Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cape Town nocturnal

[This story follows a bit of the context set by A monsoon to haunt. Reading it before you proceed here is highly recommended]

It had been almost a year since I was stationed at Bamako, Mali as Telecommunications Field Engineer with the UN. The first year in the dark continent was quite an adventure in itself, although life was contained almost totally in Mali. I was straining for a break, may be not a vacation as such, but just a short change; and that's why I decided to accept an invitation for a week-long leadership camp at Cape Town, even though it was half a continent away!

I checked into the Table Bay Hotel at 10 past 11:00 PM on Sunday, the 20th of February, 2005. The camp stretched over the five days to follow; Saturday was free, and my return flight was scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday. Saturday would be my big day! I already had a rough agenda in my mind, one was for sure to take a snap against the statue of Bartolomeu Dias, then probably a cable-car ride up the Table Mountain, then may be check out the Lions Head, some aquatics, and then do what ever was popular in Cape Town.

Seldom did I know how dramatically things would change in the next few days to come.

* * * * * *

The programme began at 9 AM on Monday, with the customary breakfast and coffee. We were then shuffled and re-arranged, with each person to be paired up with a randomly chosen activity partner along with a round of introductions. My name was called out for introductions, and then "Dr. Suzanne Roux". I watched, as a pretty lady got up from the group, and walked to the microphone beside me.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Suzanne Roux; I work with WHO on the Global Malaria Programme" She smiled at the group. She had dark red hair, and an athletic physique.
"I'm from Rouen, France, and currently stationed here at Cape Town" Her accent strongly proclaimed her roots.

We retired to the group, while next names were called. As we sat down next to each other, we shook hands, and Suzanne whispered
"My apologies... I didn't quite get your last name, Mr. Kan..."
"Its Kan-ji-ra-thin-kal; but that's okay, you can call me Tedy" I smiled cheerfully
"I'll make that Ted" She too smiled warmly "I'm Suzanne Roux, you may call me Su"
* * * * * *

As days gave way one to the other, we got quite acquainted with each other; thanks to the day long sessions and activities. On Thursday evening, she showed me around the city, and later as we parted, she asked,
"So, what's your plan for the weekend?"
"Well, you know.. some lame plans, nothing solid... But you know what? What I'd like to do is something really cool... you know..? Something adventurous, something even a bit stupid, abnormal... " I went dramatic
"hehe" she laughed "you know what? I know exactly what you could do; and here's the bonus - I'll join you if you agree to my plan"
"Aaha... what's the plan, mi lady?"
"Before that, lemme ask you this - you are good at rock climbing?"
"Yeah, I am"
"How good? Just good? or pretty good?"
"Pretty good, I should say"
"Well then, lets climb the Table mountain tomorrow night!"
"What??? Climb that at night?" I pointed the Table mountain "you nuts?? at night?!!"
"Ted" She paused, gave me a you-idiot look and pointed up the sky "look up"
"Look up what? the sky? the stars? the moon?"
"The moon, you moron! Its full moon!! Tomorrow would be almost as lit as tonight! If you are good at climbing, that's all you need!... plus, what's the fun if there a'int some danger in it" she winked.
"You are nuts!" I circled my forefinger against my temple.
"Hey" she looked at me offended
"You are not serious!" I shot back.
I longed for that expression of her's to change, but her face didnt even twitch.
"Ahhh" I sighed "You are serious"
She pursed her lips and shook her head, giving a oh-yes-I-am-honey look.

I looked at the mountain. It did seem inviting, and may be I too was longing for some real adventure with a tinge of madness in it... And, if she looks so confident, may be I should go for it.

"Alright" I muttered in half-disbelief "Alright, I'll go... but I don't have any gear"
"That's fine, we'll rent it out" She beamed.
"Su, you are wierd!"
"Oui" she laughed. I too joined her in a relaxed chuckle.

"Au revior" I smiled, took a step back and made a little bow
"A bientôt" she too bowed smiling, and we parted for the day.
* * * * * *

Friday seemed to drag on, and by afternoon, I was all waiting for the sun to set. Once out of the harness and hydration pack, carabiners, quick draws and rope. We then parted to get back to our places to slip into comfortable clothing, and promised to meet each other at six for a light dinner.
center, we went to a gear-rental. I got a pair of climbing shoes,

Crimson had already spread when we met again. Su wore a tank top and pair of shorts, and me a tank-top and a pair of convertible cargo pants with the lower half off. We had a quick bite, and went through our plan again. We would take a cab to the south-west foot of the mountain; climb up the 1000m vertical stretch; reach the top past midnight; watch the entire 360 degree cityscape in moonlight, spend the night there, wake up to watch the sunrise if possible (which I really doubted after the tiresome climb), roam around the top a bit sight-seeing, and then start the hike down the easier northern side of the mountain, to reach the foot just before evening.

We started the climb at seven.
Twilight gave way to moonlight as the clocked ticked by.
* * * * * *

The climb, against my initial apprehensions, was quite interesting; it seemed quick and tireless, one reason was the absence of sun which tires you off soon; the other of course was the presence of a perfect companion - Su and I talked about everything under the sun and above (yeah, the perfect sort of company that gels with me)

We reached the top of the mountain past midnight, leaving behind a kilometer of vertical climb and five short hours. We took off our gear, changed our shoes, took trotts around the area from brim to brim watching the splendor of Cape town basked in silver, and the serenity of the Atlantic ocean. After 10 minutes of running around, we lay down at last, tired, watching the stars, a little away from the cable-car station.

Su broke the silence "You know the history of Cape Town?"
"Yeah... a bit... Bartolomeu Dias... he found it, called it the cape of storms... and later John II of Portugal named it as Cape of Good hope... yeah... I've heard all those"
"You know where Dias landed?"
"Do you know where Dias landed?" She turned on her side towards me.
"I guess not... but, is there something like that? I haven't heard of any such po.."
"C'mmon I'll show you" She jumped up to her feet.
I hesitated for a moment wondering if she was just hoaxing it up, but got up anyway, as she ran to a nearby brim.

"There" she pointed west, and looked back at me.
I walked to the brim and stood abreast. "There?"
"Yeah" she continued causally "He was caught up in a storm for 13 days, went that way", drifting her pointed finger towards east, "anchored at Mossel Bay, and later came back and landed here" Her finger traced it way back
I looked at her with a raised eyebrow
"Nah... at times, you sound a bit wierd..." I laughed
"I am" she made a pose and smiled
"In a cute way, though" I added with a smile
"hehe" she chuckled
We stood there staring into the moonlit bay for a while more.

"Lets see if we can hear this stone hit the bottom" Su broke the silence again, and tossed with her right foot a small stone which lay around. The stone rolled, and fell down the edge, and we heard a faint thud in a couple of seconds.
"Eh!" I leaned forward to have a look down the edge.
"hm" she added, and went down on all four to take a closer look down.
We did expect to hear a sound, but what was strange was that what we heard was not the sound of stone against stone or gravel, neither did we hear the stone bounce off to make its way further down the stretch. It sounded as if it had hit something softer, a kilometer up the ground on this rocky terrain.

We strained to catch what was down there for a few minutes. Moon was bright, but the place which caught our interest was in the shadows, and we couldn't really make out much. Su had almost given up and started to get back on two, when I noticed something
"Su" I waved her back down, not lifting up my head.
"Saw something?" she got back on her four
"Yeah, aint it rope you see there?" I pointed midway to a slope which went down a little away from where we stood.
She strained her eyes "hmm.. seems so... but what about it? You see lots around"
"no no.. follow it further down" I pointed down the slope
She peered... and in a tone of disbelief, muttered, "Is it?..." her words cut off, as she too pointed to the place I showed her
"Seems so" I looked at her, my eyes reflecting doubt and mystery

It did look in the dim silver, at the edge where shadow crept in, that a pair of climbing shoes lay. It of course was normal for a pair of climbing shoes to be there, someone would have just thrown their damaged pair around, like the pieces of rope. But what was abnormal, was that the pair were lying vertical to the ground, as if they were still worn!

We jumped up to our feet.
"Su, we need to check it out; sad that we didnt carrry a torch" I walked towards the spot where the slope began. Su followed.
I stepped on to the slope, and Su caught my hand "Stop; you'll need the shoes and the gear. Stay, I'll go fetch"

I studied the slope till where it was lit, till Su was back. Both of us slipped in to our climbing shoes, gloves, harnesses, and hooked on the quickdraws. I tied one end of the rope to my harness. Su took a locking position against a rock, and carabined the rope. We shook our heads in agreement, and she slowly loosened the rope, as I carefully climbed down the slope, my target around 100 meters away waiting for me.
* * * * * *

I reached the shadows in less than ten minutes, and carefully grounding my left foot, I gently nudged one of those shoes with my right. In fraction of a moment, I was sure that the shoe was not empty - it was on someone's feet, and that a person lay there infront of me in the darkness, either dead, or alive.

"There's someone here" I yelled up to Su.
"Oh God! Alive?" she yelled back.
"Need to check - can't see; slack me out slowly" I had to go atleast a meter down further to check if the person was alive. But in that darkness, I could never say if I'd step on to a trecherous rim.

Su slacked the rope inch by inch, and I crawled forward slowly making sure all my four were on safe ground. It was a man, I learned soon, and as I touched his stomach, felt a small stone on top, and beneath it, extremely feable undulations of life.

"Su, its a man, he's alive" I yelled
"I'll call 107" Su wound the rope tight to her right hand, and took out cell phone with her left.

I peered around to make out as much as I could. The narrow strip where he lay was over 50 meters from the top of the mountain, but he couldnt have fell from that height. If so, he could seldome have stayed there; in the fall, he would have toppled over, and gone to the depths. I looked back up the slope. Probably he fell somewhere further up the slope, and was damn lucky that he slid down this strip and not topple over or slid further down and over the edge into his death.

"They'll be here soon" Su yelled down
"Anything to check while we wait, doc?" I yelled back
"Yeah, check his pulse"
"Slack me down"
Su eased the rope a bit more, and I crawled a few more inches ahead, and found his wrist.
"Su, no pulse at the wrist"
"You sure? You are non-medical"
"Seems so. Ease me down a bit more, lemme check his carotid"
Su eased me a bit more down, and I felt his neck
"Weak carotid pulse; checking heart beat" I closed in my left ear on to his chest
"Weak heartbeat" I completed my diagnosis and waited for Su to respond.

"Ted" she yelled back "Don't move his body. He might have had a vertebral fracture from the fall, and probably other multiple fractures too. If you move him, it could complicate things"
"Alright. What should I do?"
"Just wait. The rescue would be in here any minute."

I didn't respond. I felt a bit let down, as I was asked just to wait and not do anything to help him; but well, I knew that it was the best to do. Any unnecessary heroics from me could prove adverse for the man who lay there, probably almost half dead.

I reclined slowly from the crawl to a squat against the mountain wall, overlooking the grand canopy spread infront of me.
"Let go" I yelled to Su, giving the rope a light tug, and she loosened her grip on the rope.
I gently wrapped my fingers over the man's ankle, and muttered "Hang in there pal, you'll be alright soon."
* * * * * *

Seven minutes passed by, and then I heard the distant rumble of a helicopter. A minute more, and it was quite near, and I looked up and saw Su waving her hands signaling them.

In a couple of minutes, spotlights were stationed which lit the entire area; I looked up, and saw lifting apparatus being errected. Two men were lowered down via ropes fed over the pullies; they greeted and thanked me and immediately got to examine the man. In the bright light, I saw him clearly - a white man, probably in his late twenties.

One of the men muttered something into his radio, looking up. I gave a glance up, and a stretcher came hanging down from the pullies. The two men skillfully transferred him to the stretcher. I looked up at Su, found her talking to one of the crew; probably updating the medical condition or exchanging contact information. In a minute, the stretcher went up gently but quickly; we watched as the crew above parked the stretcher hanging in mid-air, to safe ground. One of the men beside me muttered to his radio, and was pulled up. The rope was thrown down again, and the other man signalled me to hook it up to my harness. In a minute, both of us where on our way up.

By the time I touched my foot back at the top, the stretcher had already gone inside the chopper. In a minute, the entire apparatus was dismantled and crew was on board. Su was near the chopper, a short distance infront of me; and as the rotor gained speed, she pulled back, her eyes still fixed onthem. I slowly walked to her from behind, and stood beside as the chopper lifted.

"Su" I gently called her
"Oh" She jerked as if woken up from a trance, turned to me, and hugged me tight. I hesitated for a moment, and then wrapped my hands reassuringly around her.
"We did it" She muttered and looked up my face smiling
"Yup" I smiled and shook my head.

We watched the chopper fly down to the city, and then disappear into one of the tiny dots far below. We lay down once more on our backs on the rocky bed, watched the moon with a smile on our lips, and too tired, passed out into a contended slumber.
* * * * * *

It was the rumble of the cable-car engine that woke me; sun was already up, and my watch beeped 8 AM. My body ached every inch, as I slowly got up to a squat. The last night flashed like a dream in front of my eyes, and a smile again spread on my lips with a deep sence of satisfaction. Su was still asleep; I watched her peaceful face for a few moments, and then shook her awake. We sat there for a few minutes in silence, reliving each moment of the last night.

"Lets go get freshned up" Su pointed at the mountain top restaurant "they have wash-rooms there."
We got up gently, and slowly limped to the restaurant.
* * * * * *

The place started swarming with tourists in a while, and we went around sightseeing like any other person around; had a light lunch around noon, and decided its time to start our climb down north.

We sat there for a moment enjoying the view.
"So, we'll reach down there by evening, what's the plan for the rest of the day?" Su asked.
"Well, I have a flight to catch tomorrow noon, I guess I'll just go have dinner and sleeeeeeeeeeep"
"You! are! sooooo! Indian!!!" Su frowned
"What Indian?" I made myself sound playfully offended
"Nothing" She looked away with a snort.
"Okay, Frenchy, you tell me... what do we do?" I smiled
"Alrighty" She too smiled cheerfully "Lets see... what about an early dinner...., a movie..., and say we hit a night club?" She asked playfully, pausing in between
"Oh Su!, I donno..." I pursed my lips... "I don't think late-night dancing is gonna help my noon flight"
"Arghhhh" She punched my shoulder
"Ouch" I cried playfully.
"Alright, listen..." She paused, and playfully put her hand around my shoulder "what about a stroll around the city (I'll show you Dias's statue), a candle-lit dinner at a bayfront restaurant, and..."
"... and..?"
"... and, say, we get back to my place for some dessert?" She smiled
"...dessert!?" I paused and rubbed my chin playfully "hmm..."
"yeah... " she chuckled "...dessert"
"well... " I smiled wide at her beaming face "...sounds like a plan!".

A warm wind caressed us and flew away into the wild inlands.

Tail piece:
Su called me late Monday and informed that the man whom we found was Richard Brown, an Australian tourist on his African vacation. Richard survived the accident, though with multiple fractures and a minor cranial hemorrhage; luckily there was no vertebral injury.

[This is a short story from "An African Odyssey", which paints out the Author's life in Africa during the time he served in the UN (2003 - 2006). After having left the New York headquarters in 2004, he served at various locations across Africa, mostly in Mali, till he returned to New York towards the end of 2006. He soon resigned from UN, and returned to his native place - Kerala, India - to continue his adventures there.

Dr. Suzanne Roux continues to work with the UN. She moved to Switzerland in 2007 and now lives in Geneva with her boyfriend.

And, yeah, of course, it's all imaginary ;-)]


  1. I envy your mind's eye which comes out with spanking new narratives each time. Let your escapade continue Ted.

  2. Good one...the glass became more beautiful with this new set of colours

  3. Great narration dude.. Hats off..
    Had a great ride up the mountain.

  4. Aneeshji / അനീഷ്ജിNovember 16, 2008 at 4:01 AM

    ingane imaginary worldil jeevicho :-)

    good one tedka....

  5. good one dude!
    ippozhanu vayichathu:) ithilum nee enikku role thannilla...

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