The woman screamed out in agony!
Around her were gathered several men and women in white uniforms with face masks and rubber gloves. Some of them had blood splatters randomly speckling their gowns as they moved swiftly around the large tent gathering instruments and replacement bandages upon the orders of those obviously in charge.
At the opening in the canvas enclosure there stood a young man.
His face was as white as the sheets on the operating table had once been.
He was sweating profusely; his shirt and shorts virtually sodden with damp patches.
The expression on his face was a combination of terror and panic.
He felt completely helpless.
The men and women surrounding the patient spoke quickly to each other in their own tongue. The man had not been in the country long enough to be able to pick up more than a few words here and there, so he was completely oblivious as to what was being said.
But he knew from the overall speed with which the nurses moved that they were short of time.
From outside the sound of drums grew louder and the rhythm more fevered.
The young man desperately wanted to lend his assistance, even if it was only by holding the young woman’s hand in sympathy at her plight. But he had already been warned off with gestures and incoherent ranting by those outside who had been left to guard the tent.
He was amazed that they had actually allowed him in this far, but they could probably tell by his desperate pleadings that he meant no harm and would not interfere with the proceedings taking place inside.
The woman screamed out again and began bucking and shuffling on the bench. Her naked body, bathed in perspiration, began to slide closer to the edge of the bench.
One of the men shouted something and two of the female nurses quickly ran to the woman and held her down, manoeuvring her back into place. Meanwhile one of their colleagues brought over some thick ropes and together they began to bind the poor woman by her wrists and ankles to prevent her from falling off if she continued to struggle.
The woman being bound looked to be about twenty years old, with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail and beads of perspiration streaking down her contorted features.
With her arms and legs bound tight in a star formation the doctors huddled round and began to poke and prod her between her legs.
The woman’s swollen belly stretched her skin so tightly that it appeared to the young man as if it was about to burst.
From behind him another native rushed in with two large metal buckets filled with boiling water. He held them out to his sides at arm’s length to avoid being scorched should any of the liquid splash as he transported it.
He placed the two buckets down on the ground.
One of the nurses shouted something to him and nodding he turned and tried to usher the white man outside.
But the man was having none of it.
The native tried once more before giving up and rushing back outside into the night.
The nurses who had finished binding the woman to the bench started to soak towels and torn sheets in the boiled water, carefully laying them out on a nearby table close enough for the doctors to grab should they need to.
One of the doctors suddenly opened his eyes wide, making it look as if they were about to pop out of his skull.
He pointed frantically between the bound woman’s legs and shouted something at one of his colleagues.
One of the other doctors immediately ran over and plunged his gloved hands into the hot water and then rubbed them together before making his way back to the bench.
He looked at his colleague and waited for him to nod his head before he leaned forward and placed his hands between the woman’s legs.
As he delved in deeper the woman on the bench yanked hard against her restraints and let out a scream which was so loud that it almost pierced the eardrums of all those in attendance.
The nurses recoiled and turned their heads away.
The young man, the only person in the room who was not wearing gloves, shoved his hands up against his ears to try and block out the blood-curdling sound.
The doctor administering to the woman turned his head to one side but kept his hands in place.
Once the scream had died down, he continued to focus his attention on his patient, gently trying to ease himself forward to allow his greater access.
But with each movement the woman on the bench reacted more violently, kicking and pulling against her restraints until the ropes cut in so deeply that they began to draw blood.
Once again, her terrible screams pierced the night.
Outside the drums grew louder, their rhythm faster.
The young man could hear the chants and incantations being muttered aloud outside by the elders as they sat around the open fire while young men and women in various states of undress danced and swayed around the outskirts of the camp.
One of the nurses pried open the young woman’s mouth while another of her colleagues tried to pour something from a clay urn into it.
The woman choked and spluttered as she coughed most of the liquid back up.
The woman with the urn spoke to her other colleague who brought over a large wooden stick which she proceeded to wedge inside the woman’s mouth in an effort to keep it open.
Once in place, the other nurse began to slowly pour the rest of the contents of the urn down the patient’s throat.
The young woman gurgled as the liquid bypassed her tongue and travelled directly down her oesophagus. But as she instinctively attempted to draw breath, her trachea opened, and the liquid quickly rushed down causing her to choke and splutter again more violently until finally she cleared the last of it away.
Once the urn was empty the nurses removed the stick from between the girl’s teeth and stood back as one of them mopped the patient’s brow with a damp cloth.
The liquid began to take effect and the girl seemed to relax visibly for a moment, inciting the doctor the move his hands further inside her.
For a moment she did not react as he manoeuvred his hands within her, and then suddenly he stopped.
With his face turned towards him, even with his mask covering half of it, the young man could tell from the doctor’s eyes that something was definitely wrong.
The doctor turned to his colleagues and muttered something which made the nurses start to cross themselves several times over as they slowly backed away.
Finally, the young man could take no more.
“What is it?” he pleaded, taking a few cautionary steps forward. “Please, tell me, I have to know.”
Immediately the three nurses pounced on him and tried to usher him backwards and out of the tent.
The man pushed them away and broke free, but he did not try and move any closer to the patient.
Instead he stayed where he was and glanced down at the young girl on the bench before looking back up at the doctors with a beseeching look on his tortured face.
The doctors all looked at each other before one of them turned back to the man and slowly shook his head.
The young man leapt forward and grabbed the doctor by the shoulders, shaking him violently, and begging him to do something.
The other doctors came to their colleague’s aid and together they prised the man off him.
The young man was frantic with rage.
He fought back against those restraining him, shaking his body from side to side in a desperate effort to break free.
Finally, two more natives entered from outside and relieved the doctors of their burden.
The young man kicked and cried out as he was physically manhandled out of the tent.
Once outside, the man was held down by his captors and forced to watch the ceremony which unfolded before him.
The chanting grew louder and the dancing more frenzied, the participants looked to all intents and purposes as if they were there in body but not in mind or spirit.
One of the nurses emerged from the tent carrying a huge carving knife.
The man watched as she approached the elders and holding out the knife allowing it to rest on both hands, she spoke to them.
One by one they nodded their response.
The nurse took the knife over to the fire and gripping the handle tightly she held out the blade letting the flames lick at both sides.
After a while, the nurse carried the knife back into the tent.
The man struggled in vain against his guards as he watched the nurse disappear back behind the canvas screen.
Seconds later a scream emerged from behind the canvas which tore through the night and made the man feel as if his heart had been severed.
His captives felt his resolve diminish and they released him.
He slumped to the floor, unconscious.
Gina Steele staggered down the deserted street, her six-inch heels clacking her presence on the pavement.
This had not turned out to be the night she had hoped for.
Rob had promised her a candlelight dinner in one of those posh restaurants up in town, before whisking her away to the Crofton hotel for the night, with their sumptuous four-poster beds and champagne on ice.
All paid for on his company credit card, naturally.
Rob was way too tight to put his hand in his own pocket.
He may be a company director with a brand-new Mercedes and no less than three personal secretaries and two holiday apartments, one in Paris and the other in Dubai if you please, but when it came to getting him to part with his cash it was like drawing blood from a stone.
Tonight, was supposed to be a celebration for their anniversary.
They had been together for a full year now, and in all that time he had never taken her away on holiday, not even to one of his apartments, or so much as treated her to a night in a posh hotel, like she had been promised tonight.
No, such luxuries were reserved solely for his wife, the bitch!
In truth, Gina did not mind being the ‘other woman’; there were after all several perks that went with the title. Not having to attend any of his boring work functions for one. Not having to play nursemaid to the three spoilt brats he lovingly called his brood.
She had had the misfortune of meeting them once. It was during their summer break from private school and Rob had brought them in to lunch at the restaurant where she was waitressing.
A little down at heel, she thought, especially for someone of his means, but then of course where she worked offered discounted lunches for groups of four or more, so in effect it made perfect sense for him to be there.
Naturally, Gina had to pretend that she did not know him and treat him like any other patron.
Which she did, using her most professional manner.
Not that it was good enough for his snotty little brats, with their complaints about everything ranging from the quality of the food, to the temperature of the cola. They even whinged about the colour of the tablecloths the restaurant used.
She was certainly glad to see the back of them.
Under the circumstances she at least expected a decent tip from Rob. But then she should have remembered with whom she was dealing.
He left two quid which was not even ten percent of the overall bill.
That was one of the reasons tonight was so important for Gina.
When Rob first suggested it, she had nearly fallen off her chair in shock. They had been having a drink in one of the out of the way places Rob always took her so that no one from his set could possibly see them.
With his brats at school and his wife allegedly staying with her mother to help whilst she recovered from her latest hip operation, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Rob to finally show her some appreciation.
After all those ‘quickies’ on the back seat of his car, crammed between a couple of drinks and him dropping her off at the bus stop, Gina felt that she fully deserved a little pampering.
She had even had her hair done especially for the occasion.
What a waste!
Before they had even seen the menu Rob’s wife suddenly appeared at the door of the restaurant glaring daggers at the pair of them through the glass.
Gina made good her escape out through the back door and left Rob to deal with his missus. She did not even bother to hang around for Rob to retrieve her overnight bag from the boot of his car.
Somehow it did not seem a viable option at the time.
After all, there was no point in her trying to stay and make up an explanation for why the two of them were there, never mind the hotel room.
No, that was Rob’s problem!
Someone had obviously tipped his wife off, so that probably signalled the end of this particular relationship.
And if Rob did get back in touch with her once things had cooled down, then Gina was going to lay down some ground rules of her own if he wanted to keep getting his end away with her.
No more back seat of the car action, for a start!
Gina stopped by a bench opposite the bus stop and sat down to remove her shoes.
She lifted each foot in turn and placed it on her opposing knee so that she could massage her aching soles. Typically, for once she had broken her cardinal rule of always carrying a pair of flats in her handbag, because she thought that tonight, of all nights, she would not need them.
Bugger Rob and his stupid wife!
The least he could have done was slip her the money for a cab. But then she was forgetting how attached he was to every penny in his wallet.
Gina gazed down the lane, hoping for the welcome sight of a bus to peer over the horizon.
No such luck!
This was one of the downsides of moving out to the sticks. It was true that you had the beautiful scenery, the wide-open spaces, fresh clean country air, and of course the people were a lot friendlier, but the public transport did leave a little to be desired.
Buses were few and far between, and unlike when she lived in London, the bus stops out here did not have indicators informing you when you could expect the next one to arrive.
She considered calling one of her roommates to pick her up, but then she realised they would be at least halfway through their second bottle by now, so there was no point.
In the distance she could hear the pealing of St Luke’s bells as they echoed across the fields.
It reminded her that she had not been to mass in over two months.
Fortunately, Father Grace was a forgiving soul who, unlike the vast majority of priests she had known being raised a catholic, had a genuine capacity for understanding the ways of the modern world and did not condemn you for living your life however you chose to do so.
Even in the confessional he was never shocked or appalled at anything you revealed, no matter how embarrassing you found it personally.
Gina looked up at the sky. The autumn evenings were starting to close in. It would soon be dark although at least there was no rain forecast.
Gina let out a long weary sigh.
Sitting here was no longer an option.
She picked up her shoes, letting them dangle from her fingers by the straps and began to walk up the hill in her stockinged feet towards home.
The pavement felt cool through the flimsy nylon fabric. She kept an eye out for stones and anything sharp which might be in her path. The last thing she needed was to snag the most expensive pair of stockings she had ever bought.