I’m Still Here

I had never given a thought to what would happen should we ever incur her fury. As I lay covered in dust, surrounded by concrete, deprived of light and shackled by a broken limb that I had taken for granted, I began to count down to what may very well be my final hours.

***

What the hell…

I was contorted. I had made to get up and disentangle myself, only to crash headfirst against solid concrete. My brain hammered against the walls of my skull and I had no choice but to wait for my impaired sense of balance to regain composure. My senses were diffused within one another: the dust was audible, the silence stung bitterly in my mouth and the darkness dug its nails deep into my skin, refusing to let go. I shut my eyes tightly and attempted to focus on each of my senses. Involuntarily I flexed my hands when suddenly a jolt of pain raced across my left arm. I cried out and grasped it with its counterpart. There was no mistaking it; my arm was broken and in the darkness I had absolutely no idea how bad the damage really was.

What was going to be my next move? Being blindfolded would not have made an ounce of a difference there. I was imprisoned within obscurity and my thoughts drifted away to my family. I missed them so much at that instant but I did not dare think of the earthquake’s . My family was alive. I knew it. After a moment’s hesitation and indecision, I had begun to push forward in the obscurity. I had begun to walk. My entire body ached and a tinge of pain ran up my broken arm, but I had no intention of stopping. Moments later, I became heavily aware of my shoes scraping roughly against the ground, a sound I had never really taken into consideration before. I wondered if there was anyone else present in the glare of what was unknown. There was only one way to find out.

‘Is…is anyone out there?’

My voice echoed through the stone cage and reverberated back to me. I waited a few seconds only for silence to embrace me once more. Disappointed, I let out a sigh. My thoughts were ready to drift away again when…

‘Hey…a survivor, yay…’

My ears perked up like a wolf during a hunt.

A survivor.

I pushed myself forward.

***

It’s funny how the mere presence of someone else can do wonders for us during times of loneliness and desperation. In the midst of familiar people, that very same person would just be another face in the crowd.

And when you’re both trapped within walls of stone, that lone person could very well become your strongest emotional crutch.

***

‘Man, is it good to see someone else around here,’ I heard momentarily, ‘well not really see see, but you know what I mean.’

The sounds of my unsteady footsteps were probably what alerted him of the close proximity of my presence. The source of his voice did not come from anywhere near my height, though. He probably had a broken leg.

‘What’s your name?’ I inquired, ‘Is there anyone else here who’s alive?’

It felt bizarre, looking down at nothingness, talking to a random stranger even.

‘My name? Well, it’s pretty complicated in my own language,’ he chuckled uneasily.

Own language?

‘But,’ he continued, ‘You can call me Noor. It’s what all my friends call me and for the time being, you’re the only friend I have.’

He chuckled again. I could not comprehend how he was laughing in the midst of our current situation. If anything, joy was miles away from being an adequate emotion to be present at that moment. Quite impulsively, I called him out on it.

‘Well…’ he answered, carefully elongating the single syllable, ‘I don’t think being sad is gonna magically drill a hole through these rocks. It’ll only make me feel bad. So might as well laugh a bit, right?’

What? There really was no proper response in my mind for his train of thought.

‘Right…’ I sighed. I decided to slide down against the wall and onto the ground beside him.

‘What’s your name by the way?’

‘It’s…’

Hold on. I turned my head to face him. Something was wrong. Now that I was sitting on the floor, his voice should have come from a similar height from my perspective. Yet, once more, it came from somewhere much lower than the height where my ears sat.

‘Oh my God…’ I managed to mutter.

The sickening realization washed over me like a hundred insects scattering throughout the skin on my body.

‘Noor…you can’t stand up, can you?’

‘I…guess not, no,’ he said quietly, ‘not anymore.’

This man was being crushed by a pile of concrete. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to help him.

***

Once in a while you’ll find yourself in one of those situations where you have no choice but to step back and re-examine…everything. I’m talking about situations where things like money, plans, petty wants and the rest of their friends withdraw themselves back into the unnatural state of being ‘human.’ What you’re left with is so innately beautiful, yet upsetting; so wonderfully enchanting, yet repulsive.

I felt the solid, broken crust of the debris that had fallen upon my unfortunate companion. I had no idea who he was, or why fate had chosen him to lay restrained under stone. I recall being washed over with the feeling of being powerless for the umpteenth time that day.

I got back on my feet.

***

‘Stop now, please!’ said Noor, his voice growing more worried than agitated, ‘I know your intentions are pure but you and I both know there is nothing you can do for me at the moment.’

I was exhausted. My fist, palm and shoulder burnt red from attempting to dislodge the boulder. Deep down, I knew that he was right. No amount of forceful pushing and aggression could help him. Without any other option, I allowed gravity to usher me to my knees; a hopeless posture. The same posture that is, rather poignantly, used to pray; to ask for help.

As if God was going to help.

Once more my thoughts were seeping away into the murky realms of the unknown but this time, I did not bother bringing them back. Fortunately, I had a man trapped under a boulder to do that for me.

‘Thanks for trying though.’ he chuckled again.

Just what the hell was so funny to him?

‘Yeah,’ I replied half-heartedly, ‘It’s…it’s alright.’

I slouched back against the rock beside Noor.

‘I still don’t know your name though, mister,’ he piped up.

I lolled my head to one side, staring at the darkness where his head lay.

‘It’s Adam.’ I said, after some time.

‘Ooh, like that guy who sings?’

‘What?’

‘Come on, you’ve probably listened to his band’s music and don’t remember it right now! I’ll Bluetooth some of their songs to you…after I get myself out of this mess that is.’

‘Alright.’

I didn’t know what drove him; I failed to understand why he wasn’t worried about the fact that his legs were shattered bits of bone and meat. All I could do was nod and agree, nod and agree.

A few painful seconds of silence carried us forward.

‘Why aren’t you upset?’ I blurted out before I could stop myself, ‘you’re the victim of an earthquake, you’re being crushed by a massive chunk of boulder, you have no idea if you’re going to make it out alive or not and even if you do, you’re gonna live the rest of your life stuck to a wheelchair! Why aren’t you complaining about the…unfairness of it all?!’

My voice echoed loudly through the hollow chasm. It cut through the emptiness that imprisoned us. Then, as if to rectify the distortion of man, the deafening silence washed over us once more. It felt chilling, invasive almost, to have that kind of utter stillness penetrate your awareness.

It took a bit of time to realize that I had more or less just shouted at a complete, handicapped stranger, who, by then, had not even graced me with a response. Guilt pierced through me. I had begun wondering whether or not I should apologize for my behaviour, when he spoke at last.

‘It’s because I’m still here.’

A jolt of emotions raced along the length of my spine and spread throughout the rest of my body. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end and goose bumps rushed across my skin in frenzy. Where guilt had been residing was now replaced by absolute astonishment.  I had absolutely no idea how to respond.

I remained silent. What else was I supposed to do?

I wrapped my arms around my legs and hung my head low. I was really hungry…and tired…and sleepy…

***

My head hit the ground with a resounding thud.

‘Ugh…’

‘Whoa, what happened? You okay?’ chirped Noor.

I pushed myself up with my unbroken arm.

‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ I replied, nursing my head, ‘Fell asleep and I ended up losing balance while I was sitting.’

Silence again.

‘Hey,’ he piped up, ‘Since we have so much time to kill, how about we introduce each other properly?’

‘I suppose I don’t have anything better to do.’

I could almost feel a grin break out across his face.

‘You first!’ he said, ‘Who are you and what drives you?’

I was about to scratch my head (ouch my arm). Who was I?

‘Well,’ I began to reflect, ‘My full name is Adam Lestrange. I grew up in this very town and graduated with a degree in computer science and engineering. I used to work here in this building before…well, you know.’

I paused and took a breath.

‘Wrong answers!’ Noor suddenly exclaimed.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘Where’s your passion? You sound like you were assembled in a factory and then tossed to work for this company like a fax machine!’

‘Well I-‘ I thought hard, ‘I…love football-‘

‘The one where people actually kick a ball around a field?’

‘Yeah that one-‘

‘Good, carry on.’

One would think he had no idea of the gravitation of our current situation, judging by the way he was talking.

‘I have actually loved the sport ever since I was eleven,’ I continued, ‘My dad was amazing. He used to play with me every day, no matter how tired he was from work. I guess I never truly appreciated that, you know.’

I stared off into the darkness.

‘Is he alive?’ Noor asked.

‘No.’ I said quietly, ‘I just realized that I haven’t visited them in a while. I suppose the last time I’d done it was two years ago.’

‘Ah…’

As excruciatingly cheerful a person as he was, even Noor did not have a reply.

‘Tell me about your mother?’ he asked at last.

‘Well she was a normal, down to earth person I suppose,’ I began, ‘Didn’t really have a job, but took care of our basic household work.’

‘She was a lovely person just for being able to do that,’ Noor piped up, ‘I never had someone like that, so I had to learn a few things the hard way.’

My interest was piqued.

‘Tell me more.’ I asked.

He cleared his voice (a bit overdramatically perhaps).

‘I’m Noor Ibn’ Jabbar,’ he said, ‘And yes, I know it’s a strange name: my parents were from the Middle East so I hope that offers some explanation.’

‘Right…’

‘I was raised in an orphanage,’ he continued, ‘Mother and father had both been killed when I was young, so I didn’t really know them. I’ve heard people say lovely things about them though, so if nothing else, I have in my mind a pleasing image of what they were probably like.’

I nodded as a sign for him to carry on, realizing the flaw in that action much later than I would like to admit.

‘I hope you’re not feeling sorry for me,’ he chuckled, ‘on the contrary of what most stories would like you to believe, my home was not a living hell. Miss Delmare was a wonderful mother in her own right. Being able to raise so many children by oneself isn’t an easy task, you know.’

Wow, he actually sounded quite serious for once. I was impressed.

‘You must have been a handful.’ I piped in.

‘Yeah well, back then, there was a somewhat lack of big boulders to pin me down, so…’

I had half an urge to laugh and half an urge to stare incredulously at him for his distasteful joke.’

A few seconds of silence.

‘…it’s alright, you can laugh,’ said Noor.

Here I was, trapped in my office, hugged by walls of concrete, sitting next to a half dead man who was laughing at his own misfortune. If nothing else, the dry laughter that followed was sprinkled with a small amount of insanity.

‘There we go!’ he exclaimed happily, ‘It’s good to laugh a little.’

And so we laughed. I had no idea why, but for the next hour or two, I poured my heart out to that man. We talked about anything and everything, from strange mollusk creatures to new age spirituality. I learnt about his adventurous school days and of all the detentions he used to land himself into. He heard the stories of how I was mistaken for looking like a drug dealer a rather alarming number of times. I acknowledged the beauty in his name, which translated in Arabic to ‘light.’ He chuckled at the coincidence of how my name has roots in Hebrew which more or less means ‘earth.’ I found out that I discovered more about the human soul in that short amount of time than I had done in my life so far.

We lost track of time. Soon, I realized that energy was a scarcity we took for granted. With no food or water being promised to us anywhere in the near future, we had to go into ‘energy conservation’ mode, as Noor would like to call it. Days passed…or was it a few hours? My eyes were itchy and my entire body ached, though from laughing or from the fall, I could not discern. I dropped to the floor. This was all probably just a vivid hallucination, a very distinctive dream.

***

My eyes were itchy and my entire body ached.

Well that was a new feeling. My throat felt like it was coated with sand. I needed water. I got up from the floor drowsily. Head spinning in the darkness will, to this day, still be one of the most unusual feelings I have experienced albeit not one I will miss.

‘Hey Noor, you awake?’ I asked softly. I waited a few seconds; apparently he was still sleeping. I guess I would just wait for him to wake up then.

Seconds rolled by. Minutes drawled by. Hours dissolved the vicinity.

How long had it been?!

‘Noor!’ I exclaimed, a sudden sense of urgency kicking in through the pain, ‘Hey, come on, wake up!’

I groped around in the darkness and found his matt of hair.

‘Come on, Noor,’ I tapped his head urgently, ‘I need you to get up and talk to me, buddy.’

Panic raced through my beaten and battered system. No, no, no. Noor was there; I knew he was still there. He had a ton of rock sitting on him and so he was just more… more exhausted than I was, yes. That is why he was not waking up as soon as I had. Yes, he was just tired. He was just…

…gone.

I could not take it. No. Every little bit of anger, frustration, fear, fear I had stored within me burst out and I screamed. I screamed so much. I did not care that I was going to rot in here for the rest of my life. Noor did not deserve it. He did not. He was an amazing human being and he was going to get out of here and go hug miss Delmare and tell her of how he met a stranger in the darkness, and how the stranger had brought him so much light during those few hours.

What?

No, that was me…he was the stranger. He made my last few hours some of the best ones I had ever spent with another soul.

He didn’t have to die.

I guess that was when realization finally took hold. I buried my face in my dirty, rugged hands. My head was buzzing terribly. I hoped that death would welcome me home soon. The buzzing seemed to grow.

And it got louder.

I looked up, alert. That was not buzzing; it was the noise made by a drill.

No sooner than I had understood that, a small chunk of rock flew out from the wall nearby and life engulfed the entire chamber. I shielded myself. I covered myself. I felt naked. I was blind. There was no life outside of here…was there? I turned my head to the side and opened my eye by just the tiniest fraction. All I could make out was a mass of curly hair and a face sleeping peacefully, almost as if it was smiling.

‘Is anyone there?’ A deep voice called out.

‘I…’ I stammered, ‘I…I’m still here.’

‘I repeat, is anyone there?’

The world became blurry once more.

‘I’m still here…’

 

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