The Truth Found Her
Dr. Bellow jerked her head around and hollered over the drone of the engines, “when we land, go straight to baggage claim. As soon as you get your luggage, go out the sliding doors to where the minibus will take us to the Limpopo Province.”
Sage nodded her head in compliance along with the other five members of the group, although in truth she hadn’t the slightest clue where to go. The bray of the landing gear being lowered filled her ears as the captain turned on the fasten seatbelt sign announcing their descent into Polokwane airport.
From her view out of the window, the marshes and patches of grassland began to come into focus. She wondered what lurked behind the bushwillow and the Lala palm trees. Perhaps a lion, or impala or a spotted hyena. Then she noticed her seat partner, shaking in fear beside her.
Sage clasped Amy’s hand, assuring her that they would land safely. “I know the odds of being killed in a plane crash are like one in eleven million. Still, I won’t exhale until my feet are firmly on the ground.”
The plane hit the runway with a thud and came to a fast stop, throwing Sage and Amy forward. Brushing some red hair from her face, Sage grinned. “See, nothing to it? By the way…. would you mind staying with me while we get our bags? I didn’t quite follow all of Dr. Bellow’s instructions.”
“Sure,” Amy heaved, still clutching the armrest.
The airport was surprisingly easy to navigate. The terminal contained exactly one baggage claim area to retrieve their luggage from. When everyone had their bags, Sage, Amy, and the rest of the members left through the sliding doors and climbed into the minibus, which headed north to the Limpopo providence. Overall, a much easier process than anticipated.
When Sage was seated and buckled up, she turned on her phone. The first new message was from her sister, Chelsey.
“Save the date!”
Mark and Chelsey’s Wedding
Sage scowled, clicking the X at the top of the screen.
“Bad news?” Amy asked.
“My sister is getting married,” Sage replied.
“You don’t like the guy?”
“I like him fine.”
“Then what is it?”
Sage twisted the gold stud in her ear while recalling the reason for her own heartache. Her ex-boyfriend, Logan, couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t switch from Harvard to be closer to his base in San Diego. He called her inflexibility and make the move, “snobbish.” But what she said next she regretted instantly: “So I should give up my spot in an ivy league university so my loser boyfriend can keep paddling rafts in the Pacific?”
Logan had left the house calmly, though Sage wished he had slammed the door or put up more of a fight. After an excruciating week of silence, Logan sent her an email saying he wished her well and didn’t think things would work out. Now, seeing Chelsey besotted with her prince amplified her own heartache.
The group was dropped off at a ranch house in a rural part of the province. Sage found her name posted on the door at the end of the narrow hall, Amy’s name listed beneath hers. The small bedroom had two cots, and an old wooden armoire that seemed decades older than both of them combined. Amy laid her bag on one of the bare mattresses and Sage laid her bag down on the other. The communal bathroom was across the hall.
Sage washed her face in a rusted sink, her complexion dulled from the taxing series of flights, a mist of red frizz protruding from her head. She flattened it down with her fingers, wondering if it would be rude to hog the one and only bathroom to take a shower. Then she noticed her left earlobe was bare. She bent down to the ground, patting the floor over and over.
“Lose something?” Amy asked behind her.
Sage pointed to her empty earlobe, “my earring.”
Amy joined the search. Together they patted the dusty floor, but no earring was found. Sage searched the bathroom while Amy walked up and down the narrow hall. More members of the group joined in, checking the living room, kitchen, and porch. No earring emerged.
“Check outside,” Amy offered. “Maybe it fell off why you were carrying in your bag.”
Grabbing her coat, Sage headed to the front steps. She got on her knees and crawled around in the thorny grass. A gust of wind picked up her hair and threw it over her shoulders. July was sure warmer in the northern hemisphere. Her eyes and hands continued searching the ground, waiting for the familiar gleam to leap up at her.
Ready to quit the search, Sage threw her hands up in frustration, “could you at least give me a moment of peace, world? Just a moment, that’s all I ask.” Something poked her neck. She moved her fingers around the hood of her coat till they pinched the small stud earring.
Heaving a sigh of relief, she placed the earring tightly in her hand. The sound of panting met her ears. Sage moved her gaze around the grass until they landed on the crooked grin of a spotted hyena.
Her mind began throwing commands. “Run, stay, no run, stay, find a stick, bigger, BIGGER!”
The hyena moved closer. Sage threw the twig down and turned to sprint away.
“Stay still my child.”
“Spread out your arms.”
Sage spread out her arms.
“Now, roar like an angry lion.”
Sage opened her mouth and yelled at the hyena, “roar, roar, roar.”
The hyena ran into the grass and sage nearly collapsed in relief. Then she turned to meet her savior. A tall woman in a flowing kaftan stepped forward, “Shikamoo,” she said in greeting, “I’m Sabella.”
“Thank you,” Sage gasped. “Without your help, I would have been minced meat. I thought hyenas only came out at night and hunted in packs. Why was it so close to the house? Was it rabid? Could I get rabies?”
“Give me your hand my child.”
“What?” Sage asked, confused.
“Your hand, please.”
Slowly, Sage stretched out her hand and placed it in Sebella’s withered palm. Sebella closed her eyes and began to speak. “I feel a presence on you, I can almost hear the person’s thoughts, perhaps you are wearing something they have given you?”
With shaking hands, Sage handed her the gold stud earring. Sebella’s hands clasped around the small piece of jewelry. “I see a warrior, a man who has fought in many battles. He is strong, like a lion, but his soul is kind. He risks his life for others and mourns the lives of every soul he has taken, even when he knows he had no other choice.”
Sage couldn’t believe what she was hearing, how could Sebella know this? She knew nothing about Logan or the fact that he was in special forces. Without thinking she blurted out, “does he still love me?”
“Yes,” Sebella said simply. “And while you wear the earrings, he will not be able to forget you.”
“Will he ever forgive me?” Sage pleaded. “It was one stupid comment. I didn’t mean it; I was scared, and it came out. He will come back to me, right?!”
Sabella sighed. “One word, one bullet. Sometimes we do not get a second chance.”
Sage felt her heart quiver. The few pieces she had carefully put back together, were now scattered on the ground once more.
“Sage, Sage!” Amy called from the porch.
“Coming,” Sage called.
Sabella bowed her head, “good luck, my child.”
“Wait,” Sage pleaded. She fished around her jean pockets for some loose change. When she looked up, the woman was gone.
“Never leave the house without telling me where you’re going,” Dr. Billow wagged a finger at her. “These parts contain many dangerous things; I know you are an adult but it’s my job to see that you are safe. Stay close to the house unless you are with a guide, understand?”
Sage nodded, and they went back inside. The rest of the afternoon was spent unpacking and getting to know the other members. Dinner was boiled hotdogs with freshly made bread, sliced vegetables, and fruit. A few of the members asked about the spotted hyena encounter.
The more Sage told over the events, the more she thought Sebella was a celestial being. Though, regarding the hyena, Dr. Billow gave the group the same advice Sebella had, almost verbatim. “If you come across another hyena, stand tall, place your arms out and scream. Never ever run, it will chase you.”
That night, as she lay in bed, Sage’s thumb rubbed over her phone screen, and her finger pressed on Logan’s profile picture. He was standing on the edge of a cliff, deep valley ridges all around him. The beauty of the natural canyons were competing with the outline of his tight t-shirt.
Sage ached to tell him about her adventures. He would surely be proud of how she scared away the hyena. Her thumb hit the call button. “Noo,” she cried, desperately trying to end the call before he picked up. It was too late.
“Hello?” She heard him say at the other end.
What was she going to say to him? ‘Hey Logan, I was just staring at your profile picture a little too fervently, and whoops…those clumsy fingers of mine!’ She glanced over at Amy snoring in her cot.
“Sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t mean to call you; it was sort of a pocket dial… how are you?”
“Good, just on a few minutes break before heading off to more training. How is your summer going?”
“It’s freezing,” said Sage. “I’ve discovered that winter on every continent is chilly, even in South Africa.”
“Wow, what are you doing there?”
“I’m on a humanitarian program. My first shift at the hospital starts tomorrow.”
“And the Ritz doesn’t have heat?”
There it was again, the judgment and disdain. Privileged rich Sage, getting the best of everything if he only knew what her accommodations were really like. Keeping her voice steady she replied.
“I’ll have you know that the cot I’m sleeping on is about as thin as a fast-food burger bun, there is no toilet seat lid in the bathroom and guess what, I’m still excited about the work because the people I’ve met are brave and kind and wonderful, and experience is a much better teacher than any stuffy classroom.”
There was a pause and Sage knew if she didn’t come up with something in the next few seconds the conversation was over, perhaps between them, forever. “So, how’s your summer going?”
“Busy. We ship off in a couple of days,” said Logan. “I begged for a day off to spend time with my girlfriend. It was granted. We are heading off to a campsite tonight near the San Diego Bay.”
Sage slumped deeper into her pillow, tears running down her cheeks. Her daydream of Logan returning to her, gone. Sabella’s words repeated in her mind. ‘One word, one bullet. Sometimes we do not get a second chance.’
But that couldn’t be right, every day was a new beginning. With her last seed of hope, she said. “I’m thinking of doing a residency in San Diego. One of the top oncologists recently opened his practice to residency students.”
“Well,” said Logan, “if you are ever in town, give me a ring.”
“Oh, and Sage.”
“They are lucky to have you.”
Sage ended the call by sending regards to all his family. Her heart was in better shape than she expected. Leaning back on the cot, she thought about her day. The spotted hyena, Sebella’s prophetic words, and imagining what Logan’s new girlfriend looked like. Let him have his fun with someone else. Their bond was stronger, so strong that Sebella could feel its
Maybe one day she and Logan would meet and all that was there would reignite, or maybe it would dissolve like the gel in her hair. Either way, the truth would surely, eventually, find her.