The following is an excerpt from Gab’s journal.
June 17, 2017. Day 214.
En Route: Unknown location – Ban Nangio
I slump down, exhausted after this morning’s hike over rough terrain. I look down at my weighted boots, cracked mud drying quickly in the heat. I should try to scrape off some of the excess soil, but my tired body finds it near impossible to muster the energy. Instead I just sit in the dirt and ask the grubby child staring at me if she has any water. She runs and fetches a tin kettle and I gratefully refill my bottle. The language barrier is difficult but I can at least manage “Khop Chai” (Thank-you).
There is still no sign of Megan and I begin to worry, usually I’m no more than 10 minutes ahead of her and it is now approaching an hour. The road has been treacherous this past week and we’ve had little food apart from rice and egg. I begin to worry that she may have been caught in the large mud hole that I had just crossed. Hole is an understatement, it was like a vast wasteland of excrement so deep you could hide a pregnant elephant. Maybe that’s where all the wild elephants are hidden, in large mud holes, because we certainly haven’t seen any in the wild. The mud reminds me of the Murray River bed when the weir is taken out. I can hear dad cajoling me now “Be careful Gab, mud is dangerous. I know it seems like fun but it’s a killer.” This was proven to me almost immediately that day, when I went on my bushwalk and found a small sheep caught in the mud who I was unable to reach; watching helplessly as it drowned in thick goo. This memory runs through my head and I begin to panic. I convince myself Megan has died a horrible death. She is gone. My friend is gone and I’m the one that has to tell her parents that I wasn’t there to help her.
Maybe I could just avoid all reality and just live the rest of my days out here, in Ban Samphanxay, middle of nowhere, Laos. I could pretend Megan never went missing and I could farm rice and weave my own clothes. Maybe I could teach the local kids English and learn how to manipulate bamboo. I could raise my own herd of water buffalo and name the prize bull Toii.
Finally I see a gangling figure, stumbling toward me covered in earthy brown mud; Megan. I breathe a sigh of relief, even though there are deep undertones of rage set on her face, which I am usually scared off. She bursts, “I thought you were dead!”
“I thought you were!” I reply. We grumble and argue about looking out for each other and then eventually settle, too tired to fight and both secretly relieved that we are both alright.