Vindaloo by Adrienne Frater.
I strap on my skis and soar. The day on the mountain is the highlight of our adventure tourism course and though not an experienced skier, I’m game. No more learner slopes for me. The sky is bright blue and the snow perfect. Laughing with the joy of it, I ride the chair lift to the advanced slopes, tell myself, “You can do it,” and take off.
Cold air slaps my face. Faster… faster… I fly. Then, half-way down my legs splay. Slam… dunk! I take out another skier and land face down in snow. I’m spluttering powder when the cursing begins. Oh no – I’ve taken out Jed.
Jed is the macho man of our year. The tallest, the strongest and whether it be white-water rafting, rock climbing or now skiing – he’s always the best. A well-muscled guy, with a rugged face and dark hair, lying in the snow with one ski aimed at the sky and the other some distance away he looks so comical I laugh. Neither of us is hurt and I’m waiting for him to laugh too. Instead he snarls. “Stupid git. Get back to the nursery slopes where you belong.”
I’ve never liked Jed. I’m pretty competitive too, but it’s his air of superiority I despise. So that afternoon when we’re paired up for the snow cave exercise, imagine my horror when I’m paired with him.
We construct out snow cave in silence. Of course ours is the first finished and although small, gets the instructor’s nod. The challenge is not only to build a snow cave, but to spend two hours inside. I wait for Jed to enter first. “You go,” he snaps. A large bruise adorns his right cheek and every so often he raises his gloved hand and touches it.
“No you.” He waits and I wait. It’s so stupid I almost laugh but when he eventually gets down on all fours and crawls inside, I feel a sense of glee. But this soon disperses as I contemplate spending two hours in a snow cave with him. Any of the others would have been fine, but not Jed. Reluctantly, I crawl in too.
A blue glow lights the cave and Jed sits hugging his long legs to his chest. “This is stupid,” I say, hugging my legs too and sitting with my back to him, facing the opening. “We should have taken the time to build a larger cave – but as usual you had to finish first.”
Already the walls of the cave are closing in and I focus on the small patch of blue. “At least it’s fine. Imagine what it must be like being holed up in a blizzard.” I reason that if we are to survive the next two hours we can at least be pleasant.
Jed says nothing and he’s sitting so close his negative vibes pierce like pins. I can’t get comfortable and the chill bites my bones. I give it another go. “I thought it was meant to be warmer in here.”
Two words in what I estimate are ten minutes – one hour fifty to go. I sigh. I squirm. Pretending I’m alone, I journey inside my head. I think of the pride I’ll feel on receiving my diploma and the quest for my first job. Many, like Jed are heading for ski instructor jobs in North America. My buzz comes from white water rafting and I picture the wild rivers I’ll soon ride. Returning to the snow cave, I blink. The patch that had been blue is now white and our world is no longer silent. The sound I hear is like the distant roar of a train.
“Blizzard,” says Jed.
“Luckily we’ll be out soon.” My teeth start to chatter.
“I wouldn’t count on it.” He no sooner says this than the ceiling presses down and the walls squeeze further in. Ice coffin are the words that flash into my mind and for a time I struggle to breathe. Until now I knew that any time I could leave the snow cave, but now I’m trapped – trapped inside with Jed.
“Pull yourself together,” I tell myself. “Keep calm, keep active, keep warm.” My hand brushes my jacket pocket and remembering the half eaten chocolate bar I take it out and snap it in two. The hand I place the chocolate in is shaking as much as mine.
Knowing that the mighty Jed is scared too gives me strength.
“Condemned prisoner, three wishes,” I say. This is a game we often play when tramping.
“Fire,” Jed says in a chill voice. As I picture the flames my shivering eases.
“Mulled wine,” I say and feel the glow as I drain my glass.
“Vindaloo curry,” he says. The very word scorches my mouth. Is that a laugh I hear in his voice?
“Piha beach.” I bury my body in hot, black sand.
“Hugs,” Jed says after a long pause.
“Same.” I echo and no sooner say this than his arms wrap me round. It’s
a survival technique – we both know this – but the warmth we share warms more than just flesh and blood.
I don’t know how long we sit like this listening to the blizzard. The entrance to our snow cave is now blocked and I should be more scared, but once we start talking, the time takes wing. The more I learn about Jed, the more different he seems and each time one of us starts to shiver, the other says, “Vindaloo” and we stop. It’s a strange time, but special.
When the wind eases and blue once more lights our cave, we start singing. We’re both tone deaf and as the rescue team dig us out they say, “Spare us.”
We share a survival blanket. Jeff massages my hands and I massage his. When I wait for him to walk away, he moves closer. “Friends?” he asks in a shy voice.
“Friends,” I say, knowing we’re much more.
© Adrienne M Frater