This is a short story I had written when I first started my university courses back in 2015. It was inspired by real events but the story itself is fictitious as are all of the characters.
The fire was swallowing the forest. She grabbed her baby and ran. The flames stalked them with a relentless agenda. The ground was hot beneath her feet like hell was coming up for revenge. Amber flames melted the trees around them causing claustrophobia, and for the first time she wanted an open space away from the trees. The fire behind shadowed her every move. Her heart pounded and she ran faster.
If we get to the ravine my baby will be safe, she thought.
Red flames jumped in front of them. A thick wall of smoke to either side closed them in. Her natural instinct to protect her baby was to climb, but overhead was worse than what was around her. The sky was on fire, branches had caved in. She turned in circles and looked for an exit but death danced around them. Her baby cried as she kept one hand around him and the other arm dug. The ground was hard. She cracked through the earth and tore off a finger nail, maybe two; she only felt the pain that rippled through her arm. Frantically she scooped the bloodied earth in a pile next to the small hole. She tugged her baby from her body. His grip was strong but she needed him to let go. He let out a curdled scream.
Please let go, she thought.
The heat was on top of her, her hair singed. She wrenched him from her. His round chocolate eyes were glazed with fear and she laid him down in the hole. She rested her body over the top of the hole and leaned on the dirt pile which gave a tiny gap for air. He clung to her belly and tried to get out. She placed her hand inside and he wrapped his tiny fingers around hers.
The trees collapsed. All she felt was heat up her legs and back. Her body shook violently as she let out a scream. Bile rose up from her stomach, her body uncontrollably contorted as she vomited. She cemented herself back to the spot over the hole. Her body was ridged as she smelt her own burnt flesh.
Why had the pain gone away but the fire still burned? She thought.
All she felt now was his hand which clutched onto hers. Her eyes closed.
She heard voices and her eyelids blinked rapidly to open. Her baby was near; his breath was warm and alive. Her eyes slowly came into focus. He moved in front of her with excitement and touched her face. The corners of her mouth curled up, her baby survived. She looked around and struggled to move her body. She tensed every muscle in her body as she pushed herself to sit up. He nestled into her lap. Slowly she moved and wrapped her arms around him. Her eyes widened and she squeezed him tighter.
There were five of them. They wore white jackets, masks, and gloves. They were statuesque as they observed her. She didn’t understand what they said. Her head turned to check for others but all that surrounded them now was black ash as far as she could see. Her heart sank. Her home was dead. As her dry lips parted to scream the only sound that came out was a small squeak. She clutched her chest as the pain crippled through her. She leaned forward to get herself up but her legs flopped. She pushed and tried again. She leaned harder on her arms this time but she couldn’t get up, her legs were immobile. They needed to leave; away from the white jackets. Her hand ran down the back of her leg. Her finger tips followed the odd shape of what was left of her leg.
The white jackets stepped closer and the baby clung to her as she struggled to move away from them. One of the white jackets stood still and put his hand up to the others. They all took several steps backward. The man took off his mask and pulled out of his pocket pieces durian fruit. He dropped to his knees and cautiously crawled towards them. She wiggled backwards and tried to keep the gap between them. He stopped, extended his arm out with the fruit. The baby gripped her tightly as he pulsed with excitement against her belly but she didn’t move. The man sat down in front of them and smiled at her. He placed the fruit out in front of them on the ground, crossed his legs and placed his hands on his knees.
Now we wait, he thought.
It must have been an hour before she strained to grab the fruit. Her body slumped forward as she strived to keep herself up with her arms. Her instinct was to run but she needed help. The man shimmied his way towards them and pushed the fruit closer. She picked up the fruit in her hand and plucked out one of the fleshy sections. She fed them to her baby. The man moved in closer to her as he brought her more fruit. She carefully watched his movements and looked into his dark eyes. She looked down at her baby and she knew she needed to trust the man. Her arms shook, her eyes closed and naturally she leaned back to rest. The man hopped up and grabbed her hands so she didn’t fall backwards onto the ground. She knew the flames ate her flesh and there was not much left. The white jackets rushed next to her; two with a large white cloth which covered her back, the other two with a canvas stretcher. The baby wrapped tight around her belly. The five of them gently lifted her and her baby.
They walked for until they came to a building and moved her to a bed. The baby stayed with her. She lay on her side as the five of them inspected her injuries. The man came with a strange apparatus and inserted something into her arm. She lay still while they worked on her. Her eyelids fluttered and strained to stay awake. Her breath was slow and short; her body limp on the table.
Who would care for my baby if I died? She thought. I need to live.
Her baby snuggled into her, she stroked his hair and they closed their eyes to sleep.
When she opened her eyes, she knew the face. It was the man. He sat next to her. She wondered if he ever left while she slept. For three day now he stayed by her side. He fed the baby, he fed her, he changed her bandages, he cared for her, and he cared for the baby. She extended out her hand to him. He looked at her with his brows raised. He took her hand and they sat there while the baby rested.
His skin was soft, softer than hers. His fingers were smaller, smaller than hers. They were both the same but different, she thought.
As she laid on her side, her baby in front of her, she looked up at the man. He stroked her hair and caressed her cheek.
Humans aren’t much different than us, she thought.
“I will treat him as my own,” the man said to her.
She wrapped her arms around her baby and pressed her lips to his face. He started to cry. She took a slow breath and closed her eyes. Her body drooped, her arms released from her baby, and she let go. The baby wrapped his arms around her neck and continued to cuddle next to her.
The man started to cry, tears streamed down his cheeks. The baby turned to him and carefully observed him. The baby watched as the man wiped away his tears and the baby stretched out his arms. For the first time the man took the baby orangutan in his arms. The baby grabbed onto him.
“Orangutans aren’t much different than us,” said the man. “I want to give you a name. You should be named after your Mother.” The man sat with the baby and thought for a moment. “I will name you Aiman; it means fearless.”
Aiman raised his hand and touched the man’s face. The corners of his mouth curled up.
Copyright Melissa Ann Peters 2017