Without a word, she dropped to the ground. The exhaustion had gotten to her, and there was nothing that I could do to help, except to whisper words of encouragement in her ear.
She moaned miserably, twitching on her side as she tried to overcome the spasms of pain.
‘You’re going to be fine,’ I whispered, but I doubted that she could comprehend a word of what I was saying.
We were stranded on a narrow dirt path, with not a soul in sight. We were dehydrated, fatigued and famished. The water in the canteen had vanished hours ago, when I’d used it to revive her.
I’d first spotted her lying unconscious at the foot of a banyan tree, as I’d been scanning the horizon for the perfect panorama with my camera. I could tell that something was wrong from a mile away, and on closer inspection, I saw that she was well into her last few days of pregnancy.
I stood up to survey the area. We were almost there. I’d been trying to get her to the hospital, but I had no means of transport: The Jeep that I’d rented out had broken down, my cell phone was out of range and I hadn’t managed to get any help along the way. And so, we moved on foot.
The sun was setting, and the panic began to rise in my chest. We were running out of time. I didn’t want to leave her here, and yet, it seemed like my only option if I wanted to get her medical attention. I gritted my teeth, and made a choice.
‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered, as I looked into her deep brown eyes. She was growing weaker by the minute.
I dashed down the path and followed the numerous footprints that led towards the town centre. As I crossed the local bar, my phone pipped up, buzzing maniacally from the countless notifications and messages that were hours overdue.
It took me a while to get to the hospital and even longer to grab someone’s attention. It wasn’t until I’d yelled at a passing nurse, that a wizened doctor walked towards me with a stern look on his face.
As I explained the situation to him, his anger dissolved into a look of concern, and he then immediately assembled a team of nurses. Two of them followed me out with an empty stretcher, which they loaded into the back of a minivan.
I wondered about how long it had been since I’d left her there, and I prayed that she hadn’t lost hope.
We found her five minutes later, in the exact spot where I’d left her, only looking far worse than when I’d abandoned her.
For her own good, I kept telling myself, but the guilt refused to abate.
‘I’m back,’ I whispered, as her eyes found mine. She winced in response, her breathing shallow.
I laid a reassuring hand on her as we rushed back to the tiny hospital.
The doctor stopped in his tracks as he saw her.
‘My God, man!’ he yelled, wide-eyed, ‘Where did you find her?’
‘A little north of the lake,’ I panted, as we heaved her gently onto a stretcher and raced her into one of the emergency rooms. I was quickly shunned away as more nurses came to the rescue. Whether hers or mine, it’s debatable.
‘Quick! Make her comfortable.’
‘She’s writhing too much–’
‘She’s almost there!’
I inched away into a corner and watched in horror. There was blood. So much blood. My heart rammed against my rib-cage, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
And yet, even for a second, I could not look away.
She grunted and howled, and the sounds pierced through me like knives.
And then all of a sudden, it was over.
She’d given birth to three in one go.
I don’t know how mothers did it.
I approached them tentatively, still wary of all the blood.
‘They look just like you,’ I whispered through teary eyes, although all of her kind looked similar to me. The doctor smiled and beckoned me to join him outside. She deserved some privacy with her little ones.
She purred at the sight of her cubs, and then laid her head down wearily.