The Village in the Clouds by John Bartels

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet – Ac1, Scene 5, 166-7

James Fromme tripped and fell off the ten-meter-long suspension bridge into a shallow stream running in the gully below. The drop was about five feet and he landed on some boulders. Lying in the icy water he realized his left leg must be badly injured. 

The pain was excruciating, and he passed out. It was five thirty in the afternoon and getting dark.

The accident happened on Sunday, September 16, 2012 on the golf course at the Sani Pass Hotel close to the border between South Africa and Lethoto. The hotel is in a narrow valley next to the road leading up the pass.

The valley is surrounded by the Drakensberg mountains. It is an area where the weather changes quickly and with little warning. The temperature can drop suddenly. On a sunny afternoon black clouds can appear in the west over Lesotho and quickly bring drizzle, rain, sleet and even snow. It is not a good place to lie unconscious hidden in a gully with a badly injured leg.

At the time, James and his wife Cindy were staying at the hotel. The plan was to stay for the week. They had been several times before. They knew the place well and in particular enjoyed the golf course. It is a narrow golf course because of the narrow valley. This means that the furthest hole is about two kilometers from the hotel building. Baboons can often be seen from the hotel patio feeding on the distant fairways. These baboons have never been a danger but as anyone who lives in Africa knows, baboons are not to be trifled with. A baboon can easily kill a dog or even a leopard, given the chance. Obviously a person is no match for a baboon.

      On the day James fell, his wife Cindy was twenty seven kilometers away in Underberg. She had gone there for a Church Meeting to be followed by a late afternoon tea with friends from the nearby Drakensberg Gardens resort.

      Cindy had left the Hotel at around two in the afternoon. She told James she would be back at about seven in time for dinner. James stayed behind at the hotel. After tea – at about half past four – he decided to go and play golf. He did not tell anyone he was going.

      He fetched some balls and a golf club and made his way down to the course. There were some baboons at the far end of the course about two kilometers away, but he was sure that they would run away if he went near them.

      Playing several balls, he made his way towards the Lesotho end of the course. The baboons were nowhere to be seen but he could hear them barking in the nearby ravines. Then, it began to get chilly. Huge clouds over Lesotho had quietly crept closer, dropping and getting darker. He suddenly realized the light was going fast because when he looked back at the hotel in the far distance the patio lights had come on and were sharply visible in the gathering dusk.

       James had just crossed he last bridge and was at the end of the course when suddenly there was crackling flash of lightning followed immediately by a massive boom of thunder. The sound of the thunder was greatly amplified as it echoed back from the surrounding mountains.

      James was concerned because there was no delay between the lightning flash and the boom of the thunder. This meant the storm was right above him. Then suddenly –  more and more lightning and thunder. This really worried him as his golf club had a steel shaft and this could attract the lightning. He realized he must get back to the hotel. And quickly. By then it was half past five but because of the coming rain and heavy clouds it was it was difficult to see. It was when he was crossing the first bridge on the way back that he tripped and fell.

      James must have been unconscious for about half an hour when he woke and realized that something was moving in the darkness above the gully. Confused and nauseous from pain and terrified that it might be a baboon he shouted. “Who is that?” A scuffling sound grew closer and he then could see the very dim shapes of a person and a dog clambering down towards him. “It is me – Joshua and my dog Nala.”

      James must have lost consciousness again immediately because the next thing he remembered was waking up in a hospital room with Cindy at his bedside.

      “Awake at last sweetheart” Cindy kissed him. You are going to be ok. You fell on the golf course and nearly broke your leg. Banged your head too. You would have died if a young man had not seen you fall and come to you. He carried you all the way back to the hotel in the thunderstorm. An ambulance brought you here to the hospital in Umzimkulu – about an hour and a half from the Hotel.”

      James lay very still. “Cindy – it was Joshua who rescued me. He was there with his dog.”

      Three days later James was discharged from the hospital and returned to the hotel. The next morning, he discussed his amazing rescue with the manager of the hotel.

      The manager told him that at about seven in the evening the previous Sunday, during a massive thunder storm, a member of the hotel staff had come running and told him that an injured person had been brought to the hotel. He had quickly gone outside and found a young man carrying James who was unconscious. The young man told the manager that he had found James injured on the golf course.  The manager had then brought James inside to get warm by the huge fire in the hotel lounge and phoned for an ambulance. At the same time Cindy had returned from Underberg. When the manager looked for the rescuer, he discovered that he had gone without even giving his name. The manager told James that he was incredibly lucky – nobody had known where he was. He could have died of exposure as it had snowed later that night.

      James then told the manager that it was Joshua who had rescued him. He explained that he had known Joshua for several years. He was a local shepherd. Their friend ship had started a few years earlier when James had come across Joshua on the golf course. Joshua was about fourteen then. After that, James and Cindy had come to the hotel regularly over the years and had met Joshua on almost every visit. The pattern was the same: Joshua and his sheep dog Nala would be tending livestock on the mountainside above the golf course. He would see James and come down to chat.  And so, the friendship had developed.

 James told the manager that he supposed this is exactly what had happened on the previous Sunday “Joshua and Nala must been on the mountain above the course when the storm broke. He saw me fall and came down to help me. I know where Joshua lives. He is from a village on the first mountain ridge towards Lesotho, about ten kilometers away. I have seen his village from the patio. You can’t always see it. Most times it is covered by cloud but sometimes the clouds part and you get a glimpse of it. It looks an exceptionally beautiful place.”

The manager was most helpful. “Yes. I have heard of that village. It apparently is very beautiful. Our Chef is from the same village.”

   “I would like to thank Joshua.” James was excited. “May I speak to the Chef? What is his name?”

“His name is John. He comes on duty at twelve. I’ll ask him to meet you on the patio just after twelve.”

   James was ready waiting on the patio at a quarter to twelve. The air was full of bird chatter celebrating the end of winter and the certainty of spring. He walked to the edge of the patio and looked above the golf course towards Lesotho. He tried to see Joshua’s village. It was a warm, sunny day but there was still plenty of cloud. He could just see the village but only dimly. He decided right then that he would go there one day and meet its people. Then James heard a sound behind him. It was the Chef, John.

   “The manager said you wanted to see me.”

   “Yes. Thank you for coming.  Let us sit down.”

   The two men sat down at a table on the patio. James told the John his whole story. How he and Cindy had been coming to Sani Pass Hotel regularly for years. How he had first met Joshua and then got to know him better as the years passed. And then he explained how Joshua had saved his life.

   While James was telling the story, John did not say a word. He just looked steadily at James.

   “I would like very much to thank Joshua for what he did. I understand that you and Joshua live in the same village – that beautiful village in the mountains on the way to Lesotho.

   John did not reply. A full minute passed.

   James was puzzled. “Is something wrong?”

   Speaking very softly the John replied. “Joshua died about four months ago.  He and his dog Nala were killed by a landslide high in the mountains”

   The two men sat in silence. Even the birds seemed to have gone quiet.

   Then after a few minutes, without saying a word, John got up and left, leaving James alone. James stood up and slowly made his way back to the edge of the patio to see if he could still see the village. But he could not. The clouds had come down over the whole ridge. Everything had been hidden.

   James went slowly back to the room he and Cindy were sharing. She was getting ready for lunch.

   “Did you see the Chef? She stopped brushing her hair. “Is something wrong?  What has happened? Are you upset about something?”

He looked quietly at her. “Cindy sweetheart, I have something to tell you that will change the way we look at life forever.”

**************

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