The moon shone across the plains in shimmering shafts of light, the parched ground offering up the heat of the day to warm the night air.
She stood alone in the semi-darkness, waiting for the animal sounds to soften into the night, waiting to take a turn at the one small oasis of water she had managed to locate in this harsh, dangerous, beautiful, challenging wilderness. The sounds from the nearby elephant herd became more muffled as they moved further away. She watched the majestic lion lift his head and gaze in her direction before turning to pad silently back to his pride.
The lions knew she was there, yet they had let her be. She knew not why, for she could not have saved herself from them had they chosen to attack. Yet twice now this magnificent creature had seemed to stare straight at her then moved away in peace. The females of the pride had seemed to take his lead and had also let her be.
She reached down and scooped up more dust from the ground, rubbing it over her pale skin in the only feeble attempt at camouflage she could make.
Watching, watching – someone or something was watching – she could feel it. She had been feeling it for days, yet knew it was not her lion friend’s eyes she could feel.
He stood in the dark, watching this strange, pale creature from who knew where, as he had watched, followed and, yes, perhaps protected for the best part of three days. He could see this creature was female, for that was unmistakable. He could see she was unarmed. Yet he himself did not understand why he stood back and watched. He knew he should capture her, for surely her people would want her back and there may be a good trade to be made for her return. He shifted his weight to his other leg, trying to understand his own motivations for doing nothing. He too had witnessed the lion’s reaction to this foreigner in their midst and that puzzled him more than her actual presence here puzzled him.
The woman broke her cover, slipping down to the water’s edge to fill the water bottle she had managed to retain. She was hungry, but had no way of hunting for herself.
The man moved to the front of the tree behind which he was hiding and slid down the trunk to sit, cross-legged at the base. His eyes half-closed, he watched the small creatures of the night move across the ground. He was tired: sleep had been hard to come by these last few days.
The woman raised herself from the ground at the water’s edge. Mud caked her knees but she paid no mind, she was used to this. Slowly, she turned and stealthily moved back towards the small grove of trees. He watched again how gracefully she moved, how silently she moved in the still night, wondered from whence these skills had come. White people were not renowned for their ability to blend within these surroundings, yet here was one, a female at that, who seemed to belong. A ray of moonlight caught her shoulder as she moved towards him and he was struck by the muscle definition clearly visible. He froze in mid-thought, for he realised she was moving directly towards him – if he moved, he would draw attention to himself – if he didn’t move, on her current path she would end up in his lap.
Knowing full well it was a fruitless exercise, he closed his eyes and held his breath, in the hope his dark skin would be camouflage enough and she would return to her original resting place.
The man felt a soft touch upon his cheek. He could smell her scent. For what seemed like an eternity, neither moved. He opened his eyes: she was kneeling in front of him, her eyes meeting his directly, calmly, questioningly. He saw no fear, only curiosity. Why should she be fearful, he thought, for she has faced more dangers than I present in the last few days, let alone what may have gone before.
She reached towards him and took his hand in hers, raising his fingers to touch her face, then motioned for him to hold his hand up, the palm facing her. She placed her hand against his, and he felt the warmth flow between them. He detected that for her this seemed to be some form of test, for she held her hand against his and held his gaze until their breathing was in time, slow, deep, calm.
She dropped her gaze and placed her hand behind his hand, drawing his hand to her belly – he could feel the snakes fighting within – she was hungry, she was asking for food in the only way she could think of.
The woman absorbed the man’s reaction to her. She knew these were the eyes she had felt watching her for days, so she felt no fear. If he had wanted to harm her, he would have done so already. She sensed he had actually been protecting her, for she remembered the large black cat that had come so close then seemed to flee from a planned attack at the last moment. The woman was not stupid – she knew that without assistance, she would not last many more days in an environment she was ill-equipped to deal with. This man was perhaps her only chance at survival.
He stood and she moved upright with him. She looked up into those dark, rich eyes that seemed to hold the history of all time in liquid pools of black beauty. As he had noticed her lean muscles under the moonlight, she now noticed the raw strength and power of his body, the scent of him filled her nostrils: to lean her weary head against his chest seemed so inviting. She pulled herself back to the reality of the moment and drew herself up to full height before him, trusting him, hoping he was her saviour.
He looked down at this strange creature. Her hair was tangled; she was covered in dirt to hide her whiteness from both the sun and the predators. The remnants of her shirt were making a decidedly unsuccessful attempt to hide her full, well-shaped breasts. He couldn’t help but notice one nipple, the dark circle surrounding it, swelling out from around the edge of the worn fabric. He unconsciously moved his legs slightly wider apart, then realised his reaction and tried to hide it from her. The clothing covering her lower body was just as worse for wear, her long, strong legs bare to the elements and to his gaze.
First things first, however. This woman creature was hungry and needed sustenance. He wondered, briefly, what language she spoke then dismissed the question, for perhaps they would learn more about each other without words. He would hold his silence for a while longer.
Continued: The Encounter – Chapter 2