Public Key (Lxxxvi)

We left the camp heading north-east, taking an easy ford across the stream which had first baptized me into the country. I approached the main road slowly, then when I saw there was no traffic I all but sprinted us across it. I was sure I was being less than inconspicuous. I didn’t care. I was sure Hannah noticed. She didn’t say anything. I knew she wouldn’t.

I turned to look at her, and smiled. She returned it, and nodded her head.

We kept walking.

We walked up a low rise – low by Lesotho standards; four hundred feet – and then we were among the crops. I saw a tractor off in the distance, and many people on the terraces of farmland. It struck me how industrious my neighbors were, to tame the mountains to the plow. In America you just had to wander around an Iowan backyard with a handful of seeds. Small wonder we’re all fat. Not so much in Lesotho.

We climbed, slowly and steadily, following cart-paths as they curved between outcroppings of rock. I saw a small village over to my left; less than five miles from my house, and I’d never known it was there. I could feel Hannah’s desire to go investigate, but I turned us to the right, into more pasturage, and we kept walking.

We stopped after about two hours, just to take a breath. We’d walked maybe four miles, but we’d gained about half a mile in altitude. I was used to such changes, but I could hear Hannah’s breathing coming hard. We split a bottle of water and I gave us each an apple. Surrounded on three sides by hills covered in golden corn, listening to the sounds of a running brook and the squawks of birds fighting for seed.

We kept walking.

We stayed on the side of a hill until we’d rounded it. We cut through a shallow valley and then did it again. We started to descend just as the sun reached the height of the sky. We walked through two miles of fields, all deserted as the people who worked them returned to their villages for lunch. We picked up a little stream then another, and before long we were at the banks of a river.

It was the beginning of the dry season in Lesotho. The river was barely twenty feet across. The banks were full of wet sand and mucky silt. Instead I had us climb up the face of the valley side, cutting across it so we wouldn’t go from walkers to rock-climbers. We reached a point where the ground was flat, and decided we’d come to the top.

Have you been here before? Hannah asked.

No. Never.

Do you know where we’re going?

Mostly.

Can we stop here for lunch?

Oh hell yes.

She produced a jar of peanut butter, I a loaf of bread, she a water-bottle full of mountain tea, and me a knife.

My legs burned most pleasantly. I reapplied sunscreen, but I knew it would only do so much. We’d covered maybe five miles in four hours. I was impressed with our speed.

I knew the first leg of the journey would be the hardest. That was where the villages were concentrated. That was where the people were, with all their eyes, and me with my famous face. In our morning’s walking we’d passed by a dozen villages and miles of road. If we headed north the huts would thin out, then the farms, then everything, and soon we’d be beyond the reach of man.

We finished out lunch, pointed ourselves north, and kept walking.

We didn’t talk much. The walking was too hard, and the country too much to see. There were hills here, in low curves or great ridges, like the town where I was born had blades of grass. We followed a creek for maybe two hours, starting with low hills on either side of us and ending up flanked by five hundred foot peaks. We backtracked little, to avoid a sheer cliff-face, then rounded a great low mountain and cut over three wide plateau. We were sometimes near the river, sometimes far, for here it doubled back upon itself like a length of string dropped straight to the ground.

We stopped once on a mountain-side, again in a strange little thicket of trees. Hannah rubbed the soreness from her legs. I watched her, and didn’t hide it.

We kept walking.

We crested a hill and found ourselves within a few hundred yards of a little village. I kept my eyes straight ahead and we walked past it. If anybody saw us they didn’t let on. After that I brought us down closer to the river, and we walked in the shadow of the walls it had carved form the earth.

The sun was getting low in the horizon, the temperature was cooling, the wind was picking up, and I was starting to lose my drive. We went over a low hill, then another, and then before us was a steep rise of maybe eight hundred feet. It was all terraced by crops, so it could be climbed, though I didn’t see how. Even circumventing it would have been more of an effort than I wanted to bring to bear. I wasn’t even sure if I could. And I said so.

Hannah stood straight up, dropped her backpack from her shoulders, then sat down on top of it and started taking off our shoes.

I take it you feel the same way, I said.

Just so long as we both know you quit first, she said.

I chuckled, there at the base of that cliff, there miles from the nearest person, there near the far end of the world. And my chuckle turned into a laugh. And I laughed and she grinned and then I fell to the ground beside her, and just lay there, and watched as darkness swept the world.

I looked about us, but there was no tinder to gather. We had bread and peanut butter and then Hannah lit a propane fire to make tea. The river-water was silty and almost still but there was a little stream about a hundred yards away. I managed to summon the strength to fill the kettle, as well as all our water-bottles. And we drank tea. And spent the next hour taking turns walking into the darkness to pee.

I rummaged in my pack and found the last of my Nutella. My stomach turned just to look at it. Hannah’s reaction was more of salivation. She made short work of it. I cut the container in half and stored the pieces in my bag. I thought about leaving it there with our camp, but couldn’t bring myself to pollute the landscape. Not when we’d walked more than ten miles, and hadn’t seen so much as a cigarette butt.

We set up Hannah’s tent. It was larger than she’d said it was. I was relieved. At least I think I was. We brushed our teeth with stream-water, and saying hardly a word to each we climbed into the tent.

We lay side by side, maybe a foot of space between us. She put her blanket down on the ground and then climbed into her sleeping-bag. I wrapped myself in my cloak, which was little but a blanket, and put my sweatshirt under my head as a pillow.

We stopped adjusting our bedding. We stopped moving, and suddenly the world was silence. Our breathing was heavy in that very small tent. I could hear the movement of her body in its bedclothes, close enough that I could reach out and touch her.

She lay on her back, not looking at me, not looking away.

Hannah, I said.

Yes?

I didn’t have anywhere to go from there, so I said the only think I could think of:

Goodnight.

I could feel her grinning. Goodnight, she said. Rolled over, and went to sleep.

 

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~ by davekov on 13 March 2011.

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