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Thursday, 05 September 2013 16:14

Another Choice

By  Serah Mbatia
The spectators went wild. A simple dare was about to lead me on a dangerous mission while killing my love life. Yet something deep within me pushed me on against the voice in my head.

Now, a few days later, as we drove through huge trees that grew close together to form a brown and green wall, I questioned the wisdom of it all. A picture of me crawling beneath barbed wire with the taste of mud strong in my mouth came to my mind vividly. I had been so engrossed in winning that I did not notice my boyfriend fall behind. Only those who finished in the top five would make it for the documentary assignment.

“Women can’t make it in the front line, baby,” he had told me earlier.

“So you say,” I had replied as I switched from station to station.

“They can’t survive, especially you,” he had replied as he snatched the remote from my hand.

That had stirred some rebellion in me. I had promised to at least finish the gruesome test. Instead, I had got caught up in the adrenaline rush as the sound of gunfire echoed around me. I had finished third. That warning in my head had turned true. As I turned in jubilation, mud sliding down my hair and sticking like melting chocolate to my clothes, there he was. He stood frozen with a look that sent a shiver down my spine.

I was jerked into the present as the army jeep hit a rock. Shaking the image of the cold stare that had haunted me for many nights, I focused on the present.

The five of us stared ahead silently at the lead army vehicle. I touched the bullet proof vest searching for reassurance as we approached the security fence. Soon we were ushered into a lift.

“It’s important that you observe all the training you have received as a single error could result in the deaths of all who work in the tunnels below.”

“Why did we need all that training if we are going to spend most of our time underground?”

Our designated scientist guide turned to face me. I glanced at his ID hanging from his neck. Dr Albert it read. The name of Albert Einstein flashed through my mind, but I had been wounded by my recent relationship and had learnt to keep my jokes to myself.

“Don’t ask silly questions,” retorted a voice from behind him.

The guide held out his hand to silence him.

“It’s a valid question not many people ask. There are people who see this scientific project as a threat to their wealth especially in oil producing countries and would do anything to stop it…including an armed attack.”

“But you are still far from the application of your results…”

“Wealth is a strong incentive. Even to a strong hint of threat…”

I felt as if the walls were caving in as we descended. The light in the glass cage barely pierced the darkness around it as we descended. No one seemed eager to be the first to step out.

“Remember, no normal world rules apply here. Forget everyman for himself…your life is in the hands of everyone here.”

It soon became clear how important that rule was. I looked up and froze. It was like watching the ocean but through glass.

“That’s the river you passed on your way here,” Dr Albert said.

I jumped. He had come too close for my comfort.

“It…it doesn’t look anything like it!”

The river had frothed and surged. It hit the big rocks with a roar before it dispersed in tiny droplets that formed miniature rainbows within the spray. Now from this angle it seemed to barely move.

“Below it is deceptively calm despite the strong currents...”

The shrill sound of the alarm made me glance back up at the glass that held up tonnes of water fearfully. Dr Albert guided us calmly, but urgently through the emergency door.

Each of us were handed a scuba tank. All the hours in training came back quickly as we all donned our gear.

“The room will fill with water before a tunnel opens. Go with the current…do not fight it!”

I shuddered as the cold water began to fill. My camera man quickly zipped his equipment in the water proof bags.

Within minutes we were being swept along by the current. A strange aquamarine light guided us. Then up ahead, I noticed two men struggling. Had the enemy found us! It was my camera man. His bags had entangled his scuba tank. He could not breathe.

Dr Albert was trying to help him, but the cameraman was desperate and gasping for air. I watched helplessly as I drew near. Dr Albert signalled frantically, but I could not understand until he pointed at his face mask and at my camera man. I angled towards them and followed his instructions.

As I alternated my gas mask with my cameraman, he calmed down. Soon the scientist disentangled the gear and the cameraman was free.

A feeling of weariness enveloped me and I gently sunk into the welcoming velvet darkness.

“Can you hear me?”

The voices seemed to grow louder above the drum rolls and screams as the painted faces and floating drums faded away. I opened my eyes fearfully expecting to see forest spirits. Dr Albert’s face came into focus.

I had run out of oxygen and had been rescued by the scientist as he alternated his oxygen mask with me until we emerged at the exit pool. My violent shivering cut short his explanation. Then a sudden burst of gunfire in the distance made me sit up.

“It is all contained “he explained as he looked at the scared group.

He narrated how a militia group had tried to gain entry into the facility, but had been repelled.

It was not until days later as we wrapped up our documentary that he approached me.

“Dr Albert…”

“Call me Albert. We have a communications officer opening in case you are interested?”

It was more than a question. Confusion clouded my mind. I wanted to return to the real world and try and mend my relationship with my ex, but I had a deep longing to stay. I had ventured into a new world with different rules that made each moment and action possibly the last. It was a world located in an indigenous forest, a sacred forest were local women were prohibited; where danger from man and nature created a community atmosphere; where new love beckoned; where one lived and enjoyed each day to the fullest as it could be the last.

As D-day drew near, I was torn on which to choose between two worlds.
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