A story about jumping and living
The final strip of road, before it burst onto the ocean, embraced by ironwood, yellowwood, and Cape Beech, was as straight and narrow as an arrow. Keeping left, as per the rule of the road, the sun warm on our backs, the Volkswagen Kombi coasted down the silver strip — there was no grander time to be surrounded by nature.
There was five of us, with me doing the driving. Our only luggage two hand-axes and a collection of gnarled pieces of firewood. Our mission: collect abandoned wood for the first campfire.
One more stop remained to pick up wood before we could return to our campsite where we’d stay for a fortnight, part of a larger youth-outreach. The road, deserted, save for a pedestrian approaching on our left, close to the road, and, lagging far behind, a single sedan.
The VW-van brimmed and bubbled with banter and laughter and dreaming out loud.
Checking my rear-view mirror once more, I instinctively tightened my grip on the wheel — the sedan, all of a sudden, was right behind us!
Expecting the speeding car to overtake us, I eased on the gas pedal, keeping an eye on the pedestrian, when the next moment, our vehicle jolted viciously. The oncoming car, while overtaking, had nicked us in the right rear end, forcing us halfway off the road.
We were on top of the pedestrian.
Desperate to avoid killing the man, I yanked the Kombi back onto the road, only to discover the sedan next to us.
I was so sure we had missed the hiker. He had given a mighty jump, leaving behind a trail of curses.
Attempting to avoid a second collision, I spun the steering wheel again.
The Kombi, having had enough of being rammed from behind, swerving first left, then right, then left again and struck a second time, toppled onto its right-hand side, skidding on the paved surface, forcing the other vehicle off the road.
Following our first cries when hit from behind, and our more panicked hollering when struck a second time and toppling onto our side, the van now fell quiet, save for the heart-wrenching screeching as the vehicle skid across the asphalt. I lay on my side, sprawled helpless, along with my buddies, among the axes and firewood that all went flying, seeing the road pass underneath the split-windows of the VW’s side — like the ties of a rail track flashing underfoot on a speeding train. Traveling the twenty yards on our side felt as if it went on and on and on. Perhaps it was for a shorter distance and a shorter time.
When we finally came to a standstill with the blunt nose of the Kombi nudging a sugarbush, a dead-silence, once more, draped itself over us. The cicadas and Loeries and Robins held their collective breaths. Stunned, we joined the hushed silence. Realizing we were stationary at last and in one piece, made us scramble to our feet, calling and crying and wiping away a tear, reaching and stretching to pat each other on the back.
The lopsided vehicle wobbled and crunched underfoot.
“Don’t move!” I cried, bumping my head.
Laughing embarrassed, we repositioned until the swaying stopped. I could hear everyone’s heart pounding.
“We have to get out,” Ben piped from the back. “Try the side-doors.”
“Thank you, Benjamin!” came the collective response.
It was easier said than done. The double doors wouldn’t budge.
“And the front passenger door?”
It required two of us — one to yank the door handle and the second to swing the door up and open.
Like men trapped in an underground bunker, escaping through a jammed trapdoor, two of us scampered onto the side of the van, dangling from it as if on a raft in the ocean.
Hoisting myself onto the side of the upturned van, squinting at the bright daylight, listening to the birds’ now excited chattering, felt foreign. I inhaled deeply, closing my eyes, my cheeks wet. Like a butterfly inching out of its cocoon, I inspected my wings — all intact — I breathed the scents of the verdant forest.
My momentary pause to appreciate the gift was lost on my friends stuck inside.
“Hello, Danny-boy. Open our doors, please!”
A minute later, we had the double door open, and everybody pulled to safety.
Only when we jumped down to the hot road surface, brushing our bruised limbs clean, did I remember the pedestrian.
Dear Lord, did I kill him? What about the other car?
The man was nowhere to be seen.
Panicking, I sent two of my friends down the road to look for him while my eyes fell on the sedan that had left the road and had ended up against an ironwood, doors ajar.
I started running, or rather, limping toward the car with its nose up a tree.
A patrol car siren sounded in the distance, its strobe lights soon adding to the brightness of the afternoon.
What a sweet mess. They’ll lock me away.
None of the six occupants of the car had any severe injuries, other than cuts and bruises and broken egos. Even from a distance, the sour reek of alcohol and fresh vomit, washed over us, wave after wave after sickening wave.
I turned back toward the road when the patrol car crunched to a standstill, and my two friends called from farther down the road, pointing at someone or something in the long grass.
Oh, no. They must have found the man.
Burning to run down the road, I briefed the officer in stuttering sentences on what had transpired, then I excused myself, pointing toward the long grass. “The man . . . That man . . . I have to see if he’s okay.”
I heard the hiker’s laments long before I could even see him. He must have crawled back to the side of the road; now seated on a boulder like a meerkat on the lookout, nursing his ankle.
Meeting my eyes, he repeated his wailing cry. “I leaped, but I leaped too late.”
Did I shatter his leg?
“I’m sorry that we’ve frightened you, sir. Could I please have a look?”
Closer examination of the leg and ankle showed no significant injury. There was no bleeding, swelling, or deformity.
Our assurance in spite, the man kept repeating, “I leaped, but I leaped too late.”
He didn’t rest before he was transferred by ambulance to the nearest hospital and had an X-ray confirmation of the health of his leg.
Once pulled back onto its wheels, the Kombi presented no problem driving.
During the remaining two weeks of our stay, as our bruised flesh turned all the colours of the rainbow, making sleeping on the ground in sleeping bags a nightmare, the white Fleetline Kombi underwent its own transformation — it had ample time in the humid salty air to turn its abraded side into the richest autumn bronze.
Each time I woke from sleep, listening to the forest and its restless creatures and the pounding of the waves, trying to find a comfortable spot that wasn’t bruised or purple, I was reminded, not only were our lives saved, but life was good, life was exceedingly good.
It was a grand time to be alive. It was the best of times.