The Baobab Tree (5)
Reflections on the water.
‘Thulani loved her?’
She broke away from the embrace and rested her head on his chest. He smelled of nature, the tang of fresh young leaves sitting on the wind as it whispered through the forest. The thick, misty aroma released by cold, clear, water, tumbling and rolling over boulders heavy with moss. She breathed him in, her head spun with the intensity. She gripped his arms and looked again into his permanently raised hood. Two smouldering embers looked back at her. Reaching with both hands she drew his cowl down to rest on his shoulders.
He took her hand in his and led her into the centre of the clearing. Turning to face her he put his arms around her and drew her to him.
Busisiwe shook her head as she pushed him away.
“Thulani, I must hurry, I’ve stayed here too long. My people are dying. I really can’t stay. I must get to the Sangoma village. Please Thulani, I must go, and I must go now.”
She turned away from him. His hand slipped from her waist, he caught her wrist as she turned to go.
“No, Thulani. Please, I really must go, my people are depending on me.”
She twisted her hand away and turning her back on him once more, she made her way quickly towards the small hill leading to the path through the trees.
He ran after her, calling as he went.
“Sangoma, time here, as I have already told you, moves very slowly. For every hour spent here, only a very few minutes will have passed in your world. You will feel you have been here with me for two or three hours Busisiwe, but very little time has passed for your friends who surround your physical body as you lie asleep against the bark of the old Baobab.”
She stopped and turned to face him.
“Even so Thulani, the longer I linger here, the greater the risk for my village.”
“Stand here Busisiwe, for only a few short minutes...Please, I have to show you something.”
He stepped into the centre of the clearing. He crouched down and taking his stick in both hands he began to make a circle. The staff glowed as he spun slowly round and round. A pale continuous light burned into the ground as it followed the staff. Then she saw it; the earth was sinking within the circle. As it gained depth, water gurgled up from below filling the space with clear water.
Thulani placed the tip of his staff on the water’s edge. He rested his cheek on the pole and blew slowly along its length. A fine veil of fog slipped sylphlike down the shaft, clinging to and wrapping itself snakelike around the wood as it went. When the silver mist touched the pool it expanded into white undulating clouds which hugged tightly to the water. They rolled backwards and forwards along the surface. Thulani walked slowly around the pool, stopping here and there to pass his staff over the swirling clouds sending them rumbling and tumbling backwards and forwards across the basin. He raised his staff above the pond and the fog cleared.
Tipping his pole he placed the bottom of it against the edge of the pool. As he walked around the perimeter, the light from his staff again permeated the ground, slicing the edges of the pond like a cake. He slung his staff onto his back and using surprising strength, he raised the pool. A perfect reflection of the night sky rolled along the surface of the pool as he lifted it. Then a tall slender woman holding a digging stick filled the center of the mirror.
For the first time in her life she could see her unblemished reflection. The image was clear and perfectly focused, not like the small pools left by the rains, or the rippling river water she normally looked into. No she was looking at the beautiful face, of a stranger.
‘This very tall and lithe woman wasn't her. This woman had ever so perfectly shaped eyebrows. Like the wings of a great bird of prey they swept gracefully up from the bridge of her nose before dipping in an elegantly thinning arch. Her long, black eyelashes tipped upwards above her beautiful but sad eyes. Those eyes had nurtured and attempted to heal, only to be thwarted again and again. Those eyes had stayed awake night after night and day after day. Those eyes had cried and laughed with fathers and mothers and with daughters and sons. Those eyes had watched mothers unselfishly strain and push themselves to exhaustion as they brought babies screaming into the world. Those eyes had watched helplessly as she buried friends and loved ones. Busisiwe looked into those beautifully sad eyes and knew them for her own.
She watched as tears sparkling in the moonlight, flowed slowly down her face, just as they rounded her full lips she caught them with her tongue. The salt stirred her into the present. She continued to look at her reflection. A faint, but constant glow surrounded her; this must be what Thulani was talking about. Her glowing aura of life, as he determined it to be.
Then the guilt rushed over her. She saw again the suffering of her people; the painful blistering, and suppurating lesions, the burning fever and bleeding mouths and noses. The slow, excruciating and emaciating death, before the illness progressed to the next Victim.
She dropped to her knees, with her head held back and her arms at her side she let loose a long drawn out wail. Thulani dropped the ‘mirror’ and ran to her. Kneeling beside her he drew her head to his chest and rocked her like a baby.
“My beautiful Sangoma, please forgive me, I exist in this dark, timeless world, I have little regard for the concept of time, here, everything just is.”
He stroked her hair and continued to rock her. After a few minutes she calmed. Busisiwe lifted her head towards Thulani and they kissed, not a passionate kiss but one of acceptance. They were a couple now. They would look out for and comfort each other from now on. With his hand in hers, they helped each other to rise. She stood in front of him and wiped the tears from her face.
“Please forgive me Thulani, When I looked into your ‘pool’ and saw my reflection, I was shocked. It reminded me of why I have come here, and of the terrible suffering of my people. I have to get to the old Sangoma to ask if they can help me. I know and understand what you mean about the time differences between this world and mine Thulani, but I have an urgent need to get to the Sangoma village. Please, I must go there now.”
“We will go together Busisiwe. It isn't far,”
Hand in hand they climbed the small hill and walked along the stone lined path. The trees and ‘monsters’ kept their distance and soon they reached a wide clearing. The path ended at the edge of a cliff, two shields with crossed spears flanked the entrance to a narrow rope bridge.
Old, chipped, and split slippery slats made up the floor of the rickety and ancient bridge. A thick, mist rolled and swirled just above the surface. Thulani turned and placed both hands on Busisiwe’s shoulders. He looked into her eyes and said. This is new Busisiwe, something has changed. I’ve been to the Sangoma village before and this bridge wasn’t here. There was a narrow stone lined pathway just like the one we have come along, but this ravine wasn’t here, Someone, or something very powerful has created this, we must be very careful.
“You wait here Light of my heart. There are things in this place that can hurt you more than falling from a weak bridge. I will go across, and when I’m certain it is safe, I will return”.
Thulani gripped the left hand rope and placed the base of his staff on the first slat and stepped onto the bridge. The ropes groaned and the bridge began to sway. A light wind stirred the mist which lifted slightly before folding in on itself and revealing more of the broken planks and a wide gap where a slat was hanging from one side.
He stepped onto the next strip, his foot slipped on the smooth wet surface but he steadied himself using his pole and the rope in his left hand, looking through the gap, he could see a long way down and across to the other side. Trees and vines clung precariously to the cliff. A waterfall pushed its way out of the almost vertical rock and fell in a long, white, foaming cascade. The sun sparkled and gleamed brightly all along the length of the rushing water.
Thulani froze. He stared at the shimmering water, the sun...He had never seen the sun. A tremor ran along his body, with his head spinning he tried to turn back the way he had come but his legs were shaking.
‘How is this possible? There is no sun in this plane; there has only ever been the moon, the stars and the blessed moonlight. Where has this sunlight come from?
He was confused and frightened. The memory of the bright ray of sunlight gleaming on the water continued to flash in his mind. He was confused, and was quickly becoming disorientated. He reached for the rope and missed. He tried again, this time he caught the rope and held it tightly. The rope began to shake alarmingly.
‘What was happening to him?’
He dropped his staff, it rattled on the slats and jammed itself in between two strips. He bent to retrieve It before it slipped through. As he stretched for the staff, his arm holding the rope shook faster and faster. His whole body was shaking now and he was becoming dizzy and nauseous.
A flash of sunlight again burned into his eyes. He looked beyond his staff, and down, far down below, a silver river of glistening sunlight wended its way between tall trees, vultures glided above the leaf canopy, and thin, white, whispers of clouds glided slowly and quietly below him. His breath was coming faster and his head was pounding. His eyes rolled back into his head, he slipped into unconsciousness, his body hit the thin floor of the bridge. The ancient and time-worn slats gave way beneath him, and Thulani, boatman, ferryman, and protector of lost spirits, fell among the spinning remains of the bridge floor and down towards the sparkling sun kissed river 1,000 feet below.