He watched intently, still and silent, tracing the smallest movement with his eyes. The rise and fall was slow and slight, but he was sure it was there, as sure as he could be in the diminishing light, as the embers of the fire receded to little more than a glow.
There it was again, an only just perceivable fluctuation. His eyes began to sting with the strain of looking. Blinking away the dryness, he continued watching. That was all he could do. Watch the movement, watch and hope that he could still see it and that it didn't stop.
He kept his vigil through the long, dark hours, afraid that if he took his attention away, even for the briefest moment, he'd miss something. He became conscious of his own breathing, willing the breath into the man who lay a few feet away. The rest of the world had ceased to exist to him. All that he cared for in this world was so close and yet unreachable.
He wanted more than anything to go to his side and let him know he was there, but the bindings that held him prevented him from doing so, and the cloth in his mouth stifled any sound he could make. His throat was dry and sore and felt constricted, more with fear and desperation than anything else.
For hours now he had strained against the ties, trying to work his way loose, but they were still secure and he felt no give in them. Sharp pains periodically shot through his arms as he twisted them against the thongs that held his wrists.
Time slipped away and he felt a rising panic and hopelessness taking hold. With the passing of time, the life and breath of the other man was also slowly, slipping away. For quite a while now, he had heard no sound and seen no other movement, apart from the vaguest undulation of the man's chest. Now he found himself denied this privilege as the fire faded and all he could see was a dark, indistinguishable shape. And he could do nothing, but sit and watch and hope.
Periodically, through those long, dark hours he tested the ropes that pinned him to the tree, each attempt filling him with more despair, as they would not give way. After each endeavour he slumped with exhaustion and failure. The night air was punctuated with the gasps and grunts of his exertions of his determined efforts to free himself.
With each hour came more misery and an emptiness filled his heart as he struggled with inner demons. What had they done so wrong to be tortured and punished in this way? They had struggled for so long to overcome all that life had thrown at them. OK, he was willing to admit that they hadn't led model lives, but neither had ever set out to intentionally hurt anyone. They had both endured so much but managed to see their way through it and now, had begun to look to the future and plan and build a new life for themselves. For their hopes to be ended in such a way seemed downright cruel and unjustified.
He strained again at the ropes and let out a muffled cry of frustration and angst. He knew time was running out for him and his partner. They were totally vulnerable in their present situation. He had always promised to watch his friend's back and ironically, here he was, doing just that, watching him slowly die. He had no intention on breaking such a promise, no matter the circumstance, and it was this thought that spurred him into action once again, fighting against the bindings.
The sky began to lighten with the start of another day and gradually he could see the other man more clearly, lying on his side, on the dusty ground, head turned away. He willed the head to turn and look in his direction. At this moment he would give anything to see those deep, brown eyes looking at him. But the head did not turn and he could not see those eyes.
As the sun rose and the shadows faded it was gratifying to know that the darkness had not played tricks on him and that there was still a small, faint movement.
The sun was almost fully up now, and he became aware of the dark shape that spread from the man's body. In the darkness he had thought it was a shadow but now as the light hit it he could see it was a dark, rich red. The sight of it made him kick out with his feet in sheer frustration. He felt a nausea rising within him; not at the sight of the blood but at the futility of their situation. He couldn't believe it was going to end in this absurd manner. Once again he twisted in the ropes that pinned him to the tree and felt his arms burn with the exertion. Around his wrists he could feel the all too familiar sensation of his own blood, trickling onto his hands, as he tore at the thongs.
Exhausted, he stopped for a moment and rested his head against the tree, taking in long, deep breaths through his nose. His chest rose and fell as he tried to get more air into his lungs, causing a tightness to grip him as the ropes around his body constricted with each intake of breath. Beads of perspiration were beginning to form on his forehead and his whole body ached from being held in this position for so long. But he had no intention of giving up and considered what options he had left. At this moment he could think of none, other than getting loose, and that was proving to be impossible, he thought despondently.
'If I hadn't seen such riches I could live with being poor.'