“You, young lady, are most certainly brave. You risked your life for these others whom you do not know.” Her eyes studied me. “You have been in the wilderness for a long time, haven’t you?”
I did not know what she meant by wilderness because, for me, it was just the world.
“Have you been with others?”
I thought about the others. There had been a few. There was the woman and baby who I came across in the wetlands. They had been sheltering in an old stone home. The woman did not speak. She was scared of me when I first arrived, all huddled in a corner. It took some time for me to realise that she was hiding a bundle that was alive.
Reassuring her, I moved towards her and saw the child. I had never seen a human so very young before.
The woman was at the edge of her battles and her eyes pleaded with me in that soft twilight of cares. Not my baby, they said. Her face was thin, emaciated from whatever journey she had been on. The child was silent; no whimpers that could have given itself away. Both were starving.
“I’ll get you something to eat,” I assured her.
In my bag, I had the last of a rabbit I had snared two days before. It was wrapped in its own skin. I gave it to her and she slowly accepted.
I realised that I had no water as I had not planned on having visitors. Close to where I was, I had discovered a stream. I had tried the water the night before and, although it had a slight metallic taste, I believed it to be good. My rule of thumb was whether or not it was running and from where it originated. Water could kill better than any hunter.
I made what I thought were comforting words that were meant to assure the mother that I would return. I raised my hands to my mouth, my fingers holding onto that the hide that the was the water carrier I kept slung around my neck. “Water,” I said. “Drink,” and “fetch”. Her eyes only settled upon me rather than my words or actions and I realised that nothing had been understood. On my return, which was in no time at all, I discovered the building to be empty.
She had gone, baby and all, into the wilderness again. Her death was as assured as the death of her child. Somewhere on those vast plains of hopelessness, she would stumble and fall. Somewhere their fight for life would be extinguished and there was nothing to stop it from happening.
I sat down that night and lit a small fire. I was within the confines of the dilapidated house, its walls enough to hide the fragile flames that I used to cook the small ground bird I had trapped. They did nothing for the cold that had now settled within me and so I slept and dreamt dreams I was to forget in the following morning.
“Have you been with others,” the old woman asked again.
“No,” I answered flatly. “There were no others.”