Rafting on Zambezi (Water and Fire)

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Part III

Hama and I set up the tents a few hundred feet away from the river. Leonie sat on a stone and her gaze lay on the steaming horizon of the Zambezi Gorge. The evening sunlight shone on her face and arms in a way that I could only see her silhouette filled with warm and dim light. Hama and Matty collected wood from the forest and started the campfire. 

The river. Gorge. Mountains. Boulders. Sky. Sunset. Campfire. The land without buildings and buzzing, annoying human noises. Hama, Matty, Leonie, and I sat around the fire, which itself linked us to the sky and back to the earth. The air was filled with the Zambezi’s evening breeze. I felt that the rhythms of the evening’s tranquility took away anguish, hopelessness, and sorrow and brought color to our journey.

Suddenly Leonie got up, moved away from the fire and stared at the setting sun. Between Leonie and me was the camp fire, but I could see that her eyes were closed. I was looking at Leonie through the fire like a bird looking at a river before taking flight… And then Leonie started dancing. She danced barefoot, moving slowly and monotonously. Her arms were gently moving up and down. The sound of her moving heels penetrated the soil. At one point she stopped with her hands raised up into the air. It looked as if she was holding the sun in her palms. Leonie was like a messiah waiting for her people to follow on the path through the desert.  I could feel the rhythm of her silent prayer as if it only belonged to me. 

I could no longer feel my age, angst, or restlessness. I closed my eyes and turned my face toward the night which was faintly lit by the fire. I heard the crackling of the burning wood. I was in peace with myself…

Despite all my rollercoaster emotions during the day, I didn’t feel tired, but I knew I needed to go to sleep and wake up early in the morning. So, I decided to leave. I said goodnight to everyone and went to my tent. Soon after I fell asleep. 

I woke up in the middle of the night. My watch showed  fifteen minutes after one. I opened the door of the tent and peeked outside. All of a sudden, I saw someone walking on the trail. It was Leonie. She followed the path that was leading to the river. She didn’t go all the way to the river, stopped near a big boulder and laid down on her back, her hands folded under her head, she stared at the sky. After a few minutes, Leonie closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the river ferociously raging in the gorge. A few mosquitoes were hovering around Leonie’s body, but she didn’t pay attention to them.

I got up and started walking slowly toward her. I sat down on the ground near her and looked at her: She was breathing deeply with her eyes closed. They were full of tears. I didn’t want to disturb her peace, but it wasn’t safe to be alone near the river. I knew, somewhere hungry crocodiles were wandering around looking for prey and Leonie would be an easy target.

“Leonie.”

Leonie didn’t move nor open her eyes.

“Leonie,” I tried to explain to her in a calm voice, “It’s not safe to be here alone.”

She opened her eyes and looked at me. She had tears in her eyes.

“Why are you crying Leonie?” I murmured. 

“I don’t know.”

“Leoni,“ I wanted to say something, but she placed her index finger on my lips.

“Shh.”

She moved closer to me, so close I could feel her breathing. Her tears were running down to her chin and her chest. She took my cheeks into her hands and gently kissed me. 

And then she slowly walked away from me. She stopped in front of her tent, looked at me, and whispered:

“Come with me.”

To be continued… 

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