“I’m about to enter the tunnel now, should I?” he asked, standing right outside the entrance. It was a hot summer day, and he was enjoying strolling along the bright road, until this came along.
He was on the phone, patiently waiting for a response. An eagle flew above him, soaring in the sky, eclipsing the sun’s ray for a mili-second. He looked up, the phone still hooked to his ears. “Hello?” He looked down. His heavy bagpack, in which he had stuffed all his hygienic necessities, laid lazily on the ground next to him. “Hello?”
“A…b…far…jhas…” that was the response he got. He took the phone off his ears, and noticed that the connection had begun to fluctuate. He let out a groan. “Fucking tunnel, and fucking signal,” he sighed. He typed a message and sent it in a jivvy, before tucking the phone into his bagpack. He felt lighter, and looked back the road on which he traveled.
Five minutes ago, at that very bend some hundred meters away from where he is standing right now, he told himself- ‘I don’t know what’s the big fuss all about’.
He understood the wry smile that flickered on the tribal villager’s face when he had asked for directions to where he is now headed to. “All this for a fucking hot spring?” he grumbled to himself.
“Are you sure you are not talking about the waterfall?” that villager asked before he begun his journey.
“No, I am talking about the hot spring.”
“The waterfall is way easier.”
The waterfall is way easier. He carried his bag, and mumbled that sentence to himself, before setting his pace back on the very road he trudged.
“But everyone goes to the waterfall. Hot spring is where you get the pleasure of doing something different.”
That was what he had told the villager two hours ago. He stopped on his tracks for a while as the thought returned to him.
“What’s the point Jeff? Everyone goes to the fucking waterfall.” Oh, how he loved talking to himself. But nobody would understand why he loves doing that. That is why no-one has ever seen Jeff talking to himself.
He stuck out his tongue, and gently ran it unto his dry lips. He could feel the cracks on his lips. “Oh, dear waterfall.” He needed the waterfall more than he needed the hot spring. It was necessity.
I’m thirsty. I wish you are here.
He did not receive a reply for his earlier message. He excused himself to sit on the ground for a little while. His phone beeped, and he had only one thought in his mind. He was going to roast his wife for replying so late while her husband is busy draining himself physically in the middle of nowhere.
But the thoughts fluttered along with the heavy wind the moment he read the reply.
Babe, which thirst is greater, the throat’s or the heart’s? You know I love you, regardless.
“Seriously,” he told himself again.
I’ll come home with a story to tell.
He tucked the phone away in his bag again, dragged along the dusty earth before heaving it up his shoulders. The wind was blowing in the opposite direction to the tunnel. He tied his shoelaces, and tested their firmness. He felt the muscles in his chest, he looked at his muscular arms, and wore his goggles. A moment of vanity- and took off in a sprint heading straight into the dark tunnel.
“Ussain Bolt you motherfucker,” he shouted as he kept running. He should see a light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon. In his imagination, one Jamaican in running tracks is running along arrogantly, his ego slowing getting shattered because Jeff is running faster than him.
The next thing he knew, he has lost control of his dash. He was now dashing with his whole body, tumbling through rocks and sands, not knowing when it will come to a halt. When it did halt, it felt like he has been tumbling forever.
It was pitch dark. All he knew was that it was pitch dark. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, at least could see nothing as such. He groped on the ground nearby him. “Oh shit.” His bag was nowhere to be found, not with his current eyesight at least.
There was burning pain in some parts of his body, but he could not see any of the wounds thanks to the darkness.
“Ouchhh,” he frowned as another searing pain hit him, this time straight in his eyes. He clenched his eyelids, shouting as loudly as he can. Gently he guided his index finger into his eyes, removing his blue contact lenses. It must have been debris either from the earth or from his now broken goggles, which had caused the pain.
In an instinctive reaction, he let go of the lenses from his fingers. He needed to mend his pain first; he did not have the hands to secure the lenses at the same time. This time, he knew his eyesight would be affected even more. He gently placed his other index finger on his right eye and removes the lenses from there as well.
“I can’t see as it is,” he told himself. He surprised himself by not grumbling. He did not have his phone, did not have his beg, his first-aid kit, his goggles, and how his lenses. All he had with him was he, a thirsty throat, a wounded body that possibly can still walk, and a pack of cigarettes in the left pocket of his cargo shorts.
He was on his knees, starring down at God knows what.
“Ah, this is where my heart brought me to,” he whispered. He somehow loved the darkness and the vague uncertainty. A calm feeling seeped through him, until, an ant stung him on his thighs.
“Shit!” he shifted in a hurry. Another bite. “Argh!”
He felt panic for the first time since he started the journey. He was now inside a very, very dark place, without an ounce of light to indicate which is the way out or which is the way in. There can be snakes, or other venomous animals beyond his wildest imaginations. There can be bats. He can be devoured and his body never be found.
His muscles melted. His confidence waned. Suddenly his soft heart seemed to have grown larger. A tugging pain on his chest. He cupped his face into his palms, and slowly, started sobbing.
“I love you babe.”
He would have never done that in front of his wife. His ego would have never allowed him to do so. Not a single drop of tear would have come out of his eyes. He wiped his tears off his eyes. “No, Jeff, you are getting emotional because you are helpless.”
He stared blankly into the darkness, and his whole life flashed in front him. No, he was wrong. He was crying for his wife. He doesn’t want to leave her, yet. He loves her too much.
He tasted his tears in order to wet his incredibly dry lips, when he heard the sound of water.
He jerked and turned around, still not being able to see anything. But something flickered in his eyes. He thought he had seen water drop from somewhere above him and travel all the way below where he is now seated. What is there?
“You don’t have your lenses, moron.” It might as well been his hallucination.
But he had no other way out of this quagmire that he had gotten himself into. He decided to finally stand up and walk in the direction of where he had seen ‘water’.
Something struck his eyes from behind, and he turned around. Far beyond, somewhere in the direction from where he came from, there was a flicker of light. “I’ve come that far?” he asked himself, noticing that the light seems to be quite a distance away. If he heads back towards the light, he would find his lost bag, and he would be home safe and sound. He doesn’t have to cry for his wife anymore.
But he had promised her a story. He looked towards the ‘water’ again. He only needed to walk another five meters in order to reach and inspect that area. As if struck by a blind logic, he walked in that pitch of darkness, trusting only his instincts and his feelings, towards the water spot.
His eyes were not deceiving him this time. He saw a mass of water, in fact, it was a pond at the bottom of the cave. “I’m in a cave.”
He turned around and looked at the entrance of the tunnel. He envisioned Ussain Bolt clumsily grabbing his shoes and running back to the entrance, out into the ground and back to the comfort of the running tracks around stadiums. He felt his muscles tighten again.
“Ah, fuck it.”
He splashed into the mass of water, and the coldness took by him by surprise. His wounds exarcebated. He struggled to get back up to the surface, and when he did, he shouted loudly, the loudest he had shouted yet in this ordeal. And he saw a light under the water.
He looked back up and realized he had absolutely no way of climbing back up to the interior of the cave.
Slowly, he gathered his increasing courage. “Be proud of me babe, no matter what happens.”
He swam towards that small opening, located a couple of feet under the water. He held his breath, forced himself through it, and swam back to the surface. Silence.
The villager was smiling at him, laughing almost. Jeff noticed has his bag was in the villager’s hands. “Thank goodness,” he said. He wanted to desperately to ask why, what and how. But those questions mattered not to him now. He stopped clutching the dry earth, and did not even bother to collect his bag. He let himself go again.
He hasn’t found answers. He has found the hot spring.
“Baby, where are you? I’m worried and I miss you. A lot,” the villager shouted in his hoarse English. Jeff swam back to surface. The villager was holding a phone in his hands, Jeff’s phone. Intrusion of privacy. But Jeff did not bother panicking. The hot spring was irresistible.
“Tell her I’m coming home with an incredible story.”
He could almost hear a faint smile from the villager’s face, a satisfied expression.
You never know the taste of true success till you have tasted the bitterness.