Our lives are full of countless distractions which interfere with opportunities for good family time. It is challenging to find meaningful, trans-generational experiences that bring family and friends together to create wonderful memories.
Bengina and I spent three nights with some of our friends at Lebombo Lodge, and in this beautiful environment we shared the most perfect times together. We did special things apart from the more obvious routine of game drives in open vehicles. Most memorable was a walk at dawn that started along the top of a ridge that extends from the edges of the Lebombo mountain range, from there a clamber down the rocks to the N’wanetsi River bank and then under the canopy of the riverine forest beside the river. With the early morning sun rising over the trees and under the expert direction of our accompanying guide and tracker, we saw signs of the nocturnal activities of the night before. The track of a civet, the hop marks of a grey tree frog, fresh elephant dung and the distinctive shuffle tracks of hippos.
We had the excitement of seeing two uncommon species of bird and listened to many different bird calls in the fresh morning air. Our walk took us past caves in the cliffs along the river where white-rumped swifts were returning from their annual intra-African migration and we watched them swoop in and out the caves as they check out and lay claim to last year’s nests.
While we were watching the swifts we realized that there was a constant hissing noise in the background and further investigation revealed a pit filled with the most colorful but venomous vipers we had ever seen. Emilia felt panic begin like a cluster of spark plugs in her abdomen. Emilia Spice was ophidiophobic; she had a morbid fear for snakes. Tension grew in her face and limbs, in her bid to take flight wriggling her fingers in disgust; her 23 carat white gold solitaire engagement ring fell from into the pit. Clipper her fiancé was devastated; he didn’t know which to go for; his 15,000 dollar or his beloved Emilia. Suddenly Colette – a lady who had joined our morning hike because she missed her trip a day before jumped into pit.
Everyone went quiet and took steps backwards unconsciously. She landed in between more than a dozen snakes. She was still for a few seconds evaluating the state of the snakes. Then she slowly eases away from them, making no sudden movements. She tiptoed in between the slithering vipers to get to pick up the ring. Suddenly, she mistakenly alerted three vipers gliding on their bellies over parched soil and stones. One of the snakes drew its head and body back in an S curve. It seemed ready to strike. There was another snake stretched out to her side; its gaze was fixed on Colette, a dark tongue flitting into the air every few seconds, tasting the fear, the cologne, and the sweat. In those heads the size of a hand like thin fangs, they were ready to inject a fatal amount of venom deep into her muscles. Emilia found her escape route through a couple of other vipers slinking away from the intruding scent towards a dry twig. She hurriedly climbed up a boulder and pushed upward gaining a foot hold on the sandy pit wall; she pitched forward and tumbling over her back. She gave the ring back to the Emilia; Clipper was stunned – first by her bravery then by her beauty even though she was covered in dust.
“Thank you so much” Clipper said warmly with a smile.” That was a brave thing you did down there.”
We applauded, celebrating the hero. We were glad everyone was safe. It was a terrifying scene to watch.
We were quiet as we walked pass the natural spring nearby where fresh water bubbles directly from the earth flows down to create a life sustaining pool in the otherwise dry river bed. It was a beautiful sight but we were already exhausted from the life show Colette had put up.
Hours later, while we were having dinner under the stars I sat numb in an array of thoughts. I breathed the fresh air, torn between my loyalty and my desire to tell the truth. Emila has been cheating on Clipper with Paul – my colleague at the fire station for over three years now. She even recently got an abortion for him. All these years I was hoping Clipper would see the signs but he was just too blinded by his love for Emila; his first love.
I stared at the diamond ring seated upon Emilia’s finger, welded to a strangling band of the purest gold. “Should that ring belong to Emila? She has done nothing to deserve it. Colette risked her life to get the ring; I guess she would make a better owner,” I thought – maybe not as a band of love but as spoils for a warlord. I wrapped my arms around Bengina in a moment and I let my head rest upon her chest. I wished to clear my head and not terminate the cheer in the air.