Updated: Mar 30, 2019
By Chere Low - Awarded the "Torrance Legacy Creativity Award" in 2018
Who would’ve thought
Who would have thought a stranger would have given up his life for boys buried deep in the bowels of the earth, with a mouth of impenetrable darkness? Who would have thought that a navy seal - would brave the turbid waters - a literal stab in the dark - to bring oxygen to a group of teens who were now malnourished and traumatised, trapped in an ovoid-shaped air pocket?
It is funny how quiet it is underwater.
The viscosity has a way of blocking every sound out. The silence was deafening, a stark contrast with the endless chirps he heard when he first entered the dank cavern, thousands of bat roosts hidden behind stalactites. The diver literally enters another world, another universe where he has been robbed of his sense of sight, and most importantly, the ability to breathe freely. Each breath is deliberate, precious. He realises now how much he had taken for granted the ease of a deep inhale above the surface, with the sun shining mercilessly on your sweat-soaked back, and the hum of insects in the jungle air. He realises that the only way to estimate his life span is the oxygen gauge hanging by his side.
It brings him back to the first time he had dived, in a turquoise cocktail pool at a resort with colourful corals and schools of bright-hued fish water. The freedom had been intoxicating, and his career choice had been decided then, when he kicked with his flippered feet and air bubbles escaped his mouth bobbing to the surface. This water is not crystal clear, far from it and he cannot even make out the cone shaped stalagmites on the cave floor his flippers occasionally brush against.
Down here, deep in the brown water – all that accompanies him is a dangerous tranquillity.
All he is aware of is the purposeful inhale and exhale of his breath, and the timorous beating of his heart. The water is murky and there is almost no visibility, but the diver stays true to his course. He is acutely aware that this is almost an impossible task – to navigate through a labyrinth of tunnels, underwater channels, and then guide the boys- one by one, through the murky waters and back to safety.
Yet, this is a sacrifice that he must make.
Be still. Be brave. Be bold – the diver tells himself. He tries not to think of his buddy that perished the day before when his tank ran out of oxygen. He can only imagine how his colleague must have felt – trapped in the dark recesses of the cave, gasping desperately for air that was not there, thrashing helplessly as his lungs screamed for a breath of blessed oxygen, and then slowly losing his battle to oblivion.
He tries to push that thought out of his mind and made his way forward in the darkness.
He makes his way through the labyrinth of caves - the only light that illuminates his way is the torch he holds in his left hand - the right is to feel for the edge and ridges of the cave. He cannot see behind him or in front of him. He is surrounded by inky blackness, enveloped by it.
And yet, he must go on - he has too. He has taken an oath to protect and serve. His own son would be about the age of the youngest boy, and though, even though he knows this may be the ultimate sacrifice, he understands a father’s pain.
It is darker now, darker than he had ever imagined it to be. His oxygen gauge is precariously low - he tries not to look at it too often in case it triggers a panic attack - one that would waste more oxygen.
It is darker now than it has ever been, and the silence is overwhelming.
But he must go on - he will go on - with a last effort of will he pushes himself against the edge - and then suddenly, as if by magic, he hears the excited cries of a gaggle of boys.
"They are here! They are here! We are safe!" He hears their voices before he sees them but instinctively recognises the genuine joy and excitement in their voices. It is the happiness of a child on Christmas Day when he opens a present.
With a deep exhale, he breaks the surface of the debris-filled water, and reaches out for eager hands.
They are found.