It is unusually loud tonight. The air is thick, and masks the chilled breeze I know is blowing above the trees. Beneath the large banana leaves, the jungle is alive with animal calls. The shrieking of a chimpanzee collides with the tweaking from the nighttime insects. It is so hot, and the night has just begun. My breath swaggers in the humidity, and beads of perspiration roll off the bridge of my nose. I can feel them going faster as they gather more condensation from my drenched body. I slap my thigh in annoyance, feeling the sharp incision of a mosquito. It escapes and I watch it fly into the moonlight.
My back is in pain, and I yearn for the comfort of a soft bed. I don’t think I could actually lie in a bed anymore, though. My back is so used to the roughness of bark between my shoulder blades. I can’t go back. I can never go back. Going back just means the same stories and the same ignorance of those around me.
I had made my journey to the top of this tree a little before sunset. Resting on the damp, jungle floor at night, I might as well have been wearing an “Eat Me” sign to a literate predator. I continue to follow the mosquito as it zigzags down to the darkness of the forest floor. In an instant, it is whipped out of sight by the rubber-band tongue of a creeping iguana which swallows it in one gulp, its eyes bulging with indifference. The iguana continues, waddling from side to side, its stumpy legs creeping forward under his weight. I watch till the green spikes of its tail disappear.
Blood for blood. It is the quickly learned law of this sanctuary. I shift my head back onto the branch. Aligning my neck with my spine, I inhale the sweltering heat. As I exhale, I can feel every wooden knot against my back. I’d have even more cuts and sores than I have if not for the thin cotton shirt clinging to my back. The shirt is tattered now but will have to do. It was all I had a chance to bring that night, that night which seems so long ago.
I thought it had been over then. They had come and we were unprepared. My memory is blurred with the screams of women and the cries of children in the night. Yes, it seems so long ago.
I awaken as the sun rises. It calls me to open my eyes every day the same way. The light blue rises through an opening in the treetops to let out a bellowing orange and yellow that streams through the jungle canopy. Morning has come and I stretch as the birds take flight. Matching the rainbow sky, they sing, whistle and pipe gently. I watch intently as their hatchlings totter to the edge of the twig nests. The mother birds regurgitate food to provide for their little ones. The unpleasant sight of their feeding does nothing to dissuade my hunger. My stomach growls and I swallow the dryness in my throat.
I make my way down to the ground. Breakfast is easy to find. I pick only from the plants the animals dare to eat. As I make my way toward the sound of rushing water, I gather berries along the way. There is no path where I go. There are no paths at all. There are only tall plants to be plowed through. I find my way by memory, by touch, by scent, by sound. I come closer, finally pull back a curtain of vines, and step into view of the jungle’s water fountain. It is towering and powerful, and the fresh, cold mist rises ten feet.
I climb across the boulders in the water to a pebbled landing. It is directly in front of the waterfall and I squat to splash the water against my sticky face. My eyes are wide open. I eat the rest of my berries, savoring the juicy bursts of flavor. Suddenly, a gunshot.
I jump up and scramble to the other side of the waterfall. From the safety of a tangle of vines, I watch the landing. The jungle has fallen silent. No singing birds, no buzzing insects, only the slap of water in the stream and my heavy breathing. I continue to watch and wait for what seems like hours. Finally, they step onto the landing, crushing the berries I had dropped. Their looming walk makes my heart beat faster and I look on with horror as one, then another, then another appear. They have come for me. I run.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.