Fences are for keeping intruders out, but they also keep you inside, it took me a few years to realise that. The boarding school I went to had no fences only boundaries, and all boundaries can be transcended.
I guess the school being in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by a forest they figured there was nowhere to go, although students were strongly advised to stay within the school boundaries. The were no fences anywhere except the girls hostel which was fenced off with barbed razor wire, and the Sister in Charge kept rabid dogs which were rumoured to bite anything in a pair of trousers. The message was clear girls’ hostel was forbidden forest to all boys.
This also implied that everywhere else was fair game. Every weekend my friends and I would walk a little further into the surrounding woods to see how far we could go before we were called out, for going out of bounds. There was always three of us, my two friends who will remain nameless and myself. We explored every nook and cranny of the forest surrounding the school and so much more. We called these trips, expeditions, even drew tiny maps, so we could remember places of interest, like the leafy glade where you could rest all day and study or not if you so chose far from scrutiny of nosy folk, and the cave with rock art, which could easily be over a hundred years old. In hindsight perhaps we should have told someone about that cave it could have been a cultural heritage site.
If you walked far enough there was a section with no fence, where one, whom, if was so inclined could get in or out of the girls hostel but that is another story altogether.
“I know a shortcut…” Those are the words that mark the beginning of an adventure or a very long journey. We decided to use our knowledge of the local terrain to see if we could find a shortcut to the nearest town which was some twenty kilometers away. If shortcuts were as good as they are purported to be they would not be called shortcuts, they would be the way.
We would have walked forever taking shortcut after shortcut into dead-end routes going round in circles, had it not been that one of my friends noticed a wall of smoke in the horizon. We were unconcerned at first, but the smoke steadily got closer and it seemed to be enveloping us, as hot breeze blew at us. That’s when we realised that we were smack dead in the middle of the path of a veld fire. We made a hasty retreat as the wind suddenly kicked up several knots like a air of bellows fanning the flames. Chasing us was tongues of fire as tall as a man standing on another man’s shoulders (which was was the length of the grass in some parts of the forest) I could feel the fierce heat baking me alive as my clothes got drenched in sweat, no, that was not sweat, that was my body crying.
Either we ran in circles or the fire encircled us and was slowly closing in for the kill because everywhere we turned there was flames to the front of us. The only way to make it out alive was to break through a wall of fire and hopefully head in the direction of the tarmac highway. It was now nearly impossible to tell directions because thick black smoke was caressing us intimately coiling around us like a boa constrictor making it hard to breathe or think. We broke a bunch of tree branches with plenty of green leaves and used them to beat a path through a section where the fire was not to dense. It felt like stepping through one of the circles of hell in Dante’s inferno, you did not pause to think, you kept moving forward, as you breathed in the acrid smoke and all you heard was the roar of a thousand tongues trying to lick you, and all you thought was this is it, the final curtain is a blanket of smoke. Surprisingly we made it through, whole, except for the soles of my shoes which had melted though I did not notice at the time.
When we finally got to the the highway the Priest-In-Charge of the school was there, leaning on the door of his pick-up truck , which was full of the other boys and they were all applauding. We just sheepishly walked to them, with our smoke blackened faces showing nothing but smiling white teeth as we tried to figure out if they were happy because we had been finally busted for going out of bounds.
It turns out, that day we single-handedly saved the school from burning. You see, as we were beating a path out of the flames we inadvertently doused the flames headed towards the school premises. We were hailed as heroes and that day supper was a special dinner held in our honour.
No one asked what exactly we had been doing out there and we did not tell. Everyone assumed that we had seen the smoke and set out to put out the fire and we let them believe it. The school needed its heroes and who were we to stop them, everybody loves a hero.
oh how I missed the internet ^_^