W is for War
Lying on the hillside as the sun came up, I examined the new round of lacerations on my leg. It was the same one that had been broken in the Balkans and the raw new wounds were melding with the old ones. The desperation of war that I thought I had left behind on those broken streets was upon me and I felt I had no time to sit in the open looking at my wounds. I feared Monty was nearby and after last night, he would fight me to the death if he thought I was still alive.
My only hope was that he had seen the car fall off the hillside and ran far away after jumping out. I wasn’t convinced. Monty was thorough. He would want to check the accident scene again before contacting the authorities and making up his tale. A searing pain ripped down my leg but I could move it. I was relieved it did not seem to be broken but I felt light headed and weak. I moved a few hundred yards from the place where my car had hung on a tree branch and entered a thicket shielded from the light. Through a small gap in the branches I could see the road up above me.
About an hour after I had found the thicket I saw him. There was no mistaking Monty’s thick frame at the crest of the road against the skyline. As I looked I felt a weight fall in my gut as he limbered down the slope and inched in my direction. I knew I would be dead out here if he found me. This was war and Monty would give no quarter. Monty had a heavy looking staff in his right hand and the instinct of a hunter that he had learned on many pursuits of the fox.
I saw him prod the scars on the steep hillside where the Citroen had scoured the ground. Would he work out the car had not fallen in one movement? He continued, moving down the steep slope, showing great dexterity for a man of broad frame. Alarmingly he was making a path directly toward the bush I was hiding it.
The discomfort in my leg was ratcheting up and I wanted to move it. It twitched and throbbed and I grimaced in pain. Monty stopped. He was about 20 yards away from where I was lying. He was listening for something. There was a low buzz of a car engine on a far off hill that rose and fell with the contours. I held my leg and resisted the urge to moan. Then I saw it.
In a dark mass of roots close to my face, vibrant colors were moving on a branch. I stared at the chilly eyes of a snake as it uncoiled fast down the branch and swung toward my head. Instinctively I jerked my head back. The bushes shook and a large bird rose out of the trees, squawking. I looked again out through the gap and was horrified to see Monty was staring straight at me. He had picked up on the movement. He took another two steps closer to me and stopped again in his tracks in the moist grass. He was almost close enough to touch. I readied myself for a crushing blow of his cane. Then suddenly I noticed he was looking again down the hillside. He took a few steps away from the bush and looked down to where the grass gave way for a rock face. Monty was looking at the wreckage of the 2CV more than 100 feet below. He gave out a grunt that sounded self-satisfied and started climbing back up toward the road. I did not dare to move until he had vanished from sight. After more than an hour in the bush I crawled out.
I managed to pull myself to my feet but I was weak and the hillside was steep. Gradually I limped about half a mile until the hill became more manageable. There was a small walled stone town in the distance beyond the Lombardy poplars that rose like spears from the sides of the hills. The sun was becoming hot and I was desperately in need of water but I walked slowly on, until I found myself in a path shaded by high banks. It took me two hours to reach the village and it had passed noon. The locals looked on warily at the ragged and bloody figure that had arrived from the hills.
There were small pavement cafes here and a clear silver fountain. The beauty was not lost on me and it mixed with the heady feeling that was coursing through my ragged body. It was the joy to be alive and I felt like embracing random strangers. Instead I headed to a small brick police station to file a report to a startled little man who looked like he had dealt with little more serious than missing cats and shoplifters for the last five years.