to hear in my sisters voice because I loved her far too much to allow anything to upset her. The only problem here was that I had no idea how to make her not jealous, if she was jealous of me.
“Nuska…I…I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. You are my little sister and I couldn’t be happier that you are what I just told you; if you weren’t you wouldn’t be my baby sister. Just realize it…and…don’t give up on Thembi just yet. I have a good feeling about him.” she gave me a very knowing smile and then added, “and you never know, there might even be someone out there one day who I might just say is good enough for you. Very unlikely though! Ha-ha!” she began to laugh. Nuska was another person whose laugh was ridiculously contagious. I had begun to guess at the reason our little community was so happy: there were far too many people around who were naturally almost always happy and their laughter and happiness was unbelievably catching.
Unsurprisingly I began to laugh, and once we had started we simply just couldn’t stop. She fell to the ground where I was still sitting, and we lay there just laughing together. It’s moments like this that make me realize how unbelievably lucky I am to have family and friends who are here to laugh or cry with me but no matter what they are here. Well, my family was, I had no idea where me and Thembi stood now.
That though immediately sobered me up. I sat up, my head slightly spinning from the sudden movement. Nuska joined me and clearly had the same problem as she began to sway on the spot. This set me off again and I fell back onto the pelts once again incapacitated by my laughter. This time however Nuska didn’t join me, she stood up, still slightly swaying, and began to scan the hut for anything she may have forgotten to pack.
“What on earth are you doing that for? You have already checked around this place about a dozen times.”
“You don’t know, and anyway we said we were going to check. Just think what would happen if we got a couple days into the journey and realized we’d forgotten something. God, imagine fathers face! Ha!” that set her off again and she rejoined me on the floor, shaking hysterically.
I tried to imagine the face that was obviously filling her head and that really did it! I was in tears: the shock crossing his face as he realized his two eldest daughters were the ones who had forgotten something when they had been the ones to suggest checking our packing. Then the realization as it dawned on him it had all just been an act to get us out of the awkward situation. Then the anger as it dawned on him that everyone else already understood and he was the only one that hadn’t. Ha! Priceless!
“What was that?” Nuska was suddenly sitting bolt upright, listening intently to a sound that I had not heard.
“What? What did you hear?” neither of us were laughing now. The look on her face was enough to shut me up without even hearing the noise.
“Shhh…” she was concentrating on something in the distance.
“Just listen, can’t you hear them.”
Her voice was barely a whisper now; she was hardly moving her lips. I listened intently and was about to question her again when I heard it. A scream followed by sobbing.
As we listened more and more screams filled the air around us until we were totally encircled by them. Then the weeping broke through the cries and added depth to the sound causing it to become even more sinister – if that was possible.
Nuska and I slowly pulled aside the buck skin covering the entrance and gazed upon the scene before our eyes. Words failed me. I was suddenly aware that there was something missing, something that had saved me from fear these last few days, something I needed now more than anything but which evaded me more than ever.
Everywhere I looked they were there: quietly screaming with grief, shaking with sobs, mourners who had just lost someone key to their survival. After a quick glance around I began to understand that the small child was not the only one: there were so many more that had been touched by the devil. Unable to accept the thought that our town was being torn apart as I watched, by a force that was totally and utterly beyond my power to stop I remained frozen. I would not believe it, I couldn’t. I would not yield to the idea that my home, my family, was being infected by some unknown disease as I remained sitting here.
But then a much more terrifying prospect hit me with enough force to render me breathless: who else? If this morning there had only been one and now there were so many more… there were only two things that could explain it: either it was spreading alarmingly quickly, or, more people than we realized already had it and we were only just noticing it! I weighed the two possibilities silently in my mind, trying to decide which would be worse. If the first option was true then we had some hope; we could separate the infected and save some people. But if the latter was true… then what? We had no idea who had it and therefore no idea who to separate. Any one of us could have it, my family could have it, I could have it.
But then a notion came to me that sent a jolt of terror right through my body and made the ideas that had just flashed across my mind seem almost irrelevant: Thembi might have it. If anything happened to him – but the though was too horrific to contemplate. The fact that he had just rejected me didn’t matter; I knew I would not live if anything happened to him. (Or at least I knew I would not want to live, and I would find a way to achieve that goal if no natural cause came quick enough.)
At that though my mind gave up. It refused to process any more information that I did not want to hear and decided that the most important thing at the moment was not to try and solve the problems around me – a though that the rest of me did not share – and protect itself and my sanity. Everything started spinning and darkness began to cloud my thoughts until eventually the nothingness overwhelmed the part of me that was fighting to maintain consciousness. I was vaguely aware of beginning to fall but then it went blank.
All this – my realization of the truth, the horror of reality and understanding there was nothing I could do – had taken place over about 30 seconds.
My eyelids fluttered open and I was greeted by a scene that very much resembled the one outside earlier today. The same people were there with the exception of two, we were in another circle but this time I was in the centre and we were still inside the hut rather than outside. These differences were small yet held great significance to me; the people who were missing were Thembi – of course, he wouldn’t want anything to do with me – and Nuska which alarmed me as she had been the one person I had been with when I had faded out of consciousness. Where was she!? But before I could launch into a full scale panic attack she drifted back in holding a large jug of water. The look on her face suggested she was concentrating on things far away and hardly aware of the people surrounding her. I was so curious to know what she was thinking but I held my tongue, deciding to interrogate her later.
Being in the centre of out little circle was beginning to make me slightly uncomfortable: it was totally silent in the hut but the silence was far too loud to be natural. All seven pairs of eyes were burning into me giving the impression they were waiting for me to say something.
I sat up – no one seemed surprised or relieved at my awakening bar Nuska, who allowed a small smile to tug at the corners of her mouth before stifling the only emotion in the room other than the horror that was radiating from every other occupant.
I realized with a small start that there was one other new member – my grandmother was hunched in the corner rocking slowly back and forth. That totally threw me. For one she hardly ever joined the rest of the family believing herself to be above the rest of us due to her age – which was true – and never being particularly interested in what the rest of us had to say – an opinion I could completely see her view on.
I had only ever seen my grandmother surrounded by others, totally confident and a key part of the conversation, or, by her self and entirely at peace with the world. To see her so completely crippled by something as she was now failed me for words.
As I forced my eyes away from the image in the corner that perversely drew me to it, I began to realize that every face mirrored what I had just seen. They were all portraying the same thing but all in a slightly different way.
Some slightly moving in a rhythmic fashion like Legba, others perfectly still but this stillness spoke so much more than any movement could. It was the stillness of despair, of the complete lack of any hope or motivation.
“What’s happened?” I was already totally sure that something new had happened to cause the acceleration of the desolation.
“Here, drink this.” It was Nuska. I hadn’t even noticed the burning dryness that filled my throat until the glass of cold water came into my view. I grabbed it eagerly and began to drink feverishly. I vaguely noticed she hadn’t answered my question.
Some unknown factor triggered the rest of the company to suddenly break into motion. As soon as they had I wished they hadn’t.
Mother was sobbing, fathers head fell into his hands as if it was drawn by a magnet, Nuska let out a cry of grief and the rest just began to silently weep. I was completely bewildered by their reaction. What had I done? I automatically assumed it was me because I was the only one who had not reacted.
“What?” I breathed, as the final dregs of water trickled down my throat.
But no one answered: they just stared at me like this was the last time they would ever see me. My curiosity was rapidly turning into fear; what was happening to me to cause everyone else such pain?
Before I could ask I was suddenly aware that – as my senses came back to me after my collapse – I was overwhelmingly hot. So hot it wiped everything else from my mind. I began to hyperventilate. What was happening!
“Why is it so hot?! What’s happening! Please, someone answer me!” Full scale hysteria was coming on I could feel it, but I couldn’t stop it, I was too horrified. No one changed, they just cried harder. They sounded like a group of mourners beside a grave side. But they were sitting beside me, so why would they be so… oh. They were mourning, but for a death that had not yet occurred but was inevitable.
“I have it don’t I.” my voice breaking on the last word, the quietest of whispers. No one responded, it was like I hadn’t even spoken. I was beginning to get sick of my monologue. “Answer me!” I all but screamed at them. Still no one spoke. The only change was the slightest of movements, but that was all it took to condemn me. Nuska nodded. Once down then up again. That was it, it was over, it was me.
I was in total shock, incapacitated by it. The only coherent thought that worked its way slowly through my mind was that they needed to run, now. They couldn’t be around me, they couldn’t kill themselves too! They needed to get out.
“Get away from me. You could all be dying right now because of me! Please, there is nothing anyone can do for me now.” I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying, I was just trying to get them as far away from me as fast as I possibly could. I didn’t care what happened to me after they left I just wanted to know they were safe.
“We know. We are going. We needed to explain to you that if there was any other way… anything that could be done… you know we would do it.” It was my father who spoke these words, and for the first time in my life I was glad that he was a more practical than passionate man.
“I know. But please go; you have to.”
“Yes. Everyone, we need to leave, they are all waiting for us.” He turned and left the hut. I briefly realized that I would never see him again… but I couldn’t think of that now or I would never be able to let them go.
I looked up and saw the rest of the faces that surrounded me. Saw all the faces I loved – all but one. All were tear streaked and heart-wrenchingly sad. The pain echoed on one face to another, it was clear that no one could say goodbye.
“I’ll be fine.” the lie was pointless, but I thought it might just help. I was wrong. The twins started sobbing harder than ever, gave me one last helpless look, and fled, too overwhelmed to speak a word. Grandmother was the same, she raised a hand in farewell and then followed after them as fast as her frail body would allow.
Sango gazed at me, still sitting on the floor. “We will meet again.” That was all he said before he picked up his small bag from the floor and took the few steps that would block him from my view forever. His voice was so determined that I almost believed him, but them I remember the only out come of what I had – death. My hope faded before it really had a chance to appear.
Only mother, Nuska and I remained. We were totally silent, but when I look back on that moment I know that words would have spoiled it. The love and grief that flowed through the air was more tangible than any words could make it. I do not know how long we stayed there, sitting on the floor gazing at each other, but I knew it was too long. There were murmurs from the rest of the tribe, mutterings that they needed to get away from the infected area they had once called home. I turned away from the others and the connection was immediately broken, the current stopped.
“Go.” I didn’t have the will power to utter the word loudly so I mouthed it at them. At my mother who I loved so deeply I had once thought it to be an unbreakable force, even death would have no power over it. Oh the irony. Nuska, my favourite sibling, my best friend, the one and only person I would follow anywhere without any explanation. The thought she was soon going to be ripped from my side, where she belonged, caused a tidal wave of pain to crash in side me, the force of which almost left me unconscious again.
I clung onto reality by my fingertips.
They looked at me and then at each other. Then rose to their feet with the grace I had never been able to master.
“I will always be here with you. And no matter how far apart we are, no matter where you are I will find you. If I have to cross into another world all together I will go with no fear if I am going to you. My sister. I love you.” Nuska gazed down at me with the same love I felt so strongly for her echoed on both our faces. She bent down and kissed me on the forehead.
It took all the power I had left not to beg her not to leave, not to go. But she had to; I would not condemn her as well.
She turned as almost ran out of the hut: she was having the same mental battle as I was – to follow her heart and stay by me where I wanted her, or listen to her head and save her life while she still could. It broke my heart to let her go but I never regretted that decision to watch her go and say nothing.
I had no strength left to stop the tears; they flowed freely with just my mother to see.
She bent down kissed me tenderly like a newborn child was kissed by her mother, this was the first thing she had done after she brought me into this world and now it was the last thing anyone would do before I left it. She didn’t meet my eyes as she left and I am glad she didn’t because I was sure I would have asked her to stay and I was sure she would have.
I was alone: the sounds of the tribe gathering and setting off just a dull background to the scene.
“NO, I won’t leave her! Please …don’t make me! No…no…my…baby!” It was my mother’s voice, almost incoherent between the heart wrenching sobs. You could tell she did not expect to be aloud to stay but it didn’t stop her. Someone seemed to be holding her back.
“No, no…there has to be some other way!” It was Nuska who now spoke also howling. I could only remain frozen. I knew as soon as anything moved my whole resolve would shatter and I wouldn’t be able to stop my self from running out pleading to let me come with them. But I could already fell my strength leaving me.
Gradually the cries and screams of grief faded until they disappeared totally. I knew they would not be over the savannah yet and I didn’t want to see them walking away, that was not the last image of them I wanted. So I waited for what I though was about another 20 minutes then crawled out of the hut, not enough energy to walk. To my surprise the sun had almost made it over the horizon in the west and the stars were popping into existence all around me.
They were nowhere in sight and I could not hear them. Totally alone.
The night has always been my favourite time: I loved the peace and stillness. The subtle beauty of the stars and the mysteries they held. I crawled further out of the hut and onto a clear area of grass with a good view of my surroundings.
Pain was beginning to spread up my legs and into my stomach. Twisting, sharp pain like my muscles were trying to rip themselves from the bones. I gasped, unable to understand this new development in my condition. It was getting more intense and was gradually becoming unbearable! Ah! It can’t get worse, it can’t! But it did and that what when my body gave up and I faded easily into the unconsciousness I had been fighting ever since I woke up.
When I woke again blackness had won the predictable daily battle against the sun and everything was swathed in blackness. The stars bright pinpricks in the dark blanked that was the sky. The moon, always changing, was almost full but still slightly uneven. There was a warm wind blowing my hair across my face, wrapping me in its feathery touch. I was reminded of an evening a long time ago when I was a little girl, where I had lay just like this on a night remarkably similar to tonight. I had been thinking of new ways to join in with the older boys and not seem like a liability. I laughed out loud as I remembered this small piece of my past. I laughed because it still seemed important; it didn’t matter there was no one to join in with, or that I was dying, it still mattered. Tears began to run down my cheek, racing each other.
I lay there for a long time, exactly how long I couldn’t tell, but the sky remained black and I remained alone: no angels had yet tried to take me from this world and into the next. Tears continued to fall from my eyes; sometimes they were happy – remembering the moments of my life I will never forget. When me and Thembi had first become truly good friends and the sense of belonging that came with it, when mother had come and slept in my bed when I got scared at night, how Nuska had taught me how to cook and to dry our pelts. All the elements that had come together to make me who I am now, woven as one to form the most intricate pattern that represented me.
Then some tears were of sadness, regret of all the things I had never quite been able to do or achieve. The fact that I was alone and no one was coming for me, that I would die here alone with nothing to comfort me but the stars and the earth.
I drifted out again when the sun was starting to make the horizon in the east pink. The darkness once again reigned over my mind but this time it was different: usually there was still a sense of reality to the obscurity, a sense that there was still a world turning under me and a sun or moon rising over me. Now there was nothing but the emptiness, and finality flavoured the images flashing before me. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, and then sudden bursts of speed would interrupt the tranquillity. It was almost as if there was a battle going on in my mind to keep up with the speed of reality or drift further and further away from this world I call home. I was vaguely aware that the slowness was winning.
So this was what it felt to die. It was nothing like I though it would be: I had imagined there would be a sense of peace or of injustice but there was nothing. No senses at all, just me and the darkness. How strange.
My last train of though gradually trailed off and then numbness was pushed out to leave me as just me, nothing else. I lay there pure as I ever would be, purer than the day I was born.
Then nothing, it all cut out and any sense of anything at all was taken from me.
Total oblivion, an endless void stretching out before me, but I was not afraid. I no longer had the capacity to feel. So I stared right back at the emptiness, just because I could.
TO BE CONTINUED