“Shibboleth” – Fifth Part

November 12, 2008 at 11:04 pm (Ríta)

The morning could not have come too soon; I dreamt wildly, clutching at my chest, and when a servant gently shook me awake just after dawn, he told me that I had been talking incoherently in my sleep.
The day was hot; we could not do much more than sit under what shade we managed to fashion ourselves, or dip our feet in the water of the river. Alberto Olmedo was not unkind; the men we had brought with us were at leave to do as they pleased in the heat, unless one of us took ill.
I was certainly not well; my skin was pale and I felt cold. Ivan declared me feverish, and I was wrapped in blankets and given cold drinks to ease my chill and treat my symptoms. I excused myself from Sir Richard and Chema’s impromptu excursion down the riverbank, and Ivan warned them of crocodiles.
“They are not to be trifled with,” he said. “I will not be able to save you if you are wounded by a mature specimen.”
“He is quite right,” Maraña agreed. “We were safer in the canoes, but if you are wading, you will not be safe within thirty feet of an adult male.”
When they had gone, I began to wonder about our camp. There were no signs of large animals anywhere near the beach; it was only visited by birds and insects, and I had seen small fish in the shallows of the water. In this land of little water, the river should have been the focal point of animal life, a beach like this should have been the home of ten crocodiles at the very least, and yet we had not seen a single animal larger than a crow since we had landed in the canoes.
I did not speak my concern out loud: I was feverish and no-one would have given my worry much thought. Or, if they did, they would not know what to make of it. I knew that I had felt malevolence, discomfort, rising from the sand, riffling my hair with the breeze, freezing us with the blue light of the moon, dealing our cards.
My God! The sight of Chema! His leg reduced to so much meat! It was shredded beyond hope of recognition, just above the knee. Sir Richard, his face the colour of flesh submerged in freezing water, carrying the stricken man in his arms, both barefoot, a rifle slung over Chema’s shoulder dragging in the ground and leaving alien tracks in the sand, this is the sight that I awoke to in the midday sun.
Ivan was frantic; he had few supplies. He had the men build a large fire, and bade them stoke it as hot as they dared. An iron pan was heated in it until lit with the barest red glow from within. He had a tourniquet; Chema was held down and made to bite on something, I can’t remember what.
The leg was not salvageable. I did not see the amputation; Ivan insisted I retire. He left the steward to care for me. I asked for cotton to block my ears.

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