Charmed by David Macfie
It is a grey, overcast day, with heavy showers of rain at the most inconvenient times. The wind adds an extra bite to the miserable conditions. Both rain and wind are finding every gap in my clothing and every opportunity to increase discomfort is being gratefully received. Unfortunately, for me, I am working outside and I’m chilled to the bone. I have no choice. The wind has torn down my fence along the top of the ravine and I am too poor to lose any of my cows or sheep. As you will gather, I’m a breadline farmer with enough land for ten cows and one bull and a flock of thirty sheep. Animals are expensive, if you are spending on feed and vet bills and there isn’t much in the bank. My wife also works but even with her pay we struggle all the time. So here I am, patching my fence, in the mud, with cold water running down my neck and the wind whistling up my trouser legs.
I am not enjoying myself so I’m very focused on the task at hand and I’m really not taking much interest in anything around me. I have my back to the ravine and, between fixing the fence and trying not to slip in the mud and fall over the steep drop to the river sixty meters below, I didn’t hear the rustlers climbing quietly behind me.
The first I know is the blow to the head that dazes me and forces me to lose my balance. The next I know I’m over the side and tumbling and sliding down into the ravine. I feel my left leg hit a boulder and hear the cracking of breaking bones. The pain is excruciating, but I can’t do anything about it now. I hit a tree that winds me but, instead of stopping my precipitous descent it bounces me over a steeper drop. My body flies through the air and crashes into the slope ten meters further down.
I feel as if I have been hit by a truck and still I tumble and slip and slither faster and faster. I can hear the panicked lowing and bleating of my cows and sheep and, in the back of my mind, I know that I am being cleaned out. Right now, though, that is the least of my problems. At this moment staying alive is front of mind. I bounce off another boulder and feel my shoulder pop out. I am in so much pain now that this addition hardly makes a difference.
I’m dropping so fast now that I can’t get my bearings so I don’t know how far down I am, or what is still in front of me. I can’t even tell whether I’m facing up the slope or down it. I feel as if I’m hitting everything on the way down and a glancing blow from another tree cracks or breaks some ribs on my right side. I’m really lucky that my head hasn’t hit anything or I’d be dead for sure. At this speed, if it wasn’t torn off or crushed, my neck would break. I’m wondering how long it takes to fall sixty meters because this little trip feels like an eternity. And still I’m falling. I hear the rustlers’ truck drive off, and I think that I might as well be dead, now. Then, at least my wife would get the life insurance.
I’m busy, contemplating the benefits of my own demise. I am past pain and worry. I am out of control and at the whim of fortune or lady luck or pure chance. Then, as if these thoughts are somehow shameful and worthy of punishment, my next bounce takes me into the icy waters of the river.
Just when I sigh with relief that the fall is finished and I’m still alive, I realize that I’ve bounced from the frying pan into the fire. The river is seriously swollen from the rain, so it is much deeper than usual and flowing very fast. So I’m still bouncing off obstacles that hurt just as much, even though they’re submerged. I know I’m in shock and I’m trembling with the effects of that and the fact that I’m freezing. The current is too strong for me to swim to the banks and even staying afloat is becoming a battle. All that has happened is that I’ve traded one life-threatening situation for another. But, they say that every cloud has a silver lining. It’s true in this instance, because my body is now so numb from the cold that I’m not feeling the pain from my other injuries. I almost feel comfortable, but not quite. I know that the road, away from my place, crosses the river somewhere soon and I know there is a forty meter waterfall to come as well. I just can’t remember, in my fuddled state, which comes first.
I swirl along for a time, totally at the mercy of the current and then I see the bridge in the distance. Something’s going on there. I can see the flashing lights on several police cars on either end of the span and, in the middle is a large truck. Now I get a slice of luck. As I get close to the bridge, I get swept into an eddy that takes me out of the mainstream of the current and washes me towards the left bank. I shout as loud as I can and, eventually, one of the police officers leans over the parapet and sees me. Quickly I get deposited on the muddy bank, just as two officers reach me and haul me out. When I groan in pain, they understand that I’m injured and gently carry me to the road and lay me down next to their vehicle. One covers me with a blanket and watches over me, while the second calls an ambulance.
“What’s going on, officer?” I ask.
“We had a report of rustlers in the area and since this bridge is a kind of choke point we set up a road block on either side. This truck drove right in.”
I laughed, weakly.
“Don’t tell me,” I replied. “Inside you found a bull, ten cows and thirty sheep.”
“How did you know?” he asked.
“They’re mine. I farm on the top of the bluff. I was fixing the fence and they took me by surprise. They knocked me off the top, then took my livestock.”
I related the rest of my story. The officer looked astounded at all that I had gone through.
“You have a charmed life to get away with all that and still get your animals back,” he commented.