Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Day The World Ended Episode 13

We waited until the principal had united all the students from both the junior and senior sides. The teachers and prefects that had been sent to inspect the length of the gorge were back. It seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see but the good news was it was narrowest near the farm and there were lots of tall palm trees there we could use to make a bridge. Those students whose homes were on the other side of the school were lucky. They were sent home immediately with the buses that had been on the school side of the compound during the earthquake. Some of us whose houses were on the other side of the gorge had decided to stay with friends. I knew no one on the other side, I, Biola and Sola all lived eastwards, and were very anxious to get to our homes.
“Mr. Abel lives on the other side as well, he has decided to risk it and go home. I think we should follow him.” I said
Biola shuddered. “I wish I could at least call home and tell them where I am. I’m sure they will come looking for me.”
“None of the networks are going through,” Sola said. “Maybe the earthquake affected the masts.”
“And even if they come, how will they get across to us?” I said. “Look at the time; it’s getting close to evening. Even if we can just get across I’m sure we’ll be able to get some sort of transport home.” I looked at Biola. “If we stay here any longer we are going to sleep inside the school premises.”
“What school premises?” Sola said. “Is there anyone still standing? What if another earthquake occurs?” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I heard one of the prefects say some of the junior students were still in their classes when the earthquake started!"
“You think they died ?” I exclaimed. She shrugged her shoulders.
I made up my mind. If there was going to be another earthquake I would rather experience it with my family. Dad should be home by now. I couldn’t wait to see his reassuring and imposing form once again. For the first time in my life I truly appreciated him.
“I’m going.” I said and Sola nodded. Biola looked very worried but in the end decided to follow us. We went to meet Mr. Abel who was about setting off with some other students.
“Ah, so you have decided to join our party of explorers eh?” Mr. Abel said good naturedly. “Oya, write your names down. Follow exactly where I go and we’ll be alright. I think the worst is behind us.”
“Mr. Abel, sir, do you really think so?” I asked. “What if another earthquake happens?”
“Very unlikely my dear.” He said. There was a sparkle in his eyes. “An earthquake of that magnitude would have spent itself by now, everything is stable. Hopefully there won’t be any aftershocks and even if there are it is generally not as bad as the main earthquake itself. Of course we don’t know how badly damaged the other side we are struggling to go to was by the earthquake, but judging from the poor network it might be serious. There’s no way of finding out if we stay here.”
I could have sworn Mr. Abel was actually excited. He wanted to go and explore. He grinned around at everybody as if it was a boy’s scout expedition he was about to embark and not a journey into the possible unknown.
“Maybe they’ll send helicopters to come and pick us up.” Somebody suggested. Mr. Abel chuckled.
“I’ve been listening to the radio on and off since this incident occurred. Do you know none of our radio stations have even carried the news? Ony BBC has mentioned that an earthquake occurred in Nigeria and surrounding countries. I’m not sure you should hold your breath waiting for helicopters. I think our government has their hands full on other things .” he stressed the "other" as if he meant to say the government wouldn't be doing anything at all.
“But they always send helicopters in the movies…” the student mumbled stubbornly. Mr. Abel sighed.
“Those who want to go with me, let’s move before the sun sets and we lose our natural light. No junior students please! Stay in the bus as directed by the school principal. There will be mobile policemen to take care of you..
We set off along the side of the large crevice, heading steadily towards the farm and keeping as far away from the side of the crevice as possible. We were twenty five in number including three teachers of which Mr. Abel was the leader. Arnold and Dare was with us as well although they stayed at the flanks of the group to keep a watchful eye out for straddlers or any other kind if danger. Dare took every opportunity to glance at me and smile reassuringly. I felt warm in my cheeks for all the attention I got. I wondered why he had taken note of me all of a sudden.
Arnold on the other hand was not being his usual stalky self. He just kept as far away from me as possible and kept on avoiding my eyes. On a normal day I would have been ecstatic about it but today it just bothered me and I didn’t quite know why. Maybe he had finally gotten the message and leave me alone. Anyway I was glad to get the gorilla off my back and my real prince charming in my sights. I giggled to myself as I mentally pronounced the word ‘Adonis’ again.
“What’s sweeting you in this matter now?” Sola asked. Her forehead had stopped bleeding and she looked much like her normal self again. Bimpe was holding her hand tight, out of reassurance or fear I couldn’t really tell.
“Nothing.” I said quickly. Sola raised her eyebrows.
“Dare suddenly taking an interest in you and you don’t find it suspicious?”
Sola was always so sharp! Nothing missed her eagle eyes and keen observation. I held off for a while longer though I was dying to talk about it.
“Mind your own business.” I said.
“Oh come-on, you know you want to talk about it. And besides, what else are we going to do to while away the time? It’s another twenty minutes before we get to the farm.” She grinned.
“Oh all right!” I almost squealed like Bimpe, who strained to hear what we were saying but refused to come to my side of the road. Apparently she
was very terrified of the edge of the crevice.
“I know I said I didn’t like him…” I began
“Uh hun.” Sola said
“And I couldn’t care less that he comes from a rich family…”
“But he’s so handsome!” Biola interjected and we all burst out in giggles. Some of the students looked in our direction but couldn’t hear what we were saying and soon faced their own business again.
“I mean, wow!” I gasped. “I thought he was only interested in the fat girls, I never thought skinny me would have a chance…”
“And why wouldn’t you?” Biola interrupted excitedly, “You have won beauty queen twice in a row already. I’m sure he’s been looking for an opportunity to hook up with you but never really had the time!”
We both squealed in excitement and Sola, who was now between us, sighed and shook her head,
“What about Arnold?” she said.
I stopped short. “Yeah? What about him?”
“You do know he cares about you…” Sola began but I cut her short.
“Arnold? That Gorilla? Do you see the way he oogles me anytime we are in assembly? Like he wants to eat me there and then? Abeg o, see better gentleman and you want me to be thinking about Arnold?”
“Keep your voice down.” Sola said, motioning with her hands. I snorted. “I was just speaking up for the guy. He may be crude but he has had your back since you entered the SS block. He never fails to check on you every single day even though he knows he’s going to get the same rough handed treatment from you…”
“Yeah, I think it is called ’stalking’ in some places, Sola.” I said. “I haven’t encouraged him in any way but he persists in disturbing me! Did you know the other day he almost insisted on knowing my house? For what na?”
“It’s actually not nice when a guy doesn’t get the message Sola,” Biola added. “It can be very irritating.”
“Well, I think Dare is a bit too flashy for me.” Sola said shaking her head. “I mean, no interest whatsoever since you became a senior then all of a sudden he starts noticing you after Arnold let you in the day you came late?”
“How is there a connection there?” I asked.
Sola looked at the advancing form of Dare thoughtfully. “Well, I don’t know, is there some sort of rivalry between them?”
Biola and I exchanged looks and then burst into laughter. Sola knocked us both on the head and we stifled our laughter with our hands.
“Rivalry? Between the gorilla and Adonis?” I chuckled
“Oh, so we are calling him Adonis now are we?” Sola said.
I didn’t know I had said it out loud and I felt very hot inside. I stopped talking, embarrassed as Bimpe started to make a silly song out of the new nickname I had coined for the head boy. Sola grinned.
“I see you are completely smitten already.” She said. “Okay o, let’s get home safely first then we’ll see how this relationship will blossom.”
I nodded, grateful that the conversation had been momentarily terminated.
We marched on; amazed at the way the topography had changed. Some trees had fallen and were hanging by their roots to the edge of the crevice and some of the well known streams had completely dried up. I looked around and realized that there were no animals in sight. None at all. No goats, no dogs, no birds, nothing. It occurred to me for the first time that the animal scare we had the day before might have been a kind of warning for today’s event. I wondered where they had all gone to.
Arnold kept a busy look-out for those who went too near the edge of the crevice. He kept barking out orders for those who ventured too near, sending them back in line. He seemed more concentrated in his work than I had ever seen him be. He made sure we were all safe and occasionally would run to the front of the group to discuss with Mr. Abel who nodded appreciatively and then sent him back.
“Would you mind some company?” Dare said as he came into our midst. We all turned towards him, startled.
“Oh, not at all.” I replied, “But aren’t you busy, as in coordinating the crowd?”
“We aren’t that much you know, and besides, I think the other prefects have got it covered.” He said with a gentle smile and looking directly into my eyes. I blushed and turned my eyes towards my feet in embarrassment.
“I hear you are a very intelligent girl, Temi.” He said.
“Me? No that would be Sola, here.” I replied, grabbing my friend who tried to evade me.
“Yes Sola is intelligent but I heard you are a force to reckon with yourself. Beauty and brains combined. You are a rare gem.”
Sola coughed and grabbing a giggling Bimpe by the arm, started walking faster leaving me alone with Dare. I almost called after them in alarm but
stopped myself in time. Dare was walking slowly beside me now. Every once in a while his arm would swing past and brush against mine and the feeling would lift me up to cloud nine. I caught the looks from other girls in the group especially those in the classes above mine and I knew instantly that they were burning up with envy.
Dare asked me about my family, where I had grown up, what my siblings were like, how I was doing in school. We talked about almost everything and by the time we had reached the farm we were chatting like old friends. He had an easy going attitude and didn’t seem at all pretentious. He liked me and wasn’t afraid to say it. I didn’t know what I had done to merit such sudden attention from him but I wasn’t complaining. It was about time somebody apart from Arnold noticed me for the beauty that I was.
We almost missed the entrance to the farm. The school authorities had planted two palm trees with a small gate in between them to mark the entrance but as we approached the palm trees were nowhere to be seen. Not even their felled husks could be traced. All that remained were two large holes in the ground where they had been uprooted and the Iron Gate which miraculously still stood in place although slightly slanted. As we entered we gasped at the destruction. Most of the trees had fallen, exposing the soft earth underneath. There were huge ridges in some places and others had bare rock as if all the soil had been eroded in an instant. The Farm shed which was a wooden house built at the entrance to hold farm equipment and ropes had completely collapsed.
“It looks as if a Landslide occurred here.” Mr. Abel said. He brought out a camera phone and snapped some pictures. Some other people followed suit.
“We are going to use some of these trees. Look around everyone; we need very tall trees so we can use them as a bridge.”
“The man thinks he is Indiana Jones, the great adventurer.” Dare whispered and I grinned even though I had no idea who Indiana Jones was.
There was no hiding the fact that Mr. Abel was thoroughly enjoying himself now. He jumped from one mound of earth to the other, snapping pictures and making comments to his fellow teachers who either nodded in appreciation or shook their head in wonderment. All around us army ants and termites moved about busily, trying to salvage what was left of their upturned nests. Mr. Abel told us to keep a sharp lookout for dangerous animals and snakes but we encountered none. All signs of animal life were gone apart from the insects and a few empty burrows.
A shout from one of the prefects brought Mr. Abel running up. They had found three large palm trees, all of the same height. If they could tie them together and drop them across the crevice, it would make a suitable bridge. Mr. Abel congratulated them and we all went to work. Well, the boys went to work and some of the girls helped but mostly the boys seemed to want to do it themselves. They removed their uniforms and sweated and groaned as they carried and positioned the trees together. Mr. Abel looked through the ruins of the farm shed and carried out some cutlasses and thick rope.
It was getting dark by the time our makeshift bridge was ready. I was beginning to get homesick, wondering what my parents and brothers would be thinking, would they have driven down to the school by now? Would it have been better to wait for them? None of the networks was still working so there was no way to contact anybody. Mr. Abel brought out some torches from the shed to provide extra light as the boys worked quickly to secure the trees tightly together. Dare had since gone to help out and Bimpe and Sola were sitting on a large boulder beside me.
“Maybe we should have waited.” Bimpe said. She was shivering slightly.
“Even if our people had come, there’s no way they would have been able to go across this divide. It would have still amounted to us coming this way in the end. “Sola said. “By the time we are over we should be able to trek to the road and get transport home.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure the Principal would have told them we came to the farm.” I said. “If not for that small stream and the bushes I’m sure they would have driven up here by now to meet us on the other side.”
We watched as Arnold and some of the other boys carried the make-shift bridge to the edge of the crevice. They stood the trees up on end and there was momentary panic as the trees started toppling over into the crevice but it was immediately straightened by the boys. They shifted and shoved, straightened and shouted, until the trees were held in place.
Mr. Abel came forward and tried to take an estimate of the width of the crevice. He moved back and forth and for a moment it seemed as if he was going to say the trees weren't long enough. But finally he nodded.
“Oya, let it fall. Be careful o, Let it fall straight down! Straight down!”
We all held our breath as the boys holding the trees let go. It stood still for a few seconds then gently began to fall over. As it fell it gathered up speed and there was a terrible groaning noise as the trees pushed against their strains. They finally landed with a huge crash on the other side, wedged deep into the soil, with their other end firmly attached to our side of the gutter. We all cheered and Mr. Abel shook hands with the boys around him. It was an exhilarating moment,a s if we had finally been given the keys to break free from our prison.
Mr. Abel went forward to test the bridge. He stuck his foot out and climbed on top, with one of the boys holding his hand. He walked a few feet, testing the strength of the bridge with his weight, which actually wasn't much. He stamped on the bridge and it held firm.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.” He trumpeted exultantly. “This is the easy part. You are all to walk across this bridge one at a time. The bridge is wide enough but I’m not sure two people entering at the same time would be safe; all you have to do is walk across. For those of you afraid of heights I would advise that you don’t look down.”
I felt my heart skip a beat as I contemplated crossing the bridge. I wasn't quite sure if I was afraid of heights since I hadn’t been put into a situation involving heights before. I looked around to see what the others were doing. Most of the girls were fidgeting while the boys were grinning and laughing.
Arnold hadn't come to see me since. It’s not like I missed him or anything but it seemed somehow odd. I caught him on occasion glancing at us and quickly averting his eyes. I didn't quite know what to make of it. Dare on the other hand kept swaggering over to us to find out how we were doing. I was enjoying the attention, I won’t lie, but it was becoming slightly irritating.
“I’ll be the first to go across.” Mr. Abel announced amidst loud protests from one of the female teachers. “I’ll take Arnold’s suggestion and carry a rope with me. Then when I get to the other side I’ll tie it to something and throw the other end back so the next person can use it as insurance when crossing. Is that okay?”
“Yes!” Most of the girls chorused while the boys continued to laugh. Mr. Abel nodded and then set foot on the bridge.
It creaked a bit but was otherwise stable. Mr. Abel took some tentative steps, then straightened up and walked calmly across, not looking down for an instant. I admired the way he did it, making it look so easy. In a few moments he was on the other side and we were cheering and clapping for him. He gave a little bow.
“See?” He said. “Very simple. Okay, let me tie this to that tree stump over there, the rest of you prepare to come across.”
The prefects arranged us in single line, a boy followed by a girl and so on. The other teachers were to go last. Mr. Abel found a large stump of a tree and tested its strength with his foot, and then he tied the rope to it. He carefully tied a large stone to the other end of the rope and then threw it across the crevice with all his might. The stone landed a few feet near the edge on our side and one of the teachers ran forward to catch it.
The first person to walk across was Arnold. He held on to the rope and walked smartly across the bridge. Apparently fear of heights wasn’t his problem. As he got to the other side he threw the rope across the crevice for the next person. She too walked across without any problems.
One of the boys that had been laughing and jeering at the girls as they crossed began his walk, went half way, then stood still and started shouting for help! We all ran forward but couldn’t see what the problem was, apparently he had looked own and was immobilized with fear. Eventually Mr. Abel had to pull him along with the rope until he reached the other side. The girls couldn’t help laughing while the boys berated him for embarrassing them.
Soon it came to my turn. It had all seemed pretty easy for the others and I didn’t want to be an exception. I waved to Sola and Bimpe who were still waiting their turn and they waved back. I stepped on the bridge and took a few steps. Dare beckoned to me, smiling. Arnold kept looking at my feet.
I didn’t know why that bothered me so much but the more I walked the more the urge came to look at my feet. Was there something wrong with them? Why was he looking so apprehensively? In the end curiosity got the better of me and I looked down. I regretted it immediately.
The valley below me was vast! I couldn’t even see the bottom, it was so dark and the sun had nearly set. The edges were rough with torn trees, roots and very large stones and rock embedded in it. All of a sudden the bridge looked very small and unsafe, as if my weight on it would be too much, would make it break. My head swam as I fought to regain my composure but it was already a lost battle. Fear had taken a hold of me completely. I screamed and found myself falling, grabbed unto the bridge and hugged it with all my strength and letting go of the safety rope in the process. I could hear shouts from both sides of the crevice and I raised my head and saw Mr. Abel pulling up the rope swiftly. As soon as he got the end in his hand he called out to me to catch it and threw it deftly. It landed beside me but for some reason my arm wouldn’t obey my brain and let go of my death grip on the bridge. Mr. Abel yelled at me in frustration but I just couldn’t let go.
“Come on you girl, take the rope!” Mr. Abel said as he withdrew the rope and threw it again.
But I couldn’t do it. Instead I made matters worse by looking down and seeing the yawning mouth of the valley below me waiting to devour me should I let go. As I watched my mind began to play tricks on me as I saw something move along the rocky edges, way, way down just beyond the light. They seemed like huge worms or snakes but extremely big, bigger than any I had ever seen on national geographic. Smaller beings like human beings sat on the head of these huge snakes and steered them like horses. They moved in rhythm to my screams as if drawn to it. I closed my eyes tight and refused to open them again so as not to see any more horrors.
Suddenly I heard more voices as if in argument then someone running forward unto the bridge. It began to shake as our combined weight strained it and I screamed louder as I thought the bridge was about to break. And then someone grabbed a hold of my arm.
“Temi, remove your hand, remove it!”
It was Arnold. He pried my arm lose and helped me to my feet. I saw that he had tied the rope to his waist. He held my hand and started leading me across the bridge.
“Don’t look down just keep looking at me. That’s it.” He said as he led me across.
As soon as we got to the other side he let go and the others came to meet me. Mr. Abel was angry and relieved at the same time and was hurling insults even as he comforted me.
“See this stupid girl oh; you want to give us heart attack abi? Thank goodness you are alright, hope you didn’t injure anywhere…Why didn’t you grab the rope you mumu…?”
Dare grabbed my arm and drew me away from the crowd and I followed him gladly. The others were now made to tie the rope around their waist before proceeding.
“Thank goodness you are alright, you scared me back there!” Dare said and suddenly hugged me. I didn't resist. “Next time we are going together, understand? So sorry my princess.”
I said nothing. I should have been on cloud nine but I couldn't help but seek out Arnold with my eyes among the crowd. He glanced at me once but then went back to his duty post beside Mr. Abel.


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