Journey to the Hades
by Naseema Musthafa
(Shoranur, Kerala, India)
(This story is in two parts)
I had almost drowned into the depth, where I sank several times and gulped most of the saline water, before I came to the edge of the retreating sea. Certainly, I did not know the shore I had captured and I looked around in the dark where blackness covered most of the part. I felt my bottom hurt and could not inspect the beauty of the scene. The log that took me here was irritating now. Yes, it was the last piece of the wreck, the mid-pole of Blue-Waters. I remember I was on a vacation with my family.
Slowly I rubbed my fingers on the smooth surface of the wood and pressed the soil floor with the other hand to balance my weight. I felt the streaming current coiled with sand and surf tickling through the toes. All this time, I heard loud noises of people but could not see or answer them. My throat was hoarse and tongue harder than the wood I lay. Overcome with joy at the presence of a human other than me, I stayed calm for a second and then forced upper part of my body to the air, sprinkling away the soil from the clothes that were damp and rotten.
I could see the glow of fire burning warmly at a distance, gleaming, red and yellow outline penetrating the cove they had camped; the sight of few trees at hand almost made me long for shelter. Although struggling and panting I headed towards the men camped there, wading through the sea-floor, sometimes the sand-bed sinking to the depth of my ankle. My vision was straight at them, for I feared they ought to turn to shadows and lost-lost forever, if I had slightly blinked.
Behind me was the sea, never felt so quiet and calm after a week’s schedule of rough-choir into my ears. My thoughts were brought back to the past, to the funeral of my mom and dad, so silent and peace, except for the mumbling heart inside my chest. It was the first disaster of my life.
In front, almost a mile away settled the inhabitants of the island, clanking and chattering, blazing fire brightening their faces. There were women serving food and drinks. One of them squinted through the narrow crack of trees. She peered at me for a moment and raised her voice in her tongue that I couldn’t understand. People rushed towards the shore; I knelt down relieved that at last I was going to get help. As soon as I moved further, I fell into the smooth sand straining with the most trying attitude to lift up; eyelids fell gradually shading the soft vision; weariness grew to its state and numbness fell upon my mind in the midst of the adventure. **
What a supper I had this night, ending the quest for fuel and saving from the starvation of a whole week; and what a meal it was, with roasted meat strips and delicacies with the delicious red wine. Hardly had I watched anyone, I was hungry enough to dig the whole part of the feast into my mouth in a one go.
When settled with the food, more alive and pleased, I noticed the natives dumping lots of fruits and vegetables on the wooden slab at the other end of the bamboo-hut. The rotten night-dress was almost dry. Soon I checked my locket; the photograph hidden in its case was saturated by salty water. Still I could feel my husband and my daughter hugging me ‘God! I don’t know where they’re?’ tear dripped into the case.
Few children galloped into the hut and poked my cheek with sticks as if they were inspecting my fair skin with their dark. I realized there was something unusual about the people; they were un-human at sight; through the glare of the torch lit at the entrance of the hut, the sharp crooked incisors pointing through their smile, hunger looks between the terrible locks of dark curly hair and their laughter savagely wild, almost killed me with a fright. Earlier I hadn’t noticed their strange interpretation, behavior, their dressing and indeed their weapons; short ugly coverings of barks and leaves for their dressing and long-scraped-bones of giant-animals were their weapons, sharp enough to peel the skin off bone. Some people dumped large piles of wide-wild-leaves and twines on the floor next to the wooden flake where I had rested. There’s nothing to worry about; I had to appease my heart that it could beat normal.
A little girl with a curious look held a spathe containing meat strips and tossed her head. I felt sick at the thought what in the world was the meat coming from, suppose a boar, a wolf, or an ugly piglet. I felt the taste of vomit at the roof of my mouth. I left working on food; when a strange looking bearded man helped me to the pool nearby.
Wild-berries were grown around the little pool, logs piled on the left end of a hovel-like structure where dim light pierced through the roof, where toppings of wild leaves were sewn together from the nearby tree. On the other end of the darkest corner were heaps of bones and something round and white. In that position I couldn’t easily grasp the image, so I decided to move further.
I looked around and making sure no one was near, I headed through the narrow path to the hovel. I was amazed by the darkness at the entrance with the dim light over the roof. Where it was coming from, I guessed and allowed myself in through the sheets of weeds. Slowly and cunningly I moved through the worm-eaten floor. It was a rotten-cabin of a wreck that was brought up by the heavy tide, deadly and scary, weeds hanging through. All was dark within, so I couldn’t guess what was inside.
Suddenly I heard a honk; the bearded man was at my back. He gave me a fierce look and wrapped me under his huge arms and raced into the camp. I was hauling with much wonder in my heart, and perhaps little thunder-stricken too; I feared that something was wrong and had no time to recover. He dragged and held me tight into the piles of wild-leaves and the others joined him with the twines, my arms and legs stiffened and steady; women joined him by stuffing vegetables and fruits in between the spaces of my limbs and leaves. Suddenly I remembered how I had undone my new-born baby from the towel when she was wrapped by the head-nurse at the hospital and how I had grunted at her.
Under the dark bunch of wooden filings, I was dumped alone with rotten fruit stuffed into my mouth detaining my noise. I was utterly shocked by the sight to the left, the heap of bones and round structure was none other than skull, cannibals; the terror of death rouse to the extent. People left me for some reason, might be an arrangement for a picnic, tasty strips of a lady with bread toast. Yuck! Men-meat-strips, what a meal it was! The rotten fruit juice washed my tongue with an itch.
I tried to roll through the uneven crescents of sand to the rotten-cabin, nowhere else to go at the moment. Reckoning my imagination was unreliable and I was alone, I tried to move further into the deserted patch believing of a place to hide in there. Crawling had caused the leaves squash on my knees and elbows, and salty-soil prickled the bruise. When I stopped and turned to look if I was being followed, there was only a deserted expanse of sand with loosened vegetables and the foaming surf at a distance. The camp or the place where I had been a moment ago was totally deleted, not a single creature was near. Far away I could see a wild- fire lit with a hook like structure at the center, I imagined myself hanging upside down from the hook into the fire. People danced merrily around the fire.
‘I have to survive, for my daughter, why should I be abandoned always? I’m not a piece of ham for them to divide between’-I thought and struggled as fast as I could. The men spotted me and chased through the sand, but they were stiffened to the spot as I entered the hovel. The pursuers were moving back frightened for the reason unknown and waited there.
Crawling further into the hovel, I looked into the rotten-cabin; the worn-out floors turned out to brand new, chandeliers lit around, polished furniture, brand cushion, trays of food and drinks laid neatly on a table, gold-plated tumblers and plates and everything else decorated the room through an illusion. Having freed from the twines and leaves, I moved further into the spacious room, sheathed in a film of sweat. Suddenly, I saw movement from the corner of my eye, ten feet to the left, a swift shape but not clear. The mild fog was rapidly thickening, blurring the visibility. Fear seized my nerves; thudding heart seemed to have swollen under my chest, no breath was left for a scream or it did let a chance for survival with those beasts waiting outside for my meat.
To be continued....******
Part II will be available in December 2013 issue.