by Leila Segal
The rain forest. Whistles and hums, rustles and calls. I saw something red on the path, crushed, like a big purple eye, and I learned it was the shell of a dead crab. Later, when I saw the crabs alive, they had big pincers and rustled sideways, everywhere in the lush green undergrowth as we walked.
I had on a long-sleeved light blue shirt to stop the mosquitoes. They were many, and I slapped Charo’s back over and over again. The black pinpoints did not move once they had landed. Maybe they were getting ready to suck the blood – snapping their pincers, chomping their jaws, limbering up before the bite.
When I slapped hard, I crushed them every time – sometimes two in one palm – leaving an exploded bloody mess on the skin. I wiped off the blood from my fingers, and the little black legs.
We carried palm leaves to swat, to rustle the air, to keep the mosquitoes away. They buzzed around me just like the others but only on my face. My head was covered in a gold-red scarf tied tight around my hair, my ears and neck. I felt I needed a hat like the ones the old explorers wore, with netting before my eyes.
The others went on ahead. I wanted to slow down. The earth was red, the trees peeled a redness too, and then I understood why the crabs were the only other red thing that I could see. The red crabs fit with the red earth: they had huge frontward eyes but walked sideways. I caught one. It was terribly afraid and tried to scuttle away, hid under dead powder-blue curled-up leaves, but I took a stick and prised it out. It snapped furiously with hard grey pincers, wriggling wildly in the air.
I put the crab down on the red earth near some water and it ran as fast as it could, sideways, waving its open pincers and snapping them to ward off further attack.
Another crab perched on a rock, watching. Several lay dead by the side of the path, I don’t know why. They must have just died – of hunger, loneliness or fear. Who can know why a crab should simply die? I don’t know why but think it a lonely death. There were so many crabs in the forest – but all of them seemed to be alone, apart from a crowd of little black ones scuttling in and out of the holes in the rocks by the water.
As the heat died the path grew darker. We were in overgrowth like deep sea where the sun never came. Life lived above, near the sky, and underneath the worms and crabs and rustling things, the rattles, the hissing and the snakes. There was no path now, just holey grey rocks; grey, dangerous foot-twisting rocks and roots.
And then the water. I heard it first – a splash as they jumped from on high – then I saw the great hole in the earth, filled with emerald water come up from the sea.
“It is very deep,” they said, “you be careful.”
There was no way down and I was afraid to dive.
So I scaled the rocks with Charo – he was not afraid. My white legs gripped, my muscles moved: I was strong and proud. Then, half way, a moment of fear: I turned and asked him how, and he said there was a foothold lower, and from there I could jump.
This, into the emerald water, surrounded by a high wall of rock. The shirt ballooned around me, the water was cool. I was there.
I looked into the blue, the dizzying miles beneath, leading to the ocean and then to the core.
I saw a white cross on the cliff where somebody had died.
Rock slid beneath my feet as I tried to get up. Charo came to me down a sheer face but I climbed on my own until half way when I looked back and saw myself skull-smashed, with no catching arms.
He was behind me, he was holding me; now my legs were strong, my back supple. I was there. The crabs raced away as I put on my shoes.
As we came out of the forest I heard voices – many voices, speaking. Who and what were they? They were the town. This is what the town sounded like. A flurry of voices; a town without machines. This was the sound of humanity.