A Close Call
Surviving the Swamps
By: Maggie Kuhn
“Duck, Leyla!” Arman yelled.
Leyla dodged the spinning machete as it crashed into the rock behind her. It had been a close call.
With a cry Leyla grasped Arman’s muscular arm, her tears wetting his shirt.
“That was a close call!” Leyla sobbed, choking back tears, that had already left their mark on Arman’s shirt.
Arman smoothed her hair and embraced her saying,
“It’s ok, it’s ok. You’re not hurt. They shouldn’t be back.”
Ahead, they could see the Nile snaking its way through the desert. The sky above had become a vibrant cyan color, and the clouds loomed like hungry hyenas closing in on their prey. The ragged sawgrass rose to their waists as they trudged through the safari.
As they progressed through the reeds and rotting flora, which were swallowed by the salty lake, they heard a sharp slicing sound.
Fearfully, Arman clasped his hand over Leyla’s mouth.
Through the underbrush they heard the slicing of grasses, silence and then, swish, swish, swish.
Arman Harriet had begun his descent to Rwanda to do investigative research on water mapping. Though his primary concern was water-mapping he was secretly in search of the phenomenal red-violet Rwandan amethyst. He had first become fascinated with this rock cut when his miner father had brought home a small Rwandan amethyst. Though this was only a childhood memory Arman’s life had been influenced by the stone’s beauty. Journeying to this land had never been in his plans, however, to his great appeal he had been chosen to explore the Rwandan Nile, enabling him to search for the beautiful Rwandan amethyst.
Choosing his seat beside the window, he securely adjusted the seat to his liking. Then Arman looked apprehensively around to the young lady across the aisle who seemed to be having difficulty with her bags into the overhead console. She had dark chestnut hair and a summer’s tan.
“Hello, I’m Arman,” Arman, quickly and might I say a little clumsily, extended his hand in greeting.
“Hi, I’m Leyla”
Standing up he helped her secure her bags in the above console.
Hmmm… She had a lot of bags, Arman couldn’t help but notice a compact water meter poking out from one of the bags.
Shy, but curious, Arman sheepishly asked,
“What brings you to Rwanda?”
“I’m on a business trip”
“Oh, how nice”
“Yes, well, it would be nice if it weren’t such a hazardous trip, but I do so enjoy adventure!”
Amazed, and somewhat befuddled, Arman realized someone else might have been sent to research water-mapping too. How curious, he didn’t remember hearing that anyone else was going on the same mission.
“Wow, what will you be doing there?”
“I am studying the fauna and flora of the Nile River Valley.”
At this moment a rattling sound chattered down the aisle and a rather buxom lady with a shoddily pressed navy dress and pumps arduously pushed a service trolley in between them.
“Hello, sir, sorry to interfere with ya’ll tawkin’ but I gotta’ get this trolley back. Can I get ya’ somethin’ to drink?” The lady had a deep Southern drawl, “We have water, sparklin’ water, and soo-da.”
Arman thought to himself, apparently, the airlines weren’t so picky about the attendants they hired.
“Well, do you have anything stronger?”
“Yessir’,” The attendant reached into her cart and pulled a drink menu, “Do ya’ see anythung’ ya’d want?”
“Can I get an ame– I mean scotch.. On the rocks, it’s going to be a long ride.”
“Yessir, here y’are”
“Mr. Harriet, Mr. Harriet, we’ve arrived at the gate”, the buxom attendant peered over his seat expectantly.
With a confused look and thoughts of the enchantingly beautiful Leyla, his brow crinkled with the realization that he had slept through all the landing announcements.
“Oh, dear, excuse me, sorry for not waking up,” he glanced at his watch then making a quick exclamation, grabbed his loose papers stuffing them haphazardly into his already full briefcase.
The meeting was at the UN Council building and was held by all the chief executives of the country. Arman briskly walked the glistening marble floors to the giant maple double doors and grabbing the polished handle turned it carefully and silently slid into the full conference room.
Perturbed, Arman chided himself, “Great, I’m late as usual.”
“Now, I understand that there has been some immediate hydro concerns for our nation, Rwanda,” Congressman Smith validated.
“I understand that the pollution has seeped into the Nile and is causing great thirst for our Rwandan nation, therefore, I move that the council decide upon enacting an organized water point mapping,” Justice Silman said, “in order for the mapping we must select someone to be our explorer and establish such a system.”
A long silence fell across the Congress, a soft shuffling of papers could be heard.
Standing, I straightened my tie and addressing the somewhat surprised crowd, though I must say I was just as surprised as they were,
“I vote my services to this cause”
Moved and seconded, the Congress had decided on the great adventure, that would take Arman across the world to find what I had been looking for.
Leyla and Arman had first met on the plane, mentioned beforehand. Quite a funny introduction at that. Subsequently, they had met and discussed their plans, which oddly enough aligned almost exactly. They were both going to the Nile. Leyla was going to study the herbaceous drought and sodium content of the native fauna and flora of the Nile River Valley. Arman, as mentioned before, was going to study organized water-point mapping and to find the mysterious whereabouts of the Rwandan amethyst.
The grass they had crouched down in was a gross mustard color and the ground was hard as rock beneath their feet. Arman moved his hand from Leyla’s mouth.
“I’m going to take a look around,” Arman cautioned.
He rose from the ground ducking through the grasses, leaving Leyla alone, breathing in stifled shallow breaths of the humid air.
She had known this would happen, her left here alone, she had wanted the gem, but not nearly this bad. Finding courage she started counting 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, sometimes when she kept this up long enough she could forget where she was with her concentration on the numbers 1-2-3, 1-2-3.
Something moved in the brush in front of her.
Swish, swish, swish.
She closed her eyes, hoping to remember some fragment of comfort: her kitchen at home, the smell of baked bread or piping hot coffee.
Swish, swish, swish,
Suddenly, she saw a vorpal blade hack through the underbrush. A blackened face appeared through the reeds. Suddenly, he sprang at her, covering her mouth to extinguish any cry she might utter. Held in shock she struggled against the muscular black arms that held her hostage. Squirming and writhing as her captor dragged her deeper into the jungle.
Arman, happily waded through the reeds, thinking how relieved he was to have not found any invaders or bushmen. How reassured Leyla would be that they were safe from the native tribes. Tromping through the reeds he came to the spot where he had left Leyla, no, maybe it was a little farther. So, he trugged a little farther, still no one.
“Leyla? Leyla?” Now his voice had become somewhat panic-stricken.
Moving more reeds and stomping through the silt and waste of the dirty waters his heart beat like a congo drum. He began running through the thrushes, exclaiming again and again for his lost lover.
After repeatedly calling into the wilderness of the swamp, he began earnestly searching the ground and turning every reed and thrush that blocked his way in hope of finding her.
What had happened? He had only been gone a few minutes? Had she been eaten by a crocodile? Or worse yet, bride napped by one of the aborigines?
Leyla struggled against the tight bondage of rope that held her legs together. She saw the glimpse of a wavering candle in the little space under her blindfold. The space she was confined in was silent.
Arman had found footprints at last. After carefully examining these he saw that the tracks looked more masculine but smaller than average. He saw the tracks looked to be of someone carrying something. Leyla’s tracks were not there.
Immediately, he became terrified that Leyla had been abducted. Even worse, bride napped by the pygmies. He must find her before they harmed the woman he intended to marry.
Ahead he could see dark smoke rising in the pallid blue sky, there must be a village nearby. He dodged through the trees and over the mountainous ground working his way closer to the pluming smoke. There he glimpsed several huts, shaped like beehives. He reasoned that this must be a Hutu village. Rushing to the closest hut, he thrust open the wooden door to reveal an empty hut. Hastening to the next door he whipped the door open with the same speed and urgency to reveal the kidnapped Leyla. Leyla was bound to the center pole of the hut and blindfolded.
“Leyla, Leyla” Arman urgently whispered as he hurried to unknot the cords of rope that held her hostage. After unfastening them he embraced her crying body against his momentarily. Then gently he grasped her hand and with the urgency of getting out of the hut unseen hurried with her to the door of the hut and listened. Outside the native men performed the tribal melodies of bullroarers, songs sung to their native deities.
“Hurry, if we go quickly, they won’t notice us.” Arman grabbed Leyla’s hand and ducked out of the tent.
They crouched through the empty houses silently their frightened breath coming out in little huffs that collided with the humid forest air.
The noises of the tribal rituals filled the village and to their advantage the whole tribe had congregated in the middle. Or so they thought.
They hurried out amongst the weeds that lead into the dense forest. They were close to the swamp and the thrushes they could duck through unseen. Which, in a strange way provided some reassurance. Hastily, they reached the swamp and immediately heard a loud crackling of brush ahead and a deep growling.
Their hearts jumped in unison as they braced themselves for the horror ahead.
Seizing Leyla’s arm tighter, he gulped a forced breath, as the toothed creature entered the clearing and savagely charged towards them with a menacing look glistening from his murderous eyes.
Leyla was terrified, but had remembered their training in school about the Crocodylus (crocodile) species. As they both stood looking at the terrifying creature approaching they both knew this might be the end. Gazing briefly and affectionately at each other knowing that this glance might be their last.
The creature went directly for Arman who stood in front of Leyla. The crocs mouth ripped Arman’s flesh, blood spurting and thin bloody lines racing down Arman’s leg. Now was the time. Arman desperately thrust his arm through the crocodiles gnashing teeth and quickly jerked the epiglottis. Leyla, knowing her part, swiftly thrust a sharp stick she had found in between the croc’s jaws. During this instant, Leyla and Arman hoped that their studies on animal escape had not been in vain. Thrusting the croc’s jaws apart the crocodile writhed back into the muddy swamp. Vanishing into the deeper parts of the murky swamp.
Arman breathed deeply and squeezed his bleeding leg, which had been torn open and oozed blood. Leyla hurried to his side ripping her shirt in pieces to create a kind of tourniquet until they were to safety. Arman, though still conscious had little feeling in his leg, and was unable to walk without assistance.
Though still oozing blood at least the shirt provided something of a bandage. This would decrease the bleeding and increase his chances of not bleeding to death. They were back in the jungle now, still as they had left it. Then something rolled through the weeds and the sound of exhaust filled the air. An automobile pulled into view.
They had been saved! The van screeched in front of Leyla and the nastalgic Arman, who after his heroic exertion and the van’s arrival, fainted. The unconscious body of her dear Arman was immediately hoisted into the van. Two men were in the car. They both had park ranger uniforms on. The nearest hospital was 20 miles away, they might be able to make it. Hitting the accelerator, the man driving careened the car through the jungle. Within minutes they reached the sandy road that stretched endlessly in front of them.
“Arman, Arman, dear, are you still with me?,” Affectionately Leyla cradled Arman’s limp body in her arms. Indeed, Leyla’s fear was met with tears of anguish.
It had been Arman’s ending call.