A Scent of Death

I could see the red splashes and wiggling stripes of blood in their eyes as they glared down at me, enraged. Fury and resentment was on exhibit on all six of their faces. Anger’s fire was reddening this once white space, carrying the foreshadowing of spilled blood.

There it was, staring me in the face. Death, before my time was due. This wrong turn I had taken was culminating with mortality’s call, to whatever waited beyond. Just hours earlier, a cataclysm was nowhere on my mind’s radar screen. For the past 9 months, I had been living the dreams that had gripped my imagination since boyhood: unceasing adventures in the savannah, desert and coastline of southern Africa.

A cold spot had arrived in Africa’s thus warm heart for me, her visitor. Violent shouts came my way. I was struck with terror as I obeyed orders to get to the ground. I sat on the cool evening soil in total submission to these fury filled men in the wilderness of eastern Zimbabwe, the veritable ends of the earth. The bush began to take on the scent of death.

Commands to get up and walk rang in my ears. The sticks they carried prodded me along the death march I was embarking upon. A shallow river crossing quickly arrived. I hopped from rock to boulder, avoiding the swift flowing current ready to grab my unsteady feet and sweep me downstream amid the crocodiles and hippos that make this tributary of the fabled Zambezi their home.

Once across to the far shore of the river, we joined a path through the shadowy African bush, each step another moment closer to the end. Sweaty panic swallowed me whole. I not only felt terrified, it was as if I had become fear itself. My captors conversed in the Shona language of which I knew not a word. What were they saying? Where were they taking me?

In those moments, my courage began to completely fail me. Untamed tears came rushing from my eyes as I pleaded ceaselessly for my life. Just then, the leader of the group took my hand, looked at me humanely, with the sincerity of a father, and parted his lips. “We are not going to hurt you. We are not going to kill you.”

In that moment, the promise of life was delivered within the promise of certain death.

After they took my backpack and camera, I was set free. I turned around and began to walk the opposite direction down that same trail, this time embarking upon a march of life. The path brought me to the river and eventually back to where my car was parked, and then along the rough jeep trails out of the wilderness, away from the potent scent of death.

R Kuja

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