12:05, 13:27, 15:45, 17:00; The day was changing into night, the birds returned to their nests to rest, but there was still no one in sight.
“Ugh, why am I such a scatterbrain? thought Miha, whose legs were aching profusely. The heavy backpack only made it worse. The wind was no help either, the warmth of it made her sweaty. “This is just wonderful, isn’t it?’ she said aloud to herself.
After all, it was her fault she was stuck in this mess. You see, she and a bunch of other people from her neighbourhood decided to go visit Al Ain Sahban, also known as the ‘Sulphur lake’. It was such a feast for the eyes – shimmering blue water depositing white sulphur on rocks, with needlegrass growing amidst tiny tadpoles, swimming around your feet, and the occasional black frog hopping from rock to rock. Blue and red dragonflies fluttering away. Soaking her feet in the water, Miha didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay there forever. “If only such fantasies could come true”, she sighed.
Later, the group came together and discussed the journey to their next destination – Wadi A’Zaimi. They decided to go walking together all the way from the Sulphur lake to the wadi, sleeping in tents at nightfall and travelling through the day. It was on this very occasion that Miha got separated from the rest of the group. One particular night, she couldn’t sleep due to the constant biting of mosquitoes, so she went out to get some fresh air. She was so mesmerized by the night sky that she kept walking away without any thought. When morning arrived and she returned to the camp site, there was no one around. Which brings us back to our darling protagonist walking through thorny bushes and sickly heat, trying to figure out whether she was close to the wadi or not.
A little while later, Miha began to feel thirsty. She removed the lid from her flask and proceeded to drink, only to find the flask empty. Frustrated, she threw her bottle to the ground. “Oh, I feel like tearing my hair out!”, she cried. But every cloud has a silver lining, as Miha realized that her shoe-clad feet were immersed in cool, clean water coming right up to the surface from underground. Ecstatic, she took some water in her palm and sipped it. “This is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever tasted in my life!”, she said to herself.
After the task of quenching her thirst was successfully accomplished, she sat on a rock to rest. She then observed her surroundings carefully. There were date palms in the distance, where water was flowing in shallow streams and tall mountains surrounded it all. Then, as Miha turned to her left, her eyes fell upon the mouth of a cave in the mountains, hidden by the willow trees growing there. Fascinated, she got up and started walking towards it.
Standing in front of the cave, she gulped and went inside. The cave had a mysterious air surrounding it, she felt as if it held secrets unknown to all. It was pitch black inside, so she took out her torch and flashed it around. This ended up frightening the bats inside, and she crouched low as the swarm of bats flew out. She got up and moved ahead. With every step she took, the passageway grew bigger and colder. She felt bugs crawling around her, and she heard soft hushes, as if someone was trying to silence her. It sent shivers down her spine and made her heart beat faster in fear, but she refused to turn around.
‘Well, well,well, looks like we have a tough one here. Or a dumb one? It’s hard to decide. I created all those eerie sounds and sent the bugs around your feet to scare you off, but you refuse to budge. Interesting,’ said a soft female voice right behind her. Gasping, Miha turned around, only to find no one there.
“Don’t be scared, human, just because you can’t see me but can hear me gives you no reason to be frightened.”
Miha couldn’t believe it. This is just a dream, right? she thought. So she pinched herself to wake up. It hurt like hell, but she could still hear the voice.
“Ah, never seen, or – pardon me – heard an otherworldly entity before, now, have you? So you try to wake yourself up, as if you were dreaming. This isn’t a dream and you are not asleep.”
“Who are you? And what do you want?” cried Miha.
“That is the first thing you say to me? Such trivial questions are of no importance. However, I’ll tell you what I want or, more specifically, what I’m going to do.”
Just as she finished speaking, Miha heard a ‘pop’. Surprised, she looked up. A beautiful blue flower had bloomed out of the rocky roof of the cave. Its delicate petals gave out a phosphorescent blue glow. Suddenly, the petals floated out and merged together to create a glowing blue orb of light, close enough for Miha to touch, but she dared not. Right then, a loud ‘pop’ was heard, and countless flowers bloomed all around her, from the roof of the cave to the walls and the floor. All the petals floated out and turned into blue orbs of light, then all together rushed out of the cave, creating a strong wind in the process.
“A human is never supposed to know of this. Want to know why?”
“At this moment, many such orbs will float out of caves everywhere in the world. They will float away high in the skies, so high you can’t even fathom. They have been guiding travelers towards their destination for centuries. Since they float to such a staggering height, people often mistake them for stars, and call them constellations. Astronomers won’t be too happy to know that ‘constellations’ are not what they think they are.”
“So what are these orbs called?’ asked Miha, awe evident in her voice.
“They have no name, and even if they did, I wouldn’t tell you. You are just a mere human, a human who is dumb enough to wander into this cave”, said the voice sharply.
“You don’t have to be so mean, you know”, said Miha, who was hurt by what she heard.
“It doesn’t matter if I am mean to you or not. You are not going to survive anyway, so why do you care?”
“What?” shouted Miha.
“Yes, it is necessary for you to die. Humans are not supposed to know of this secret of the world. So how can you expect me to just let you go? I would have actually just killed you when you were getting deeper into the cave, but I thought that it would be rude to do so, so I waited for a bit. Now, do you have any last words to convey to people you know before you leave this world?”
“Can’t you just trust me to keep my mouth shut?”
“No can do. I apologize for being rude. Now, last words please,” said the voice.
“Firstly, you won’t be able to convey my message to the people I care about, so why in the world should I tell you? And secondly”, she gripped the torch harder, “I am going to live so I don’t need a messenger in the first place !!”And then she bolted.
Miha ran and ran. She didn’t care about the voice whispering “It’s too late, you won’t live”, or about the bugs crawling around her. But as she got closer to the exit, she tripped on a rock and fell, hitting her head to the ground.
And with that, she passed out.
“Miha! Miha! Miha, wake up! Come on, how long are you going to be passed out? Miha! Miha!”
Opening her eyes slowly, trying to adjust her eyes to the bright light of the sun, Miha saw the leader of the group’s face, relieved at seeing her awake.
“Oh, thank goodness you are awake! When we all woke up in the morning, you were nowhere to be found. We looked around, but we couldn’t find you. So, we headed off to the wadi instead, with the decision that we would ask the locals to help us search for you. And today, one of them came running to inform that he had seen a girl lying unconscious under a willow tree. That’s how we found you. What in the world happened to you? said the leader, in one breath.
“I-I-I don’t know. I was s-searching for you all, and then I came across this cave here and I went and saw…
“What cave are you talking about? There are no caves here. And what did you see?”
“Huh? What are you saying? It is right behind me.” As Miha turned, she saw that the mouth of the cave had vanished. What was left was just the rocky surface of the hill.
“See, there is no cave here. Anyhow, what did you see in this so called cave?”
“I don’t remember. Why don’t I remember? Ah, my head hurts”.
“Let’s go back to the others. They’ll help you”, said the leader.
Miha was given some food to eat by the locals, who were very kind to her. After resting for a bit, she and the group thanked the locals for their hospitality and left.
“Ah, I wish I wasn’t lost. Then I could have explored Wadi A’Zaimi,” said Miha.
“What are you talking about? You are in Wadi A’Zaimi right now,’ said the leader.
“Really? That means I still can still look around!”
“Yeah, you can. Oh, by the way, can you still not remember what you saw last night?”
“Nope, not even a bit. What I still don’t get is that I’m pretty sure there was a cave there, but now there’s nothing. Ah well, whatever. I’m pretty sure whatever happened to me yesterday won’t be a big deal,” said Miha, looking up at the blue sky.