A Game of Hands
Of Acrobatic Climbing
Karim stretched, only wearing the tightly fitting bathing suit with a tiny pendant peeking out from under. Her dusky skin was damp with perspiration as the sun beat down on the small clearing. She tugged her longer hair into a loose knot at the base of her neck.
She shifted and stepped to the edge of the clearing. Taking several deep breathes with her eyes closed, Karim bolted forward into a series of flips, cartwheels, and twists. Rolling to the side, she rocked to her feet and bolted for a tree.
Her toughened bare feet scrambled for purchase on the bark as her hands grasped the low hanging branch. The momentum allowed her to swing high and barely land with her feet on the branch.
Karim’s heart pounded as she grinned. Her sweaty, calloused palms pressed against the tree branch for balance as she crouched.
Rejard noticed her display; he always did notice how she moved. She wouldn’t believe it if he complimented her (or maybe she would, but he’d get punched either way), but she was quite graceful.
He stepped into the clearing and clapped as sincerely as he could. “You’re improving each time I see you, Karim. The practice serves you well.” He smiled warmly.
Rejard cleared his throat and blushed slightly, losing the stronger intonations of the Voice. “I was … uh, wondering. If possible… could we continue the climbing lessons? I … haven’t had time to practice.”
“Rej!” Karim smiled broadly from her perch before she swung down. “Of course, we can…although…”
She walked up and accessed his clothing. “I guess what you’re wearing will do.” Turning about, Karim scanned the area for a suitable tree. “That one has low enough branches…”
Without looking back she jogged over to the tree, “Come on, Rej!” She easily swung up on a head height branch and stepped to another nearby. “Just use those muscles of yours and follow me. I’ll find us an easy path.”
Karim gestured enthusiastically. She always did have the philosophy that some things were learned best by doing. Even this. But she knew he wouldn’t fall. And if he did, she’d catch him. No worse than a few bruises. She believed in him.
Rejard removed his vest and loosened the cuffs of his sleeves. Judging the branch height, he latched on clumsily and pulled himself up.
He was graceful on the dance floor and the stage, but he was out of his element here. With wobbly movements he made his way to Karim, his perch about as unsteady as an owlbear on a tightrope.
“So, uh, where to from here?” He grinned doofily, rocking to keep his balance.
Karim laughed, a rich charming sound. “Rej, you look so… sooo… Uncomfortable. Just crouch. It’ll help you keep your footing.” She dropped into a crouch and placed her hands on the branch on the limb by way of example.
“At each step you’re judging a couple of things. First, can the branch hold your weight? That’s something you gain from experience.
“Second, how easy is it to get to. You never want to overdrawing yourself. It’s a recipe for painful failure. Trust me on that.
“Finally, can you get to where you need to. If there doesn’t seem to be any other good handholds over there don’t bother with the branch unless it’s your final goal. It gets tricky as the branches get weaker higher up.”
Karim stood and using one branch pulled herself to another that’s slightly higher. “Use other branches to your advantage to get up to the next. Now come on!” She smiled excitedly.
Rejard looked up and his eyes widened slightly, but he made no comment about the height. He tentatively reached for another branch and began to pull himself up.
“Recipe, huh? You cook, too? You’ll have to tell me about that meal someti—ooaahhwooahh!” He slipped but braced himself against a nearby branch reflexively.
Karim gasped and was leaning out with on hand holding to a branch. Her arm outstretched to catch him if he fell. Her cheeks burned as she righted herself. “Careful! And I don’t cook. I’ve just helped Mom sometimes.”
“How, uhhh … long does one stay in a tree like this?”
She tilted her head and thought about his last question. “How long…” Finally, she shrugged slightly in helplessness, “As long as you want I guess. I waited nearly an hour that one day I surprised you. Sometimes it’s just long enough to climb up and down.”
Rejard nodded and straightened himself on the branch. His vertical balance seemed to have steadied somewhat, but his legs still appear tensed as he perched.
Reaching above him, he snapped two thin and long twigs from the tree and tossed one to Karim.
He grinned mischievously. “On your guard!” He switched to a surprisingly more stable fencing stance and lowered his makeshift wooden foil at her chest.
Catching the twig, Karim raised an eyebrow. “You’re bold today, Rej. It won’t help you in the end.” She shifted easily into a guard, perfectly at home on the branch. “I’ll win.”
With a cocky grin, she set her makeshift blade against his. “And Rej… Try to remember we’re a good ten feet off the ground, so don’t fall.”
Rej smiled in return and winked at her. “Oh, I know I’ll lose. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years with you, is that winning isn’t everything.” He tapped the tip of her twig away playfully as he jumped to the next branch, more deftly than he should have been able.
“Sometimes, Karim, it’s just how you play the game.” Rejard bowed at the waist, using the motion to steady his wobbly balance and throwing an arm out as a brace against the trunk.
Karim smirked, “Then the game is on.” She bowed slightly before swinging herself to a perch with a better angle.
Her eyes watched him carefully, judging his steadiness. Despite all the talk and show, she had no wish to put him at a rush for a game. She wouldn’t push him further than he seemed to be able to.
She grasped a branch above for extra balance as she leaned in to get a playful swipe. “And winning IS nice. You should know that from the Game of Hands.”
“Ah, but Hands costs money. Sparring with you just cost bruises, and I have plenty of room for those!” Rej chuckled warmly as he parried her swipe and ducked beneath her branch as he passed to another.
“Besides, the view from here is … much better.” Rejard nodded his head confidently as he gripped the trunk with one hand, but made no further explanation of the statement. “And this is better exerci—,” Rej fumbled slightly as the branch on which he stood cracked and shifted, but did not fall.
She spun around in alarm, dropping her twig. “Rej… Move slowly, but we need you off that branch.” Karim’s heart caught in her throat. “Do exactly what I tell you to. Drop the stick and raise your arms slowly.” Karim sat on her own branch and clung to it with her knees. She reached out toward his hands. “I’m going to swing you to the branch you were just on. If you tried to reach it yourself the branch may crack…”
Pressing her lips together, she took a deep breath. “Trust me, Rej. I’m not risking having you on that branch another moment.”
Rejard let go of the twig and followed Karim’s instructions precisely. As he grabbed Karim’s hands, his branch cracked again and gives way.
Rejard swung with Karim’s help to another branch, this one a few feet closer to
the ground, and he clumsily got his footing in place before letting go of Karim.
“Whoo! Now I remember why I don’t like trees…” Rejard grinned weakly. “They don’t like m—” Rej unceremoniously fell on his butt as the lower branch snaps without forewarning. He landed with a thud and an ever-so-familiar “…ow.”
“My … the sky is nice from down here…”