This is my very first complete story I have ever written. And probably my last as well. Pretty proud of my work, though I wouldn't say it is the best story ever, but I like it. This was written a year ago, because I had too much free time. And it has been kept away in the corners of my laptop with my other research I did to kill time. And I thought, why not put it here, so I can share with you readers? And so here it is.
The Pride of Zimbabwe
“Cognac, Cognac Martell.”
She raised her finely trimmed brows in amusement. Of course, you don’t hear a person named after a drink every day. I don’t blame her either, since I had already been used to such reaction as long as I recall. At least, better than them knowing… my real name.
“Well, Mr. Martell, I have a single-room available. Room number will be 05-63, is that okay for you?”
“It’s perfect, thank you. Erm, Miss Hart.”
“Have a nice day, Mr. Martell.”
She passed me the room key and payment receipt. I gave her a slight bow of thanks and packed my way to the elevator. The elevator door opened and a scrawny lady showed herself, clad in fur coat to show off her wealth; one hand with a limited edition Gucci handbag and the other holding her Chihuahua. As she exited the elevator, the poor hotel attendant pushes the trolley of baggages – which I assume belongs to her- out of the elevator like it was a task impossible. I entered after the hotel attendant. People today, splurging every second, ignorant to what lies beyond their so called pleasures of life. My people, still suffering back in Africa; I will find a way out one day. Today shall be my first step. My frail mother shall not suffer from back pains; my father shall not work with his lame leg; my siblings, they will get a good education and live well, taking care of our parents.
I am 24 this year, I live in the suburbs of Zimbabwe, a small village by the name of Furaha na Amani. It means happiness and peace in Swahili; but ever since the war, our people lived nothing like her name. We cried almost every night, grieving for our lost brothers and fathers. Our women were raped and abused by the military, leaving most crippled. I had never been so devastated in my young life; my blissful memories of this village were destroyed in just a matter of 11 months. But no, I will not give in to such misery, I want my village to smile again, I want us to be happiness and peace! I will find our rays of hope and sunlight again. So I escaped the village, which was still under the military's surveillance. I will never forget that night, when I was reborn again.
Ding. Level five.
Room number sixty three. I walked down the aisle to the very far end, from the looks of it, it is indeed a very single-bed room. I inserted the key and rotated the knob, it was the longest moment in my life. When I realized it, it was already too late. Four men were already in my room. Two sitting down on the couch; the one on the right had shaggy cheeks and judging from his built, he reminded me of a very skinny Garfield; the other was rather buff, and he had a mustache like an old western cowboy. The third man was looking out the window; very tall and his hair was neatly brushed backwards. The last man was standing at the entrance of the door. He looked at me through his shades and said, with the most sarcastic warmth you can imagine.
“We’ve been expecting you, Georges Maxymas.”
He grinned with satisfaction, as if he had finally won the first prize. If the room was very brightly lid, his silver front teeth would be blinding me now. The other three men looked at me, and before I knew it, I was pinned firmly to the ground. What was going on?
“Georges, Georges. You think you can really run away from us, boy?” Silver teeth suggested.
“What are you talking about? I am Cognac Martell! You’ve got the wrong person!”
“Ha ha! He’s quite a pretty liar, eh? Shall we pry him more?”
Garfield was excited. Could they be from the military? I’m amazed how fast they were. Silver teeth kneeled down and took a good look at me. He took off his shades and his face struck me real hard. I can never pass that crossed scar at the corner of his right eye - Robert Skyward - the killer of my many brothers, and fathers… He led the military to Furaha na Amani, my homeland!
“You! Robert! My brothers, do you know what my brothers went through because of you!”
Silver teeth ignored my agitation. He doesn’t seem too bothered by it either. Maybe that’s how the military is, cold and cruel. He took another look at me, this time with crude cold eyes, reminding me of the harrowing days. The screams of despair, the explosions… They were all coming back to me once again. I could feel my tears welling up now. I tried to struggle, but the weight of three men was more than I could handle.
“How careless, you just gave yourself in. You see Georges; I’m just doing my job. Stop being so preachy, it’s nothing personal.”
How could he pass such a remark so casually! That bastard! I will fight for my people! My village! I must do something about it to end all of their sufferings!
“You are a piece of shit, Robert! After killing all my brothers, you call that ‘nothing personal’? I will never forgive you for such a-“
A hot sensation erupted through my neck, as if the buffalo's horn was piercing through My body begun to feel insensate, and my vision started to blur. Robert… You will pay for your sins…
Faint laughter could be heard in my mind. Such warmth… I hadn’t felt it for a long time. The sky was blue, the landscapes were beautiful. If you look hard enough into the distance, sometimes you can see buffaloes travelling in large groups across the waters, known as Lake Kariba . It was so peaceful. Mother would wake up before dawn every day, to fetch water from there, along with her friends. Father would go hunting with the other wawindaji (hunter), sometimes only coming back after days. The whole village would sit together in front of a fire like a big family, feasting on the fruits of our fathers’ labor. Our mothers will bring us buffalo milk. We would sing and dance, like it is a celebration worth celebrating. Life had never been so beautiful.
I remember, once I went to the lake to play. Splashing waters and having a great time. It was the last time I saw my family ever smile again. A girl living next to me was screaming and running towards me and the other children. Run, run! She said, but we thought she was playing. Hurry, run! She goes again. We knew something was wrong. We ran, as fast as we could. I was a born sprinter, so I was leading everyone. I ran and ran, not knowing what was going on. Hurry up! I told the children, I know of a place to hide!
And so we did. I found this cave once when I was wandering around on my own. This place should do the trick. For a long time, though I wasn’t sure how many days, we children hid there. We found food and water cautiously and stuck together all the time. We asked the girl what happened; but all she could say while weeping was: they’re back, they’re back. Mama told me to run and find you all, and protect each other.
Every time when I think about it, I can’t help but to ask myself what happened. Who are they? Probably after a month, we decided to go back for a peek, hoping everything was fine again. We were wrong. Big men in green uniforms separated us all by force, we were all powerless. Our homes were all destroyed; there were fires and nothing else. The big men were hitting and raping our mothers and sisters. Our fathers were doing tough work, carrying rocks and metals, like slaves. What a horrible sight.
The big men tossed me and some of the children into a small cage, like we were animals. Let us out! I once demanded, but I learnt that being impolite to them meant a heavy beating or even death. So ever since, I always keep quiet and well behaved. I once got reunited with my family, they were all badly hurt. We cried together and prayed, hoping all the pain will go away. But that day never came, for things became worse as the day goes by. When I was older, I was forced to work like my father. If I am lazy, the soldiers would whip me and give me a beating. Sometimes I was so badly injured I couldn’t go to work.
Then things turned slightly better when help came; and the soldiers were all forced to leave our village. That was when I first saw the leader of the military, Robert Skyward. He was cuffed and he looked at me, with his cold eyes and cross-scarred right eye. I will never forget that moment.
Even though the military left, our village was still in a bad shape. Because of the injuries, we couldn’t build our houses quickly. I gathered fit and able bodied lads like me to help with the construction. We were able to sleep well then, without fear and paranoia. However, the military still came back once in awhile, to “check” on us. Every night, when I gaze into the vast sky and shiny stars, I wonder when Furaha na Amani would be like how she used to be again. Once my friend and brother, Philip, joined me gazing the stars; and we chatted. We laughed when we talked about our childhood and cried when we talked about the war. Then I got an idea and said: Philip, do you want to run away? And find a way to help Furaha na Amani be better again?
Philip was flabbergasted, as he never thought of it. He then told me: will it be safe? To tell you the truth, I had no idea then, but I was so sure of it, I assured Philip it was. I regretted telling him that, for it had cost his life. However, if not for him, I would have never escaped.
We sidled near the exit of Furaha na Amani, hoping to get pass the lake after we ran for it. Before we escaped, I told Philip: We could hide in the cave again, for a day or two till we gathered enough water and food to find our way. We were brave and ran as fast as we could. The military saw us and started firing. We were good runners. We were laughing and running as the adrenaline pumps through our veins, while successfully dodging every bullet. It was a matter of time before the military gave up and went back, as they were afraid of getting lost.
Under the moonlight, we find our way to Lake Kariba. It was then to my horror that I found out Philip was shot. He was already in great pain and having difficulty breathing. Philip! I exclaimed. How did you get shot? I thought we dodged all of it?
I wasn’t that lucky, Georges. I didn’t know… I was shot till a while later, when… I started to feel a stinging pain… And my shirt was getting damp. Philip was panting badly and could barely stand. I gathered some water and washed his wound. He grunted, but it seemed to help relieve some pain later. I carried him to the cave where we rested and slept through the night. Before dawn, I told Philip to wait in the cave while I find herbs to dress his wound. Before I left, Philip said: Come back soon, my brother, for I do not know how long I can stand. I thought he was joking then, but I promised him my early return.
I came back shortly after, with enough food and water for the two of us, as well as the herbs. I was excited as I could finally attend to Philip’s wound. So I called out to him, who was still lying down resting. Philip, my brother, please sit up, I have readied the herbs for your wound. To my surprise, Philip didn’t respond to me. Thinking that he was sleeping, I shook him and said again: Philip, come. Let’s dress your wound, Philip!
Still no response. I was terrified then, and I turned his head around. Guilt flooded my heart as I found his eyes half opened and his hands cold. Oh Philip, what have I done to you, my brother? I am so sorry! I cried my heart out and held my brother close to me; hoping that my warmth will bring him back again. Philip, what is wrong, why are your hands cold? Talk to me Philip! Philip! When I calmed myself down, I carried on dressing his wound with the herbs. I gave him a few sips of the water, to help him quench his thirst. I buried him in the deepest part of the cave I could find, so that the military will not find him. I said my last prayer to him and I set off to find my village’s hopes and sunlight again.
Philip… Mother… Father… Everybody… I was feeling dizzy and realized I was in a car. Where am I heading to?
“I see you’ve finally come to.”
“Where are we going, you boorish bastard.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. Just relax and enjoy the view if you would.”
Garfield and cowboy mustache were sitting beside me. Tally’s at the front seat, laughing at Robert’s remark. I felt a sore at my neck and went to reach for it.
“Sorry about that, we had to shut you up for a bit. Don’t wanna disturb your neighbors.” Garfield claimed.
“It’s a sedative serum; we injected it into your neck.” Cowboy mustache explained.
The car was quiet for a few moments. Trying to break the ice, Robert spoke again.
“So, where’d you come up with the alias, Georges? I must say you did pretty good there, had us a hard time tracking you down.”
“I saw that name on a drinking glass; I was taken in by a restaurateur. He said I collapsed near his restaurant and took me in. He asked for my name, and I didn’t want to reveal my real name. So I saw the glass and made it my name.”
A burst of laughter erupted.
“That’s, that’s ludicrous, Georges! Yet he didn’t suspect anything, even when you first name is a drink? Geez!”Garfield laughed.
Seemed like Garfield’s the voluble kind, I hadn’t seen him stopped talking since I first met him.
“Well, I told him my parents were drink bartenders, so thus cognac.”
Why am I explaining myself to them? I mustn’t forget about my goal, if I do, Philip’s death will be in vain! I need to get myself together.
“Well, how long have you been, well, Cognac Martell?” Tally mocked.
“Long enough. Need to get away from the military.” I was careful this time, making sure not to be too careless. I need to stay alert.
“Starting to get your defenses up already? That’s pretty fast.” Tally mocked again and wheezed a sound of laughter.
I smiled awkwardly. Still clueless to where I’m going, I looked around the car to see if there was anything useful. The seats were made of fake leather. I could tell because back home, we would dry buffalo skin to make clothes. After a good look around, I concluded nothing much useful around here.
“Don’t put your hopes too high. This is a getaway car. We’ll dispose it when we’re there.” Cowboy mustache assured.
“Then, wouldn’t you mind enlightening me more about there?”
“No cant no do, boy. It wouldn’t be fun then.” Cowboy smirked.
The trip took almost 3 hours and we finally reached a motel. It doesn’t look very cozy, but decent enough to stay. Garfield and cowboy each took my arm. They escorted me to a room labeled number 9. The room was small, but the basic necessities were there; toilet, beds, cabinet. The wallpapers were starting to peel off from the ceiling, revealing leak marks behind it. As gentle as they could, Garfield and cowboy tied me to a chair and waited for the rest to arrive. They sat at the edge of the bed. Then Garfield stood up again.
“Shall we get started first? While waiting, let’s introduce ourselves.”
Garfield turned to me and smiled.
“I’m Simon, Simon Pittsburg, pleasure to meet you. Though it wasn’t very pleasant at first, but I assure you, things will be better from now on. The tall guy’s James Markel. I’m sure by now you know who Robert Skyward is.”
I’m sure it will, with me tied to a chair now. Sure it will get better. I couldn’t wait to know all of them better and form a friendship where we’ll cherish each other.
“Jose, Jose Denman.”Cowboy introduced.
“I don’t think I have to introduce myself again don’t I? Why am I here anyway?”
“You’ll see, Georges. Here’s a clue, it’s about your home.”
My home? Had something happened back there? I pray it’s nothing but good news. I have been away for too long to know for sure. I hoped everyone was fine. I must try to get out of this place as soon as possible. A rhythm of knocks sounded through the door. They were finally here. I will confront Robert again; demand an explanation from him about my home! Jose went to get the door. The three of them came; tally and Robert looked exhausted. Oh yeah, they had to dispose the car. They all sat in front of me and from this point on, my life will experience a turning point.
“Why did you guys tie him up? You’re giving him the wrong idea!” Robert demanded.
“I’m sorry, we’re afraid he’ll run away.” Jose explained.
Simon untied me to make myself more comfortable. I looked at them with suspicion. If they want to talk to me, why wouldn’t they just do it back at my hotel? If they weren’t the military looking for me, what are they here for? So many questions flooded my head the more I think about it.
“I know you have a lot to ask about. Right now, we need to clarify with you about something. Back in Furaha na Amani, do you know of any place, where there is a cave?” Robert asked.
Why would they want to know about the cave? Had they found out about Philip? No, it can’t be. I buried him in the deepest part of the cave; no one would dare to go there.
“I am not sure what you are talking about. “
“Work with us, Georges. There is something valuable lying in the midst of the cave. We asked everyone from your village, they said you were the only one who knew of the cave! So stop acting dumb and tell us where it is now.”
“Why will you care so much of the cave? You bought nothing but chaos and pain to my village. What else do you want to take away from us?”
“So this is the reason, eh? Listen boy, like I said earlier, I’m not the one who started this war. I merely did what I was told to!”
“He resigned from his post shortly after. Do you know that, Georges?” James took a step forward and challenged me. “Before you assumed anything, you should at least know the whole story. Robert is doing you a favor now!”
Simon continued, “That’s right. Told you it’ll be something good. Furthermore, the reason why Robert resigned was because of you.”
Me? Why would such a cold creature do that? “How am I supposed to believe what you all have said?”
“Let me tell you a story.” James offered. “Robert Skyward, a prestigious soldier in the military in his young days. He passed every perilous task given to him effortlessly, like as if he was born to be a fighter. His rank rose up to the highest in a short period of a year. He was outstanding and thus, got the attention of the commander. Seeing his remarkable report file, the commander thought Robert would be an excellent candidate to lead the Ace force in search of the hidden gold cave.”
“The cave you all spoke of earlier?”
“Indeed. Robert took the offer without any hesitation. But he never thought it would bring such evil consequences to your village. It was all intended that your village would be a pit stop, while searching for the cave. However, things became complicated when your village chief and the commander conflicted. Their relationship worsened and it led to a war in your village. Robert, on the other hand, was not notified about the upcoming war. Hence he was unable to control it. His peers revealed their true side and started bringing chaos. Feeling helpless, Robert knew he had to do something about it. So he turned himself and the force in, to the international peacemaking military association, known as the IPA. The IPA came to cease the war and arrested every soldier including Robert. That was when he saw your sad eyes. He swore to himself to bring peace to your village again. When Robert was released with minimal charges, he immediately resigned from his position as lieutenant, along with yours truly. I hated the military, but I had a bond with them you see, passed down by my family. So I had no choice but to carry on my ancestors’ honor. Then I met Robert. It was my chance to get away from that squalid place. That was when I learned about his past, and subsequently, you.”
“A very touching story, but that doesn’t explain anything about the cave. What do you all exactly want from the cave?”
“Very simple, you lead us to the cave, we mine the gold out from the cave before the military does; and give you half of the gold to rebuild your village again. A simple deal isn’t it?”
“And what about the other half? Wouldn’t it be easier if I just go there myself and have all the gold to myself and the village?”
“You are very smart, but of course not, smartass. The gold isn’t ordinary gold. They can only been seen with the eye of truth. An ancient tablet possessed by the princess of Egypt. She used the tablet to see through people’s hearts. When she died, the tablet vanished and was never seen again. “
“Until now,” Simon completed the sentence with the perfect timing. “It turns out the tablet was passed down for generations in the Denman family. We were lucky to know of that.”
“Furthermore, we wanted the gold not for our greed. It is for the better good! We will develop weapons and fight against the corrupted military, and create a better world!” Jose added on.
I still can’t be sure if they were telling the truth. Giving me half of the gold to build up my village, that’s only possible in dreams! But if they were telling the truth, my people will no longer suffer. We will be able to live our normal lives again. We could even build better homes then; with the extra money we’ll get.
“I am willing to cooperate. However, if anyone of you is lying, the deal is off. I must also request that no one from my village shall be involved in any of this.”
“Very well, we have a deal then! You have made a right choice Georges. When we have succeeded in making a better world, we will come visit you and your people, and share our joy together!”
“One last question,” I stood up to stretch myself.” What will happen if the military gets a hold of the gold?”
Everyone turned solemn. I guessed I shouldn’t have asked. Jose then answered,
“The world will become a death zone. We will all suffer and there will be no future. That is why, we have to act fast. “
“Correct. We shall all sleep well tonight! And wake up early tomorrow for our journey to freedom!” Simon jumped up from the bed.
A world of freedom… I wonder how it will look like.
The journey begins
I could barely sleep through the night, with thoughts in my head about what we all discussed earlier. When the sky got brighter, Simon left silently. I pretended I was sleeping to see what he was up to. A few hours later, everyone woke up. No one seemed to notice Simon’s absence. It was a little strange, but I kept it to myself.
“You all pumped up boy? Today’s the day you become a man of your people!” Robert patted my back.
Despite what James told me yesterday, I’m still wary about the intentions of Robert. Nevertheless, I gave him a slight smile, in recognition of his enthusiasm. Everyone started packing and preparing for the trip. When I headed to the bathroom to wash up, I heard mumbling outside. Could it be that they’re hiding something from me? I put my ears against the door and tried to make out the words spoken.
“You think he can do this?”
“There’s no way he had trust us entirely! What if he chicken out?”
“There’s only one way to find out. Keep quiet now, he might hear us.”
“Fine, and about the tools; had he used any of ‘em before?”
“Maybe not, he’s from a village after all. We can teach him though, will save a big part of his ass in the long run.”
It seemed we still do not trust each other entirely. I wonder what tools they were talking about. I continued washing up as quickly as I could. When I came out, Simon was already there.
“Morning, Georges! Had a good sleep last night?” Simon’s smile was radiant, brightening up his face.
I got dressed with the clothes they prepared for me – a white tuxedo and black tie. Simon seemed excited, like a child wanting to show his parents something he just found. He left the room first, followed by Robert, James, Jose and me. There was a red Jeep waiting in front of the room.
“Neat, huh? Took me quite a long time to get it. What you guys think?”
The three men smiled. So that was why Simon was excited and left early in the morning. I was impressed that he managed to get such a high performance car in a short time. With the jeep, we will have little problem travelling to the cave. We all got on the car, sitting the same way we did before. As we set off, James took out a map from his canvas bag. The map looked very familiar, just like the land of Zimbabwe, though my village could not be seen as she was too small. After taking an overview on the map, James spoke,
“We will take the route that goes around your village, with 10 kilometers in diameter. When we reach the desert, we will take a break and ask for more directions. We need to stay as low as possible. It will be a handful if the military finds out.”
“I would like to add on to you that the crucial part to going to the cave is the lake near my village. I only know how to go to the cave from there onwards.”
“Is it Lake Kariba? How far away is the lake from your village?”
“Yes, and I’m estimating 15,000 steps.”
“That’s about an hour. Judging from the distance…”
“Its 5 kilometers,” Jose answered.
“So are we able to see the lake from our route? Even if we do, will it be safe?” Simon queried.
“It’s likely the military will not spot us, but there’s always a risk. We’ll have to test our luck, since the village and lake are not located on the map.” Robert concluded.
“Talking about luck, we should have some level of self defense. Georges, hand gun or machine gun?” Jose asked as he took out his bag of guns and ammo beside him. Were these the tools they were talking about? Where did they get these weapons from! Not to mention I had never laid hands on these, will I be able to use it well?
“Whichever that is easier to use.”
“Well then, hand gun it is. This is a Beretta Tomcat .32 calibers. Use it well; it’ll save you if anything happens.”
“What about the other guns? What are they for?”
“If you must know, each has a different impact on the target. This shotgun, Enfield 1910, .303 calibers, is meant for great impact; sometimes instant death. Commonly used for hunting. Then we have this machine gun, Century Arms WASR-10, which is used for shooting at big groups of people. The technique “spray” came about because you just need to move your gun side to side, like a hose, and you can kill a large number of people. Then lastly is the one you’re holding, the hand gun. Beretta Tomcat is light weight and can be carried around easily. Because of its compact design, it can fit into any small space easily; like your pocket, bag or even purse, as for the ladies.”
“So how do I shoot, and reload?”
“Easy, just pull the trigger - not now – to shoot and pull the top segment backwards to reload. Be wise on shooting, you only have 6 bullets in each cartridge. I have limited ammo too so, please use discreetly. “
Jose passed the other guns to Simon and James. I really do hope we will not have to use the guns at any time. I do not want to take away lives like the military. We continued journeying for another 15 minutes; I became curious and asked how Simon and Jose met with Robert and James. Simon started his storytelling without hesitation.
“For me, I was once a car thief. My family was poor, and we struggled our way through every day. I learnt to steal cars over time and got pretty good at it. I figured that I could use my skills to help make some money for my family. So I stole cars and sold them for money. Unfortunately, I got caught once. I was terrified, as I thought I would be dead or jailed. That was when Robert and James came to my rescue. They showed their military badges and the police backed off. Then, I couldn’t understand why they did that. It was at a later time that I learnt they had been observing me for a period of time, and recognizing my talent to steal cars so swiftly. It would be a great help to them to be able to get vehicles quickly. So they asked me to join them on the journey to find the gold. They promised me a good wealth in return, so I agreed. “
“It wasn’t long before they found me, as well.” Jose continued. “As Simon mentioned earlier, my family had the eye of truth for generations. However, only the most successful and capable one will be the next successor of the tablet. As my father was the youngest of all, our family was treated with contempt. I could not put up with the disgrace my relatives gave us, so I made a promise to myself that I will be the successor of the tablet; to prove them all wrong. When I was 25, the minimum age to be a candidate, I volunteered myself for the examinations. My uncle, the former successor, laughed at my ridiculous dream, but allowed me to participate anyway, thinking it would be interesting. Once, we had a task which required us to travel a long distance. I happened to know about Simon, as he was infamous. I approached him for help. Through the trip we knew better about each other. When I finally passed as a proper successor, I was overjoyed. When I shared the good news with Simon, he had already agreed to help Robert and James. Wanting a taste of adventure, I decided to join him as well. However, Robert and James thought I will be of no help, and declined my offer. Remembering that I already had the tablet, I wanted to show them my true and earnest heart. So I took the tablet out and let it show my true heart. It was that moment where they realized I had the propitious material to help complete their mission.”
“The eye of truth?”
“Yes, they intended to search for it on their own, but my appearance had saved them the trouble. And so we all set out, towards your village, Furaha na Amani, to collect information to where the cave might be. We learnt about you from them, and went around finding you. We had a hard time indeed, since you changed your name, but look where we are now!”
We continued driving for almost half a day, where we finally reached the desert. We set up a small camp to stay for the night. The next day, we approached the nearest civilization we could find. There was a small group of travelers nearby. James went to ask for directions while the rest of us refilled our food supplies. For some reasons, the people looked tense and ruminated. While we were packing our food supplies, I felt a small tip touching my back. I tried to turned back to see, but was obstructed by a command not to do so.
“Pass me all your valuables!” A deep voice came, speaking in Swahili.
“I do not have any,” I replied in the same language.
“What about the others? Don’t try to lie to me! I will kill you all!”
As I tilted my head towards the rest, Robert, Jose and Simon were all being pointed with a gun by 3 other bandits. Where is James? Was he killed?
“What he say, Georges?” Simon looked slightly terrified.
“He wanted our valuables, I believe they are bandits.”
“What? We don’t have any now!” Simon’s excitement was misunderstood and the bandits started shouting, threatening to kill us again. At this rate, if we do not give them what they want, we’ll be in trouble…
“Everyone calm down, I have a plan.” Robert whispered. “Georges, tell them we’re just travelers, we do not bring much money with us.”
I did as he told me. “They said they wanted to go to our vehicle to search.”
“Good, let them be. Do all of you have your weapons with you? Good, don’t take them out till I ask you to.”
One by one in line we went back to our jeep. I told them that was our car. The deep voiced bandit shoved me aside and ran to the jeep and started to search the inside.
“Now’s our chance!” Robert nudged a bandit behind him, and pressed his arms backwards to restrict his movements. The other bandits flinched. Upon hearing the cue, we took out our guns and stood in position. I was shaking, killing a man was the last thing I wanted to do.
“You’re surrounded!” Robert spoke in Swahili. While squeezing the gun at the head of the bandit, “Put your guns down or your comrade dies.”
The bandit who ran to our jeep was now in the hands of James. He was pointing the gun at the bandit as well. Not knowing what to do, the 2 bandits surrendered their guns and raised their hands. “Kneel down and don’t look up!” Robert commanded again.
We tied the bandits at different places near their campsite. James and Robert knocked them out one after another.
“Don’t worry, they’re just unconscious. We should go now, they can wake up anytime.” We drove off after packing everything. Simon and myself was still quite badly shaken, it was a really close call.
“Robert, I never knew you speak Swahili. If you knew, why didn’t you tell them instead of me? And James, how did you managed to catch that bandit? I thought you were dead already!”
“It is better to stay low, so they’ll be caught off guarded. Don’t forget I was an experienced soldier; I’m used to encountering such situations. You guys did great there too, keeping calm and so on.”
“I knew something was wrong when I looked around their campsite before asking for directions. They had loads of gold and jewelries in their tents. So I sneaked back to the jeep in case anything happens.”
They were indeed well trained soldiers! We would be dead without them. The two of them felt that we should continue our journey through the night, in case the bandits decided to come for revenge. Everyone took turns to drive, except me, as I didn’t know how to. To that advantage, I managed to sleep through the night. In the near morning, I work up lazily, with aches all over due to bad posture. Looking around, the landscape and hills looked familiar to me.. The landscapes.. They looked like the hills I passed by once..
“Stop!” I exclaimed. Startled by my sudden exclamation, they halted the jeep with a jerk.
“What’s the big idea!” Simon groaned, as the jerk made him hit his head. I left the car and looked around.
Indeed, it was the route my father travelled when he was hunting! I followed him once; we travelled through a tunnel and reached here... The tunnel! We could use the tunnel as a short cut across the desert!
I could no longer contain myself and went back to tell them about the tunnel. With little time to waste, I directed them there. There it was - two large cliffs and a small gap in between - the tunnel which my father and I travelled through! They were dubious about the safety of the tunnel but I insisted as I made through the tunnel without even a scratch. Eventually we proceeded with caution. The tunnel expanded while we went deeper, revealing itself to us through its geographical beauty. It is amazing what the Earth can do over thousands of years. 5 minutes later, we saw a bright beam of light ahead, which should be the exit. When we reached the end of the tunnel, we could see the lake in just a distance away. Everyone cheered a little and credited me for being observant.
Our joy was short lived, however. A military soldier appeared with a young lady by his side. We stayed still and reversed slightly, in attempt to remain unnoticed. The soldier pushed the young lady using his gun and interrogated her. We could not make out much of what was said, but the young lady was terrified and seemed to be begging him to spare her life. Unable to get what he wanted, he raised his gun at her and pulled the trigger.
The young lady screamed in pain and held her chest. She was breathing with excruciating pain. She fell to her feet and collapsed. Why would the military do such a thing? Killing innocent lives…
“The military is already making a move. We have no more time to waste, let’s go. Georges, do not look anymore.” Robert changed the gear and continued driving. Everyone was quiet for a long time. Thanks to the buzzing of the car engine, the silence was less deafening. I guided Robert through a series of turns till we finally reached the cave. The cave that saved my life twice years ago, it sure does feel nostalgic, yet haunting.
When we entered the cave, Jose’s tablet started to react instantly. He took the vibrating tablet out and a beam of laser shot out from the gem of the tablet. It pointed towards the cave; it must be leading us to the gold. Tempted and excited, Jose proceeded. James and I followed behind him. Robert and Simon were keeping a look out to make sure no one was following us. They tagged along afterwards.
How strange, even though I had stayed in the cave for a period of time before, the place we were heading to was nothing like what I saw. It was as if we time travelled to the past, to another world. The stalactite looked like ceiling decorations, while dripping fluid at random. It sounded like a symphony, peaceful and calming. It became tiring to walk normally due to the low oxygen level which slowed us down significantly. After a gruelling ordeal through the cave, the tablet started to react vigorously again.
“It could be near,” Jose said as he tried hard to read the signs.
The light shot around the cave randomly like lightning. About 15 seconds later, it stabled down and pointed upwards. We looked closely and realised something was jutting out of the top. Simon begun digging and he smiled.
“It’s here, it’s here!”
He dug further in and climbed upwards. We followed after him. What a beautiful sight! There were crystals surrounding us. The light shone through were colourful as well, it felt like we were in heaven. Up ahead the crystal chamber, it was the gold we were all looking for. To our disappointment, the gold was no bigger than an average man’s fist.
“How could this be? I thought we would have loads of gold to mine!” Simon threw his hands in defeat, feeling confused. “We came here all the way just for this small piece of gold?”
All of a sudden, a bullet was fired and it hit Simon by the arm.
I turned towards the origin of the sound and to my horror, James was holding the gun and tablet. Jose was lying unconscious at the back.
“If this is really all the gold there is, I’ll be taking it all. I’m sorry Georges, saving the world is far more important than your little village,” he pointed the gun at me now, I couldn’t move at all.
“James, put that gun down. There is a way around this,” Robert raised his hands slowly while approaching James.
“Stay back! I’ve had quite enough from you as well! Saving his village? That’s the most ridiculous joke I’ve ever heard. With this gold, we can save the world from despair! Even his village will be saved!”
“Your ideal is misjudged, James! If you truly think this amount of gold can save the world, you’re too naïve! Put the gold down, we’ll talk about this.”
Worried for Simon as he was bleeding and groaning in pain, I hurried over to help him.
“Don’t you move around as you wish!”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
I managed to avoid the bullets again. I applied pressure to Simon’s wounds to slow the bleeding down. He might have fractured his arm as well.
“Robert, Simon might have fractured his arm.”
“Who cares, at least I have the gold now-“
Jose pounced at James from the back. In defence, James rammed Jose against the wall with maximum strength. Jose grunted but held on. James’ face turned red as he was being strangled by Jose’s strong arms, he collapsed to the ground, yet still fighting to free himself. Following my instinct, I helped Jose and we managed to hold the traitor down. After dealing with James, Jose and I hurried back to the jeep with Simon for first aid.
Back at the chamber, Robert was watching over James. With bruises everywhere, James spited out his bloody saliva and laughed to himself.
“What’s so funny,” Robert taunted.
“Ha ha ha, do you seriously think that gold can save the village? The military will steal the money from them, and corrupt them even more. With the gold, we can still at least start making some research and make more money from it, then developing the weapons. What about the other two? You promised them wealth, but what will they get now in return?”
“They will understand. No matter what, I will restore what belonged to Furaha na Amani. And I told you before, I will not join you to create a new world using violence. It’ll only create more pain and misery. And, I know, I cannot stop you in any way to create that wronged ideal of yours. So I hope you’ll understand what I’m doing.”
“Heh, we’ll see about that.”
Simon’s bleeding receded greatly. I heaved a sigh of relief. He rested at the back seat, feeling much better than he did in the crystal chamber. Rest here, I told him. We’ll be back soon. Before I could turn my head, I felt a burst of heat, along with a loud explosion coming from the inside of the cave. Smokes were bellowing from all nooks and crannies. I kept my eyes wide opened at the fire.
“Robert!” I ran towards the fire, only to be held back by Jose.
“You said you will celebrate your success with me and my village one day! What are you doing! Come out!” I screamed like a little girl. Jose just quietly stood there, looking down. Then he took out a small average fist sized rock and a military badge, and passed it to me.
“He asked me to give you these.”
I stared at the gold, then at Jose. I was extremely bewildered. Why would he exchange his life for these! I took the gold and badge, sobbing to myself. What an idiot! An imbecile!
During that evening, we dug two graves, in respect to a hero and an ex-accomplice. You will be respected, Robert. Jose explained to me that the badge will allow me to give orders to the military without any compromise and with that, I could drive the military away permanently. When Jose drove us back to the village, I showed the badge and it worked like a charm. Jose and Simon stayed with us until Simon fully recovered. Although they didn’t get money in return, they got something more valuable: the bond with my village and a new meaning in life. They visited us from time to time, along with their families. I managed to secure a good 50 kilometres circumference of border restraining the military from coming. We managed to build the village up again as well, with better amenities now. Like before, Furaha na Amani was a place of happiness and peace. She had finally restored her pride as a village name. My people were able to smile again.
I visited Robert once in awhile, giving him offerings. I would stay there till the evening, telling him stories about the village. I hope you’re able to see how well our village is now, Robert. I hope you’ve met my heroic friend Philip as well. You two had made me stronger and I will never forget that.
(After story) During a cold night near Lake Kariba, rumbling could be heard from the distance. Pebbles were rolling down from the pile of rocks that sealed the entrance of the cave. A hand erupted from the rocks and he crawled his way out slowly. Limping slightly, the man made his way into the desert under the dim moonlight...
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