Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Sabun's Lake.

Lake Manoon is in the western province of Cameroon and lies at the foot of the Ocu volcanic plain. It is the 15th of October, 1984. A cool, cloudless night, the moon hangs low above the bay, its crisp, white reflection distorted only by the ripples in the vast water. The deep blue of the water matches the velvety darkness of the night sky.
It is here that Sabun comes after his day of herding his few family cows across the plains half a mile from the foot of the volcano range he is now sat on. The stubborn livestock would beat and billow in protest to him bringing them to his favourite spot; preferring the richer plains and ample food to the poor footing of the craggy, slippery stones. So instead of basking in the sunlight atop of one of the warm rocks, he first stowed away his animals to the field outskirting his family's home and replaced basking for sitting cross legged, examining the ripples on the surface of the water through the perspiration of his warm breath.

Shying away from this enclose was a trend he found not only among the livestock, but among his friends and family members too. Often they would protest against the smell of the lake, the smoky, charred fragrance he had so become accustomed to. He knew better than to believe this alone was what lay at the root of their precaution. The ground of the volcanoes that encased him were to be encroached upon with precaution. Tales of eruptions and devastation, spread through the village; of dense smoke and vivid red flames from the sky. Of how the heat would render you immobile before the fire even reached you. And slowly, as you lay incapacitated- or stood even by some accounts- the fire, flowing like the thick oozing juice of a swollen solo papaya would engulf you.
This always struck a chord with Sabun, who wondered why these people could depict the fire so creatively when in the stories themselves, it was impossible to witness the all engulfing fire without being consumed by its all engulfing spread. The village people- those who would not scold him for his indiscretion and quick tongue- would retell the story then, though this time allowing for one brave man who had witnessed it all and escaped to tell the tale.
So from a parable to ward him away from playing in the treacherous mountains, they told him tales that inadvertently fuelled his passion for adventure, for exploration.

Sabun's frequent attempts to invite others along with him were more often than not frustratingly unsuccessful. After countless rejections though, he had developed the ability to predict at which point in his companions journey the look of panic would appear on their faces and at which point they would feign disgust at the smell of the water. Over time, his skin thickened and he no longer seemed to begrudge his friends, often preferring the coast as a solitary confine where he could imagine himself away from his home. Perhaps it was the rejections that had tempted him to escape the tribe in childish rebellion. Perhaps it was these vendettas that had evolved over time into aspirations and he could no longer distinguish between the silly day dreams of leaping from mountain to mountain and the seemingly plausible idea of climbing the top of the volcano and digging a hole to see if the fire really lived within it.

Tonight, companion-less and quietly observing the patterns of the ripples, Sabun's back arched forwards as he hugged his legs tightly, forming a small contrast against the enormous flat faces of the rocks about him. His red turban, though more maroon in this light, sat beside him, on top of his straw hat. It was cool tonight, not cold and though the skin on this calves was starting to bubble like the patchy skin of a lizard, he found the gentle breeze to be refreshing. In it, lingered the scent of yesterday's heavy storm.

He had nestled himself himself on a dry patch beneath an overhanging cliff-like rock. The rainstorm had pounded hard at the fields yesterday, forcing Sabun to find shelter from a pair of trees, one arching above the other. From there, he could see the exact spot on which he was sitting now, the cliff above it almost forming a waterfall with the sheer amount of water it let slide off of its surface. Motionless and in a trance, ignoring the pebble sized droplets of water the trees above him would let slip through their broad leaves, Sabun sat and gazed at the landmass before him. Despite the heavy rain, there was still the intense glow of the sun, though it was dulled behind the cover of the clouds, which themselves had an ambient orange glow, tinged with silvery grey at the edges. Occasionally there would be a parting in them, where two tufts would have been blown apart by separate winds and from the opening, a brilliant ray of light would shoot through and cause the droplets of rain in its path to glisten like the juice of an emerald mango, vibrant and elusive, lasting only for the brief moments the clouds would allow.
As much as he yearned to examine the patterns in the water, or to sit in the shelter of his cliff like enclose he knew that the storm would not permit it.

By today though, most of the water meandered it's way into the lake, or exhausted in the day's sunshine, the rest of its remnants were the few puddles in the crags between rocks and a thin, film like layer causing the surface of the stones to remain slippery.
He had begun to enjoy the slimy feeling on the soles of his feet, sliding them across the rock surface, backwards and forwards. Different from anything he had ever felt on his feet. He had forgotten about his sandals sitting beside him and stood up to skip between the large sheets of wet stone.

Steadying himself occasionally, reaching down and using all fours at times, he leaped and ran across the rock edges, leaving precaution with his sandals and bright red turban. The storm that had passed had completely reinvented his customary sprint along the rocks and though making it more difficult, it also exhilarated him more than ever. A splinter of some sort caught itself in his toe and caused him let out a short whimper- his first sound of the evening- and hop along on one leg. Precaution had crept up to him and stabbed him in the foot.

He began making his way back to the spot where he left his sandals. A cool wind blew through the whole of the Crater like lake, whistling like it always did when the air poured through the different contours of the mountain edges, reverberating against the depth of the water. Only, the echo was different tonight. It wore thin against the rocks and had Sabun been paying attention to the wind rather than his bare feet, perhaps his frequent visits and numerous occasions of doing nothing but listening to the wind would have caused him to be alarmed.
Sabun didn't notice though, he didn't notice that the sound of the wind was different, that across the lake from him, the well worn rock edges were moments away from giving in under their own weight- in addition to the water they had absorbed and carried over the last day.
Near the plateau, one tree with its roots embedded in rocks tens of meters across under large boulder like stones, stood with a pool of water at it's trunk. It was as Sabun sat, putting his sandals on that the waterlogged base gave way across the lake from him.

Almost like a cat, his ear twitched to the faint sound of wood hitting stone. He turned to watch it plummeting down, vast branches spinning across the steep decline of the mountain edge, slowing down on occasion and speeding up on others until finally, it reached the precipice of its descent along the slope and fell off the ridge.
Sabun inhaled slowly, deeply, his mouth ajar until the tree fell out of view at which point he leaped up and hung over the rocky edge to view the ensuing splash. All that remained though, by the time he reached the edge, was the disturbed motion of water encircling the large, upturned tree, its bark bobbing in and out of the water at a peculiar angle, the uppermost part, nowhere to be seen. As it drifted along, Sabun followed it, as if tied to it by a chord. He noticed it dancing in the waves, backwards and forwards, up and down, as if unsure which way to go. He noted that in the light of the moon, where its reflection hit the water, the tree brought with it countless speckles of what appeared to be torn off twigs and leaves.
He continued to pursue the fallen tree though as a breeze caught him by surprise, he realised he was without his red turban. Quickly, he turned on his heels to fetch it, his eyes constantly gazing back to where the tree was, in case he lose it. As he returned to where he placed his turban and straw hat, he looked across to where the tree had fallen from. Even now, dirt and debris fell from between the rocks on the way down. He looked around in the darkness for where the tree had made impact in the water. While there was white foam on the surface earlier, it caught the light of the moon and was easier to see. Now though, the foam had vanished and in its place there were shapes, hard to discern under the shadow of the mountain. Still though, he found it peculiar that the waves were still crashing so wildly where the tree had landed. By now, the tree had made its way quite far down the stretch of lake and seemed to have surrendered itself to the rhythm of the lake.
Climbing down from where he stood before, he noticed a constant, rapid movement in the shapes in the shadows. The climb down was long and arduous, the slippery stones causing Sabun to slip on more than one occasion, though as he approached, the water's surface seemed more and more discernible. Was it because he had bridged the gap between himself and the lake? Or was it that the moon was now higher up in the sky? Either way he could now put a name to what shapes he saw in the water. Bubbles. Quick, furious bubbles, beating out of the water, gurgling to the surface, higher than what seemed natural, as though a fountain was running under the water. It was far too much for it to be the breath of an animal, surely. It hadn't stopped for well over a minute. Was the water boiling like the coco yam stew his mother would brew? Impossible, there was no fire beneath the water!
No, there must be a creature beneath there. But it had been over two minutes now, closer to three! Any creature to exhale that long must be either very large or very full of Millet beer, he thought. Entranced, he clambered further still, to see that along with the bubbles, the water was shooting to the surface a scarlet red. With this, Sabun took a step back. He quickly replaced the idea of a large exhaling, bloody creature with what seemed far more logical. A demon was appearing from within the lake. Perhaps this is what the villagers intended to keep him away from! Were these a sort of liquid, red flame, arising from the depths of the lake?
Sabun tore his eyes away from the water and raced as fast as he could to higher land. He grabbed at stone, lunged over gorges, scraping his knees with little regard. His breath had left him and he had forgotten it, all that concerned him was the distance between himself and the lake. Eventually, having reached the top of the rock surface, he collapsed on his back and gulped in air to his lungs. Peering over at the demonic red water, the bubbles had ceased though the red in the water was spreading?

Perhaps it is the demon that is bleeding? He was still gulping for air. A feeling of foolishness came over him yet at the same time a sense that he had somehow escaped a terrible fate. He began to laugh at this. First quietly, to himself he giggled, and as he relayed his panic in his mind his laughter grew, to a roar, as he envisioned himself scampering across the stones.

And once again, his ear twitched to the sound of something distant. Though this time, it was not quite so faint. He turned, still smiling towards where, he realised, the tree had originally fallen from.

The face of the cliff that had supported the tree had loosened and from its departure, with a great lurch, the ground near the top began to tumble. Crashing into lower ground which in turn gave in under its own weight, a landslide of rock and earth made its way down upon itself.
As one column of rock fell, as did adjoining ones beside it, until the entire rock face opposite him slid down the hill, as though shedding a very large layer of skin.
This time, Sabun was in position to see the splash, though on this occasion, the rocks created an orchestra of colossal waves, crashing into one another, swallowing up smaller waves, bursting onto his side of the lake. White spray leaped out at each individual contact of stone and water, spewing meter's above the water, hurtling across to the bank.
The rocks submerged, and the water slowly steadied itself.
Sabun lay still.

Was it dead? Was the demon killed? He went back to thoughts of the demon, watching for the red water, the bubbles. The rocks disturbed the water, mixing the small patch of red with the vast, clear blue. It was almost unnoticeably tinged with a red now. Perhaps not at all.

But then it reappeared. A thin streak of what firstly appeared to be blackish brown, and eventually a thick stream of blood red fluid approached the surface, bubbling lightly. And then it spread. Far more bubbles now than when the tree hit the water, the bubbles were spreading all across the far side of the lake. And they were getting wider and wider, closer and closer to Sabun until it actually did appear as though the lake was on fire. Boiling and bloody, it was humming from beneath him. It grew louder to a fierce rumbling as the stream of water grew larger and pushed higher against the surface of the water.
Sabun squinted to make sense of what was happening before him. The lake, now a completely different colour to what it was an hour ago, was steaming now. Truly as though it was on fire. White streaks wafted above the water, creating shapes in the wind. As the smoke became thicker, it grew more like thin clouds than the smoke that Sabun had seem rise from his mother's pans. It twirled in on itself, swaying back and forth, wherever the water boiled, there the clouds would appear, following the path of the bubbles.
Sabuns turban billowed in the wind. He wrapped the hanging scarf-like end around his neck without averting his gaze. And then he noticed that the same wind that blew against his face drew the clouds closer to him. Inch by inch, the water was being engulfed until it had reached the shore on his side of the lake. And then it stepped on the land.

A strong gust of wind tore at the clouds sending them flailing wildly in all directions, including towards Sabun. Though they were at the bottom of the mount, they climbed quickly, excitedly, through gaps in the stones, jumping over them, clambering onto them, efficiently and effortlessly they spread. Wisps of smoke tore away from the mass and vanished into thin air. Sabun looked past the smoke on the ground now to see that more was still coming from beneath the bubbling water. He kicked at the earth and dragged himself away from the cliff edge using his hands and feet. He pulled away till he could no longer see the clouds advances up the incline. He composed himself, stood up and turned to hurry for his home.
Quickly he sprinted away from the edge, further along the large, slated stones, careful this time not to fall, choosing to step on the stones that were less reflective and had returned to a drier, lighter shade of grey. As he progressed down the rocks, the crunch of vegetation beneath his feet confirmed that he was coming closer to the path to his village. The moonlight wasn't enough though, to differentiate between grass and nettle and as Sabun paced through the shrubbery, the nettles cut and tore at the gaps in his sandals. Sore and tired, he turned back to the cliff and it was only as he stopped that he could feel the ferocity with which the wind was blowing. Covering his face, he looked to see if the cloud of smoke had climbed up to the peak of the mount he was on. Not only had it climbed up, it had made progress to the start of the vegetation; more than half the distance he had covered since laying at the top of the mount. As it was closer to his own footing now, he could more accurately ascertain the amount of cloud that was behind him. It stood far taller than him, dense enough to for him to no longer see the position he sat on just moments ago.
As the vegetation grew thicker, so did it grow taller. Running was now more difficult, swerving between weeds or evading bushes in the hopes that his foot would recognize the tread of the path he was desperately searching for. But to no avail. He trampled on flowers, their stems crunching beneath his feet, tugged taller vines out of their roots and out of his way, he dodged around tree trunks, mindful of their often protruding roots. Looking back, all that was now visible was the white fog wrapping itself around the first few meters of the trees. It was closer now. Far too close to outrun and wider than what he could hope to circumvent. His breathing was sharp and jagged, the white haze only meters away now, a sharp pain between his ribs no longer allowing him to run. His vision was becoming unsteady. He wasn't so out of breath so suddenly, surely? He would run like this many times, in the full heat of day even. So why was his breathing so laboured? Why was it now an effort to even straighten his back?
Inch by inch the cloud drew closer, shrubbery on the ground being eaten by its white tendrils. It appeared as though his vision was being eaten away by the white mist until all that was visible to him was only that which was meters away.
His gasps for breath now had a strange taste to them. When breathing from his nose, it smelled like the gasoline used to light the lanterns. Was there a car nearby? No, not in shrubbery this dense.
It seemed as though the white would engulf him now. Eat him, mercilessly as it had done the flowers that lay in it's path, the rocks of the cliff he adored so much, even the water he admired for so many years. All gone into this mysterious white fog and it almost seemed fitting that he should go with it. If only that he had so many places yet to visit, so many mountains left to scale, to discover the mystery of the liquid like fire within them, to sale perhaps, or to fly an aeroplane.
No, this white fog would not catch up to him before he discovered where it came from. Whats more, it was making it's way to the village, he had to warn them before it consumed them in their sleep...

The pain in his chest had dulled, he no longer noticed it. His attention was more on managing to wheeze in what little air that he could.
The only place left to go was up one of the nearby trees. The smoke seemed to reach a foot or two above his head, though a fair deal beneath the branches of the trees. The trouble was how to actually get high enough up one. Their barks were too large to hold easily with little to grab hold of in the way of leverage. Panting now, deep in the hot, white cloud, he bent over, panting for air though the white cloud was heavy in his lungs, the more he breathed, the less air he seemed to take in. His turban was unsteady, the part wrapped around his neck dangled as it rolled off of his head and his straw hat beneath it fell to the ground. He loosened the turban from around his neck and picked up the straw hat and fanned about himself to ward away the white clouds. The turban, now just one long strand of cloth, he tied around his left wrist. He felt his way back towards the nearest tree and looped it around the bark, grabbing hold of the other side of the cloth in his right hand. Pulling it taut, while biting down on the straw hat to prevent himself from breathing in unescesarily, he lept up and climbed, bit by bit, the trunk of the tree, walking unsteadily up the bark.

He progressed slowly, he didn't have the energy nor the will to try again, should this fail. Three times he had tugged the cloth marginally higher up the trunk, he had lost count of the tiny steps he was making up the tree. Perhaps nine? At times, the cloth would seem to slip, causing Sabun's heart to sink to his stomach. At another point, it caught itself in the thick bark of the tree, preventing him from being able to scale any higher. He could see nothing, he felt little but the hot fog on his back. He slid the cloth side to side, untrapping it from the twigs and as proceeded. The smoke had thinned where he was now, the leaves above him were descernable. Again he tugged and again he took a few more baby steps until suddenly, his head emerged from the white puff of cloud. All around for all he could see was white smoke beneath him. His own body was lost to him. Another series of tugs, and yet more steps, his midrift emerged slowly, painfully aching now. For all it's life sapping qualities, the fog seemed to make his pains dissapear. Though, now he had left the mass, they flooded back to him. He could feel the ache in his chest, the soreness in his arms, the cuts in his knees, the nettles in his feet. As he approached the first few branches of the tree, he wrapped his legs tightly to the bark and while keeping the cloth pressed tightly to the trunk, reached for a branch and hung on with all his might. Lifting his feet up above the cloud, and with the inside of his knee he hooked a leg around a branch besides the one his hands had in a vice like grip. His slender frame made it somewhat plausable to maneuver between the thick ensable of branches and work his way up through the maze.
He stayed near the middle of the tree, where the branches were more than thick enough to support his weight. And now that he was free from the mindless cloud, he leaned back and breathed deeply from his nostrils. Gasping in the air greedily, snorting it, puffing it, coughing the cloud out from his insides and replacing it with the fresh air he had so desperatly faught for.
He reclined on a branch, twisted his legs and arms around as many as he could, becoming a distorted, mangled puppet, and fell asleep.

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