When we got to the hill it was already 4:00. Just three hours before dark. They’d told us to park at the base and look for trails but all we could see were thorny cow paths that twisted and vanished through the brush. Mari shrugged and we set out. It was only a hill, after all. If we got too tired we’d just turn back.
An hour and a half later we had scaled the rock face of Otse Hill. We had also learned that the “hill”-designation was a phenomenal understatement. Three thousand vertical feet had brought us to peak after peak. When we were certain we’d conquered our “hill” there was another summit, cresting in the background. We huffed and puffed and pressed on. At some point we agreed to stretch our distance so the rock landslides we unearthed wouldn’t keep tumbling onto the person hiking in the rear. At another point I stopped looking down to keep our steep vertical from giving me vertigo.
At last we peaked. The summit held the pride and exhaustion and splendor that mountaintops are famous for. We turned in slow, panoramic circles-- gasping at the dramatic expanse and absorbing the landscape in silent awe. The pictures muffle its depth and quiet the colors. Still, we remember the majesty of that vibrant green ocean and the way it impressed upon us a sense of being very strong and infinitely small. All at once.
Dappled in that exquisite landscape were Images that have come to mind
A monkey’s glare. A summit sign reading “wisdom”. Two frightened deer. A crystallized rock. And a very small hut that sat at a peak, adjacent to ours.
Maybe these things have significance. Maybe they are nothing but garnish. But I remember them now. And I remembered them Then. Then. Just two days later. When our world crashed and spun and slammed us harder than we’ve ever known. And when everything stood still. When we were small. Smaller than a breath in all that vast terrain. When we were practically nothing at all. Then.
Jessica you should have asked someone!
I did—we stopped in the village in Otse and asked for directions.
But what did they say!? They just let you go?
Well, yeah. I mean, they looked at us like we were kind of crazy but I just thought that was because it’s so high. You know—it’s the highest point in Botswana.
They looked at you like that because it’s cursed!
Lesego, I really don’t think—
I’m telling you. You’ve heard the story of those two lovers who went up and never came back.
But Lesego that’s just a story.
No it’s not. It’s cursed and now you are too. That hill is the place where our traditional healers get their power. That’s why. You shouldn’t have gone there. You should have asked first.
Lesego, I think you’re overreacting a bit. It was fine. Really. We are fine.
But you should have asked. Don’t ever do that again.
At first I can’t stop hyperventilating. I’ve never hyperventilated before and I find myself fascinated and disturbed by the sound. Still, I know I am not hurt and so I watch it play out. Like a spectator. A bystander who clasps her hand against her lips and tries to keep her eyes open.
For all I knew it took an hour. Time crawling like that. At first sadistically. And then, it seemed, to help us.
I remember blackness and scrawls of light. I remember Mari steering frantically. I remember hearing my name called and I can’t answer.
When the car stops I manage to breathe again and Mari says: There is blood in my mouth. And she says it over and over. And I’m scared and there are people everywhere. At all the windows.
When we get out of the car we hug each other and look at the damage. Our audience confirms that we are not hurt and then shouts at us to collect our things.
They are coming now! They are going to rob you! You must remove all your things from the car! Quickly!
Mari leans against the hood and breathes and asks about the police. A tow truck arrives. I find lip gloss and passports and cell phones and pens. They have stolen our leftovers from the restaurant and a package of gum. I find this sad and confusing.
The other car is also smashed but he’s walking. People tell us to sit down but I can’t help feeling like there’s something I should be doing. A man in the crowd catches my eye and I lock on him. He is soft. He says he will take us to the hospital. After the police come.
And so the police come. There are blue blinking lights. There are x-rays. There is a mechanic’s shop. There is a car rental company. There is a neck brace.
There is Mari in the gate, looking weak and exhausted. Hugging me goodbye.
There is an airplane.
Three days later I am feasting with a group of volunteers. Turkeys and pies and cocktails and cigarettes. At the end of the night we lie in the yard and stare at the stars. My neck is throbbing but I am elated.
Someone decides we should honor the holiday by sharing about the things we are grateful for.
The funny kid says turkey. The sentimental says all of you. Someone talks about their family. Someone describes their village. I look at my arms and legs and I breathe in and out. I’m thankful for that. I say this and people nod and sigh and do not understand.
There are bruises all across my pelvis from the seatbelt. I have been on pain medicine for a week for my neck. I have trouble sleeping and exercising because of the ache.
I also walk and cook and laugh and teach and lie on a blanket with my friends feeling enormously grateful.
Were we cursed or blessed?
Maybe neither. Maybe both.
Maybe we were just reminded of our size. Our infinite irrelevance. Our source of respect.
Three thousand feet above sea level.
360 degrees and spinning.
It is good to feel small. It is right.