Down the deep tunnel, he walked on. He was tired. He was exhausted. He sat and leaned his back at the wall of the tunnel. He didn’t know how much longer he had to trudge this dark path. There wasn’t a sign of end in sight. A big rodent tried to bite his feet but he was protected by his weather beaten safety shoes. The stench was a part and parcel of him now. He had mastered the art of surviving the stench – no moans, no whining, just keep trudging on. He had lost two friends and compatriots, Jugger and Ecklewood. Could he be that one who will perhaps make it to the end? The world will need to hear his story of escape.
Jugger had had an infection and needed antibiotics desperately. The sanitation was poor. They answered their nature’s call in the tunnel. How worse could things get? They were drinking water from the same tunnel. They would just mutter some incantations over the drink and scoop it with their bare hands and down it went through their esophagus. The very hands that did the job of toilet paper, the very hands that paved the path in the tunnel, the very same hands was the scoop, or should we say the pall bearer of the water that would send Jugger home earlier. Nothing made sense anymore. The key word was survival.
For eight days they had been trudging that god-forsaken tunnel. How much longer would they remain in there? They watched the ghost leave Jugger. They held him, they embraced him and told him to hold on.
“I can’t” he kept saying.
“Jugger just hold on” Ecklewood said.
“For how long?” Jugger asked.
“For as long as it takes us to get to the end of the tunnel” Darnell said.
Jugger let out a loud grunt “aaaaarrrgggghhhh”! The pain was excruciating. They all held him. He was panting for breath. He gasped and coughed. He spat out the specimen on the tunnel wall. It was too dark to see the colour. It smelt like blood and infected phlegm. He coughed some more. He was choking. And then in a split second, the atmosphere around them changed. It became a little mysterious and unbearably quiet like a stranger had just arrived. A little uninvited guest had made an entry into their sorrow.
“Are you ready?” he whispered to Jugger.
“Yes, I am. I have been waiting for you. Why did it take you so long to come?”
“The chord of alliance took a bit longer to break.”
“I am ready, let’s go.”
Jugger was gone. No time to grieve, no time to cry. It was time to move on. What would they do with his corpse? Would they drag it along for the rest of the journey? They took turns to clutch his body. They cried. They left him behind and moved on. “What a way to abandon a friend in death”, Ecklewood managed to say as they prodded on.
They were both lost in their own world. The stark reality that stared them in the face was that what had happened to Jugger could have happened to any of them. Was that how they would have ended up? Dead in the tunnel of death? Abandoned in the tunnel of death to rot away. Knowing that your carcass would be meat for those rodents that lived in the tunnel was just too sad. Perhaps it might have been better to be meat for lions than rodents. That seemed and sounded a bit more dignifying than meat for rodents, pests and bugs.
Ecklewood buckled under the weight of these thoughts. He slumped to the floor. He wept like a baby. He was inconsolable.
“Let’s go back and get Jugger” he managed to say in between sobs.
“No, we can’t go back” Darnell declared. “We can’t. Forward ever backward never.”
A fat rodent scurried past. Bats squeaked, different sounds were heard. Bugs and insects that felt their privacies were being intruded, reacted and resisted.
“Listen buddy, this is tough on all of us, but we got to move on. We can’t afford to waste energy. We need every reservoir of strength in us to push on” Darnell said.
“I know, I know but we can’t leave him to be food to these pests. He was a brave man, he should be food to lions and not bugs” Ecklewood carried on.
“But if we had put him in a casket and lowered him to the grave, he would still be food to earthworms and bugs and stuff” Darnell countered.
Three days later, Ecklewood announced that he couldn’t push forward anymore. They had been eleven days in the tunnel without food, clean water and sanitation.
It was a quick move, Ecklewood got it by the tail, pulled it to himself and squeezed the neck, and within secs, it was dead. He brought out the lighter from his pocket and roasted the rodent. In three minutes a meal was ready. Darnell couldn’t stand the sight. He became sick. Some slimy yellowish stuff came out from his belly. Ecklewood munched at the poor creature squashing every bone as he cracked on.
Twenty five minutes later, Ecklewood became very sick. His temperature shot up. Darnell placed the back of his hand on his forehead and the temperature could almost boil an egg. Two hours later, Ecklewood passed away peacefully. “lf you ever make it to where there is light, tell Rosalind, at the attic, the chest, bottom compartment, there is an exercise book, all the details she needs to know is in there” were his last words.
Darnell was devastated. He wept himself to sleep. He dreamed that he saw light. He dreamed that he saw faces again, he dreamed that he ate real food, he dreamed that he was sleeping in a bed. He dreamed that he heard voices and people singing. He dreamed that he was back to a real house. He awoke to the cold stiffness of Ecklewood’s body. He lifted the head off him and grabbed the cold body. He tossed it neatly to the side of the tunnel. He searched Ecklewood’s pockets and retrieved the lighter. Darnell saw a pair of peering eyes in the dark, waiting for the ready meal. He moved on. “Rest in peace buddy, no, rest in pieces” he mumbled to himself. It was like a new surge of energy came to him. A new charge of electrostatics enveloped him and in the strength of that energy he moved on. He walked and crawled and crouched till he felt that perhaps the time was near for him to go the way of his mates.
He started hearing what seemed like voices. He inched forward, then he bumped into something. He felt it, touched it, it was a ladder. He stepped on it, he clung on to it, he muscled all his strength and took the first step. He was drained. There was no energy in him. He took the next climb. He almost fell over. His foot slipped and he buckled. He held on to what seemed like life. ‘Could this be the end?’ he wondered. If he had made it this far, would the last lap fail him? He panted. He took a rest. Then with all the will within him, he pulled himself up and surged forward till he bumped into a metal. He knocked at it. He banged his head hard at it. “I can’t give up now”, he mumbled. “I can’t give up now”, he mumbled again.
The light struck his eyes almost blinding him. He passed out.
He awoke several hours later in a hospital. He was alive, had made it through the tunnel of death.
Three months later he was speaking to an audience about how he made it through that dark tunnel.
“What kept you through those dark hours, Mr. Darnell?”
“Hope, just hope! I had only one thing left. Hope. I just hoped that by any streak of chance I would make it. Jugger and Ecklewood were the finest men I ever worked with in my life, stronger people, yet they did not make it…”