“Not much more now,” he said. “You’ve got to believe me.”
She looked up to see his figure standing erect against the frantic blue of the sky. “How can you be sure?” or “You’ve been saying that for hours!” she wanted to yell, or at least whine. No voice, though. Just a throatful of husks she could not swallow, a mouthful of gritting teeth and her eyes filled with tears. Tears like diamonds. Tears getting quickly dry.
“Brian, please,” she managed to whisper. He didn’t hear, but stopped to wait for her. She was thankful and mad at the same time. Her powerlessness made her furious, though it was nobody’s fault that they had lost their way repeatedly that day. At the same time she felt grateful for the brief pause. Seeing him there, she knew she was not capable of another step. She wanted to reach him and then stop again, but her feet wouldn’t move. Amanda just sat and then lay down in exhaustion. Brian hopped down back to her and squatted. He was so fresh and full of energy, that she hated him even more.
“I promise this will be the last hill we climb. I had nearly reached the peak when you called me. After that peak the path only walks downwards. It does.” Brian looked her in the eyes. She said nothing. Her strength sufficed for panting only, she couldn’t even look around or make grimaces.
“OK, take a rest.” Brian said.
Amanda didn’t move. She didn’t care about him, or herself, or this place, or what he had to say. She wanted to stay like this forever. Or, at least until she felt better. It was very hot. The whole day had been steamy even at such height. The open spaces didn’t help much. The sun was merciless, blessing them with its light. Brian reached out, pulled her white kerchief from around her neck and started fanning it above her. Oh, Amanda loved that. She felt she could breathe better and more easily. She felt more air come to her. Her eyes closed, she dreamt of Coke – black, fizzy Coke, not too cold, but not warm either, just the right temperature. Yes, a Coke would get her to her feet. A Coke could be available at the shelter they were headed to, she thought.
Amanda stood up, took her kerchief from Brian and started towards the peak. She was not sure if the peak they were headed to was the Agulhas Negras, but it was some high place, for sure. Besides, it was seen to the right from the plane of Itatiaia. They must be on the Itatiaia plane below the peak, so according to the map those heights over there had to be the Agulhas Negras. Oh, how much she hoped that! And how little reason was there in her frantic reasoning. Once up there, they could take a look around the area and get some better orientation. A couple of steps up, she stopped again. Her boots were killing her. They were so hard, endlessly pressing on her toes. The sole felt like wood. Or worse. If anything could be worse. No, she couldn’t do it. Even with the image of the craved Coke in her mind, and before her closing eyes, Amanda was too tired and weak to continue. She put her hands on her knees and leaned to the front to rest a bit. Looking at Brian who was unaware of what she was doing, Amanda saw the crawling signs of concern on his face. She froze. If Brian was concerned, she really must be a mess.
It was nearly 4pm. It would get dark soon. Here, there was no twilight. Darkness fell as fast and as thick as you can imagine. Amanda felt she needed to brace up her powers and get going. Yet, she couldn’t. She said, “Brian, why don’t you go to the peak by yourself? From there you‘ll see what’s on the other side and make something out. Perhaps you will conjure something up.” Brian looked at her, sighed and nodded, “OK. I’ll leave my backpack up there and then come back and carry yours. I guess the sleeping bag is too heavy on you.” Amanda felt embarrassed as she knew Brian carried a sleeping bag, too, in addition to a tent with all its poles and tackles. She had no strength to feel sympathy or regret, though. She relished the rest she was allowed, lay down again and closed her eyes. This time she knew it would be for longer. After all, they could always set up their tent and spend the night out. The breeze was that of paradise caressing her sweaty face.
When Amanda opened her eyes again, there was silence and nothing moved. It was blissful. She propped herself up on her elbows and looked around nonchalantly to see where Brian was. At first she couldn’t make his figure out against the grey rock of the slope. Then she noticed the brown backpack slowly crawling up. “Shall I shout out to him?” she thought, but decided she wouldn’t. “I’m still too weak,” was her reasoning. “He is alright, why should I bother him with shouts?” She closed her eyes again. Her whole inner self relaxed and she fell asleep.
All of a sudden, she thought she could hear Brian. She opened her eyes and still in the midst of dozing, she searched for his figure against the rocky slope. It took her some time to notice him. It seemed he was in trouble. He made a jerking movement and then moved somewhere to a lower level. She heard a shriek and could see him no more.
Mary Agnes thought, “Now, this is a marvelous view. Denis, please, hop on to the equipment sack and bring me my camera. I simply must shoot this place.” Denis hurried to a large sack that was on the ground where the rest of the crew were resting and started rummaging inside. In a while, he yelled, “Mam, I don’t find it. Are you sure it’s here?” Mary Agnes frowned a bit, and walked to the sack herself. Denis was still making a mess of the contents.
“Please, Denis, stop doing that. That way we can never find our stuff.” Denis looked up with a sincere face, “Sorry, mam.” She smiled broadly, “Did you check the side pockets of the sack, too?”
Denis bit his lips, “No.” He opened one and there it was. Mary Agnes took the camera and went back to the cliff edge. “I’ll miss the good light.” She prepared the camera very carefully in order to get the best possible shot and then took the picture. She was wondering whether to take a couple more, just in case this one didn’t develop that well. Her film supplies were very scanty, as were all the supplies in this expedition, yet she tried to do the best possible job with them. She decided to take just one more shot and walked a couple of feet to the right, where she had a better view of the slope itself. She was getting ready to take the picture, when Denis said right next to her, “Look, there’s somebody down there.” Mary Agnes strained her eyes a bit and looked in the direction he pointed to. She saw a figure that was sprawled some distance down the slope. Denis yelled, “Hello, down there! How are you?” As there was no answer, Denis called towards the others of their group. “Hey, Jim, Bob, come over here. There’s somebody down the hill. They look unwell.”
When Amanda opened her eyes again, she was in a small dark room. She was in a bed, and could smell the somewhat stale and moist whiff of the sheets as she jerked them to the side. She was relieved to see that she was in one piece and there was no feeling of pain. Amanda sat up in the bed very easily. She felt strong enough to take that backpack again, put on those hard and pressing shoes and head to the peak. To whatever peak. She only needed to locate Brian.
Mary Agnes entered the room to see Amanda looking for her clothes. Amanda shone with mirth. Mary Agnes’ face was dark with the tidings she brought.
“Hello, dear. Sit down, please.” When Amanda was seated on the bed, Mary Agnes continued, “My name is Mary Agnes Chase and I’m an assistant botanist for the US Department of Agriculture. We are here doing some field work…”
They had found Brian lying a couple of hundred meters from the path. It appeared he had taken a bad step and fallen from the path. When they found him, his leg was broken and he was dead. In his right hand Denis found a small object which Brian was holding very tight. Probably that was why he couldn’t reach out to grab something on his way down, everybody thought. They gave it to Amanda together with all Denis’ belongings. The small object was wrapped in a piece of paper. She opened the paper. In it was a beautiful diamond ring. An engagement ring Brian was no doubt planning to give her that same night. A shiny token of their love he held on to with his last breath. Tears like diamonds rolled down her cheeks.
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This post is part of our series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.
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Mariya Koleva is Bulgarian and writes poetry and fiction in English, though she is not a native speaker. She teaches EFL, English literature, and translates for a living. Writing simply came along. She blogs here and is on Twitter here. This is her first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.