YEAR OF THE SNAKE CONTEST
"...looking for elusive tigers and an unknown adventure." (445 words)
Once upon a time, in a place of hot, humid days, we ended our journey by going for a walk with two taciturn guides in the Terai, looking for elusive tigers and an unknown adventure. We started at dawn, silently following our guides. The smell of sweet manure and grass being trampled caught their attention and the leader motioned us to stay. Holding our breath, we looked in the direction of his pointing finger and gasped at the large, gray plates, overlapping like folded napkins, of the rhinoceros’s hide.
Quiet and small, we watched him pull at the grass before we left him to continue our trek into the sticky darkness of the jungle, already dripping sweat from the morning’s heat. We paused in our search to eat lunch, thinking about the gray-white sloth we spotted clinging to the trunk of a tree, inching his way up or down, it was difficult to know his progress. We drank water from our canteens to appease our bodies’ thirst and to soothe the grit that was scratching at our skin like sandpaper. I watched my lover’s hand take off his hat as if he moved underwater. The clear drops of sweat were chasing each other down his face, drenching his shirt, circling under his arms, as if it rained. He barely touched the lentils and rice I brought to him but continued to drink his fill. We walked the rest of the afternoon, into the true heat of the full day, often stopping now for a breath and another water break. The tigers eluded us, not even a glimpse, except for some furry droppings.
My lover fell into the chair when we arrived at our bungalow, asking for soup. I hurried to the restaurant, pacing as I waited to bring him broth, of which he ate a spoonful, then two, already lying in bed, ready to sleep. Setting the bowl aside, he pulled up the light sheet and fell deep into sleep. Hours later, I awoke, completely awake. He lay so still; no breath came from his lips; no heartbeat touched my palm. Black and heavy fear radiated outward, prickling against my neck and tingling my fingertips. My breathing quickened, and my heart hammered against my ribs, tripping in its haste to run from the fear of death. What do I do, my mind shouted at me. Next to my ear, his voice reassured me, “I’m not dead.” And, sleep claimed him again but eluded me, much like the path that we’ve followed together since. Years have passed, and I often wonder if that was the beginning of him leaving me, but I’ll never know for sure.