To my left and right were trees that went on for miles and miles. Everywhere I turned, all I could see were more trees. Where am I? I asked my confused and terrified self. Still wondering how I got to wherever that place was, my eyes strayed off my newfound environment to myself. Filthy would be understating it. The tasty red dress I wore the night before was no longer recognizable; it was ripped and torn as though a violent bear had walked right through me. Suddenly, fear gripped me tighter than the binds that tied my hands and feet but I shook it off and activated my survivor mode.
The first thing I had to do was to break these binds. I studied the twine that restrained me and started looking for ways to cut them loose. Just then I heard voices in the distance. It came from above me, where I had so inelegantly fallen minutes ago. It sounded like a bunch of men looking for something or perhaps someone. I stayed still and listened to them as they approached. I wanted to shout out for help, but a voice whispered in my ear not to. Instead, I crawled behind the tree and tried to conceal myself behind its trunk, keeping an eye in their direction. I hoped to find a savior amongst them.
Emerging from the shadows of the trees was a masked man. He stood above me with 4 other masked men standing a few feet behind him. One of them men who I presumed to be their leader wore mud-stained wellington boots, a pair of faded blue jeans, and a black t-shirt with ‘Harlem’ written across. And he was armed with a sickle. Yes, a sickle. Farmer, hunter, or butcher? My money was on the last of the 3 options. My heart rate increased. I shut my eyes and prayed desperately for this to be a dream. Two seconds later, it was clear that this was really happening to me.
As quietly as I could, I stood up on my knees and started to grate my restraints against the bark of the tree, hoping to repeat the magic with my blindfold. In the quiet of the forest, I suppose the scraping sound carried further than I had expected. They went silent. I also stopped. Then I leaned oh so slightly to the side of the tree to see what was happening above me. Apparently, there was a striking difference between my light skin tone and the dark tree bark. Immediately, he spotted me and called out to his friends.
“Onie, mɛhuno,” he shouted, letting his friends know that he’d seen me. They turned to follow him, searching for a safe path down the steep descent.
With speed I didn’t know I possessed, I scraped my hands on the casing of the tree. My middle finger got stuck in between the groove of the bark, pulling out the entire nail. It hurt like hell, but if my face could take it, so could my hands. One loose cord was all I needed and that’s exactly what I got. I put my canines to work and ripped the rope apart like a ferocious beast. I groped about on my knees and my now emancipated hands looking for a sharp object to cut my feet loose. By this time, the masked man with the sickle was halfway down the descent.
Desperately, I wiggled my feet to try and shake it off. It didn’t work. Obviously. So I got up on my feet and started to hop like a rabbit. I didn’t get very far. After bouncing no more than 3 meters I fell and almost hit my head on an old rusty ax head. Just as I was about to complain about how dumb my luck was, it occurred to me that my luck was rather sharp. I picked up the ax head and within seconds, my feet were free. Ax head in hand, I run like my life depended on it, because it did. A masked man holding a sickle in the middle of the forest was no savior and so by whatever means, I had to widen the gap between them and me. It didn’t matter where I was going, all I knew was that I needed to be as far away from the ‘Harlem Sickle Gang’ as possible. But it was harder than I had imagined.
Running barefoot on a slippery forest floor should be considered an Olympic sport. It requires a lot of effort to maintain one’s balance. I felt them gaining on me and heard them calling for me to stop. I was in full flight mode and naturally refused to comply with their demands. I heard one of them fall and complain about how slippery the floor was. I wasn’t about to stop and help him up.
One thing I remember from my athletics coach in high school was, “Never look behind you, lest you break your momentum”. My predators obviously had no clue that the person they kidnapped still holds an unbeaten record for the fastest 200-meter dash in my high school. I have my name and everything on the wall to prove it. I may not have gone pro, but I still had some running in me and I was going to pull out everything I got.
I kept running for what felt like eternity until I came to a river. How was I supposed to get to the other side when I couldn’t swim. There was no telling how deep the water was and if I could wade through it to the other side without drowning. I made a mental note to sign up for swimming lessons when I got back home. If I ever got back home. Here I was, literally caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, okay, brown muddy river. Either way, I was stuck. Where were Moses and his staff when you needed him?
Putting aside my fear, I stepped into the river barefoot. I would have to go at it on blind faith. After all, if I survived a 16-foot fall blindfolded I could survive this also. The water quickly rose to my thorn-scraped shin as I stepped in, and then to my knees. Halfway across the river, it had come up to my chest. I steadied myself as the river’s current rushed past me. I held my breath in anticipation of going into a watery grave. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. The heavens were on my side. I took a few more strained steps, forcing the water out of my way. The riverbed appeared to rise after that, and before I knew it, I was on the other side.
I saw the men run to the riverbank and stop abruptly at its brim. One of the men — I presumed it was the one who fell — came from behind and was about to jump in when he was held back by their leader. With his sickle, he pointed to a large rough-textured moving object on the bank of the river no more than 5 meters away from where they stood. It was an alligator! Slowly it started to make its way into the water.
By then I was wheezing and completely out of breath. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had waded through a river with an alligator for a spectator! I couldn’t decide whether to be proud of myself or shocked at my momentary lack of awareness. The alligator had moved into the water and was now fully submerged in it. It faced my pursuers, as though shielding me from them. I had never in my life been so grateful for alligators.
When I realized they were not going to come after me, I sat down to rest. Mr Sickle-wielding man waved his sickle wildly at me and motioned with it across his throat. It was meant to be a threat. I picked up my ax head, smashed its blunt end on a stone, and pointed to him. That riled him up. I was glad.
I got up and headed into the woods on the other side of the river in search of safety. As I was running away, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I knew him. There was something so familiar about him. I just couldn’t put a finger on it. The boots, there was something about those boots.
>>>The author is a writer, poet, and pocket philosopher