Ed. note: This was to be my April 1 post, but… better late than never.
“At this pace, we’ll never make it in time,” Murry wheezed as he took another swing with his machete. His tan shirt was soaked through with sweat. As he paused to wipe his strong brow with a rag, he turned and looked back along the meandering trail they had so painfully hacked through the tangled, unyielding jungle. His rippling biceps glistened in the streaks of pale sunlight that filtered down through the jungle canopy high above. He shook his head slowly and blew out a fatigued breath.
His partner ignored him.
“Mordechai, we’re never gonna make it.”
“We have to make it, Murry,” he replied angrily. “Or at least we have to try. The radio operator was absolutely certain: little Bobby was bitten by a River Mamba. You know what that means as well as I do. If we don’t get this anti-venom to the kid in the next twelve hours, he’s a goner.”
“I know. Believe me, I know. We’re the closest. But hacking a trail through this country is just too tough. Face it, Mordechai, we’ve been at this for three hours now and we ain’t gone half as far as we shoulda. I care about the kid, too, but we’re not gonna make it in time. Not this way.”
Mordechai didn’t want to admit it, but Murry was right. It didn’t happen often; the kid was dumb as a post, but he could see the obvious.
That missionary family along the river was counting on them. He’d promised he would get through in time. Now, reality was sinking in. He felt powerless to keep that promise, powerless to deliver the medicine in time, powerless to save the life of this family’s only son. He’d failed, and he hated failure.
Murry hung his head in defeat. His curly, golden locks cascaded over his tanned and muscled shoulders and glistened in the morning sunlight with a beauty that seemed completely out of place at such a moment. But no story about hunky guys sweating in the jungle could ever be complete without a reference to great hair.
Suddenly, Mordechai jerked his head erect, his golden locks bouncing. Whipping the pack from his hairy back, he yanked out his radio and managed to raise the operator who was standing by back at base camp. He spoke a name, and made her understand the urgency of their mission. Tell her she has to come, he said. Tell her she is our only hope.
Murry looked on quizzically, listening to one half of the conversation but not comprehending, which was not a new experience for Murry. But it wasn’t his mind that drew the stares of every available woman in the Amazon basin.
Now, for the first time that day, Mordechai was smiling. His perfect white teeth glistened in the frame of his full lips, and he broke into a laugh.
“What was that all about?” Murry inquired.
“You’ll see. Let’s keep going. We’ll be fine. I think we’re gonna be fine.”
They took to their work with newfound encouragement. Only nine hours left for a 20-hour journey, but suddenly Mordechai knew one thing for certain: little Bobby would live!
She was tall and slender, with hair the color of chestnuts and eyes that sparkled with the fire of a joke that no one else knew. Murry’s jaw dropped as she approached—she was a babe! She had approached them quietly and unnoticed until she was right at their sides, almost like an apparition. She had a look of strength about her, a look of danger mixed with gentleness that commanded his respect, and admiration. He wondered if she liked square dancing.
Mordechai greeted her with a welcoming hug and introduced Murry.
“Thanks for coming, Hannah. We’re in a terrible mess here. I suppose they filled you in back at camp. We’re down to seven hours now, and as you can see, we’ll never make it at the rate we’re going. Can you help us?”
“I guess we’ll see,” she said with a smile. She lifted a piece of sliced tree branch and twirled it between her slender fingers. “Looks like you boys should have called me a lot sooner. Step back, gentlemen, and sheath your machetes please.”
They did as she asked. Murry looked at his friend with raised eyebrows.
“Just watch,” whispered Mordechai with a smile.
She walked ahead a few feet and spread her arms wide. Then slowly, she drew them to herself, gently enfolding a dozen vines and saplings and pulling them to her face. She closed her eyes and began lightly caressing the leaves of the stout vines.
“Shhhh,” she whispered. “It’s ok, now. No one will hurt you. These men don’t want to hurt you. It’s going to be ok. You’re going to have to let us through. You’re going to give us a straight passageway and we’ll slip right through, and then we’ll be gone. There’s a little boy who needs us. He’s dying and we have medicine that can save his life. Let us through, then we’ll leave you in peace.
“You are such beautiful vines, we would never want to hurt you. We only want a trail through to the river. Shhhh, now. Hush. Hush. Release your grip. Relax and let go. That’s right. That’s right. Release your grip.”
And as she spoke these gentle words, the vines seemed to hear her. There were sounds, like the popping of embers in a fire, and a groaning and rustling of wood and leaves, and suddenly, a pathway opened for a dozen feet before her. She stepped forward, speaking in a soft voice as she walked, reaching her hands out to touch the trees and vines with her fingertips as she passed, and the forest obeyed her voice. The path opened wider and deeper into the darkness.
Turning to Mordechai and Murry, she beckoned for them to follow. Mordechai laughed and stepped into the clearing. Murry looked up and down, bewildered yet again; then he reluctantly followed after his friend. With Hannah leading them, they advanced at a slow walk, then a trot, then finally running as the forest parted before them like the sea in the Great Book of old.
And as they ran, Murry turned to see the gap closing itself behind them, as if they had never been there at all.
It took only a couple of hours more before they broke through to the river. The thankful missionaries ran to them, tears streaming down their cheeks, full of hugs and kind words. Then, turning quickly, they sped back to their rugged stilt house to administer the precious gift. Little Bobby would live, thanks to the determination of these brave and selfless men. The grateful villagers gathered around them all, touching them, smiling and chattering their thanks in their native tongue. Mordechai wondered if they might immortalize this day in a song. The thought made him quite pleased with himself.
Hannah wandered away from the crowd and strolled to the edge of the dark river, where she sat down, removed her shoes, and dangled her feet in the swift, cool water.
“We never could have made it without Hannah’s help, buddy,” said Mordechai as he watched her with admiration and wonder.
“Except for that time when you pulled a quarter out of my ear, that was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” gasped Murry. “Who is that woman, anyway?”
“There isn’t another like her on the entire continent, I’d bet. That’s Hannah. Naturalist. Linguist. One of the brightest people I know. But folks around here know her by another name. They speak it in awed reverence, like it was the name of some ancient goddess.”
“What name? What do you mean? What do they call her?” Murry wondered.
“She’s the Vine Whisperer,” Mordechai replied.
They both watched her for a moment as she gazed across the river into the empty dark of the expanding jungle. She was at peace here, where creation was more alive than anyplace she’d ever known.
“Come on, buddy. Let’s see if we can catch a boat downstream. I need a shower. And if we play our cards right, we might just make it back in time to hit B’bangee’s Club. Bunny said she’d meet me there. It’s disco night, you know.”
Murry stood for a moment, shaking his head, still not fully comprehending what he had witnessed. Then the light came on, albeit dimly.
“Disco night!” he exclaimed. “I love watching the mirrored ball go around and around.” He was dumb as a bag of hammers, but he could move like a pre-geriatric Travolta on the dance floor.
With that, the two men strode off towards the river. It was time to go home and disco the night away!