Public Key (Lvii)

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Deep…

What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tell anyone. What was I supposed to do? Just sit in my hut? I’d been doing that. For the last three days I’d been doing that. For weeks and weeks I’d been doing that! I couldn’t sit in my hut any more. I couldn’t cut myself off any more. I was cut off! I was as far away as I could be. I was doing everything I could do to hide. It wasn’t working, now was it? I was in my hut. Still they were tracking me. What could I do? What was I supposed to do? WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?

Suddenly my room felt very small. Very, very small.

I had to get out of that room. I didn’t think it was useful, or productive, or even rational. But I had to get out of the room.

I tied on my sandals, pulled my cloak over my head, splashed some sunblock over my face, grabbed a bottle of water, started walking.

The main road crossed the river at Sekong and came awful close to it at Majakaneng. In between the two the river wended away, at times as much as three miles away. I didn’t want to cross the river; it was wide and fast and fucking cold. I didn’t want to cross the road; there were villages, there were people, there were cars, there were eyes all sorts of eyes. That left me about eight square miles of land to explore. And in the weeks I’d been there, I’d explored them all.

I needed to get beyond that. I needed to get away.

I walked to the far side of my peninsula. There was a little creek there that ran downhill. I followed it down to the river. It had worn its own little canyon in to the earth, just enough to cut through the walls of the larger canyon the river had made. In ten minutes I was at the edge of the water.

At this crossing the river was two hundred feet across, slow-moving and seeming shallow. Up about two hundred yards in either direction it was maybe a quarter as wide. It was fast-moving. I had no idea how deep.

I knew that getting sopping wet in freezing water was no way to allow for a long walk. Death by exposure wasn’t my idea of a romantic end to my tale. But I wanted to get across that river. I needed to. I needed to. So I would.

I found a spot where the water was particularly rough. It bubbled and roared and broke itself white. I thought I could see rocks just below the surface. I hoped I did.

I took off my sandals. Then I took off my pants. I wrapped my cloak up around my waist. I then put my sandals back on, and, probing ahead with my walking stick, set to make my crossing.

I went slowly. I didn’t have a choice. The rush of the water nearly knocked me over at every step. I found I had to angle my walk somewhat upstream to keep from being swept away. It was hard to find my footing on those smooth rocks. The staff helped, until it dislodged a rock that went rolling past me like a cannonball. Using the staff downstream of me, using it as a brace, I was able to fight the current and my own unsure feet. By the time I was getting the hand of it, I was across the river.

My boxers were a little wet, but not bad. My skin was turning a little blue, but it went away. I walked for a minute until I started to shiver, then I wiped myself with the outside of my cloak and wrapped my legs in it like a skirt. In a few minutes I was warm. I guess I had good fashion sense after all.

I took of my sandals, wiped my feet, put them back on, and got walking.

There was a sheer rock wall upstream. So I walked downstream. After a while the ground slanted up past the fortyfive degree point. By walking across it rather than straight up it I managed to reach a point where I could pull myself up to the surface.

I was in the eye of a big hairpin, its sides defined by the backbending river. I was maybe three hundred feet above the surface of the water. I decided I’d go upstream, into totally unexplored territory. I think I was heading west. Most of the time.

I walked and I walked.

I came to some terracing where a crop of corn-stalks was just about up to my knees. I passed a shepherd with three dogs walking past me, probably looking to spell his brother for the night shift. I cross a small creek, then another, then another. I walked over a hill with a rough stone top. I interrupted two boys out hunting with a surprisingly new-looking rifle. I apologized to them. They laughed at my clothing. We were even. I was on my way.

It was just like walking through the woods in America. Except there weren’t any trees. And I wasn’t in America.

The river bent. I bent with it. Across the way I saw people on terraced land spreading fertilizer. I came to a steep drop. I walked along the ridge looking at the river far below. I followed it for a time, away from the river, until it intersected with the level of the land. Then I walked back down to the river, and kept walking.

The sun was getting low in the horizon. I still had walking left within me. So I shrugged, drank some water, and walked.

It was dark out. I was getting a little nervous. I suppressed it. I was getting hungry. That was less easily suppressed. Next time I did this I’d need to pack myself a lunch. Also a tent. And a gun.

How about a supermodel while I was at it? I was fine. I put down my shoulders, and kept walking.

Finally I was getting tired. My feet were starting to catch fire. I knew they’d burn down to embers and the embers would keep burning for days. I saw some terracing, this time for vegetables. I walked through it until I came to a footpath. I followed the foot path for half an hour, and it disappeared. I turned and followed it back again and then twenty minutes more. And I came to a village.

There were maybe forty houses, all rondavels. I came out of the darkness into the circle of a campfire where about a dozen people were gathered, all women, combing wool. I think I scared the crap out of them. I moved slowly, stood tall, then bowed very low. And almost fell over.

Two of them left and got some guys. They didn’t speak English. I knew about six words in Sotho. I knew enough to know that I couldn’t pronounce any of them myself. I smiled dumbly, and pointed to the fire, and mimed sitting down, and rubbing my feet.

The dudes scowled. The ladies laughed. I got taken by either arm, sat by the fire, and a comb was put in my hand.

And I sat there. And warmed myself. And combed wool. And got laughed at. A lot. Mostly because of the fact that I was doing it at all. But plenty because of how bad I was at it.

There was always a dude nearby. But the ladies had clearly picked up on the fact that I was just a bougie kid who was about as far from His Element as he could get. They picked on me mercilessly and I blushed appropriately. And rested my feet. And even had a glass of water pressed on me, and then another when I drank that one in half a heartbeat.

The youngest of the women was no more than a girl. Maybe ten, maybe fifteen – I’ve always been bad with guessing ages. The oldest of the women would have been eighty in America. In Lesotho, she was maybe sixty. Maybe fifty. I don’t know.

Later in the night, when the moon was rising in the sky, they brought me a bowl of fatty lamb stew and a glass of beer. It was the best stew I’d ever eaten, because I was starving. It was the best beer I’d ever drank, because it was. The fact that it was made about thirty feet away didn’t hurt.

I guessed I wasn’t the first foreigner who’d gotten himself lost and ended up there. If they treated everyone as well as they treated me, then there were many people in the world who they had treated like a prince.

After that, first with hand-gestures and then with pulling, they brought me over to a hut. An old woman pinched my cheeks, a young girl looked me up and down, neither gesture did anything but befuddle me further. Then they put me in the hut and closed the door behind me. Moonlight streamed down into the room; I saw that part of the roof had collapsed. Ah well. Beggars can’t be choosers.

The night was warm and the day was done. I curled up on the floor, wrapped myself in my cloak, and went to bed.

 

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~ by davekov on 26 February 2011.

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