23. marec 2008

The Fourth Day - Tony

The fourth day starts with an unpleasant surprise, which at least brings some variety to the endless night: I feel the raindrops on my skin. It’s especially important that at night my clothes don’t get wet. I have no other choice but to quickly take off my shorts and two shirts and put them in my rucksack to keep them dry. It is pouring with rain. I open my mouth and hope that this time nothing harmful will find its way into my bowels, which have, by now, settled down a bit. I even joke to myself about the situation by standing like I do when I take a shower. It will do me good to get washed, though I have to be careful not to scratch the wounds that have just healed. While touching my body during this shower I realise that I have already lost quite a bit of weight; however, there are still enough reserves around my waist and elsewhere. I like being in the rain because it’s a bit warmer than the air. Although when the rain stops and I have to dry myself, I get cold again.

I put on my clothes and don’t really know what to do with myself because my nest is now completely soaked with water. The crushed greenery on which I sleep has started to rot and begun to attract various insects, therefore, I decide to air it and renew it that morning.

When finally the day breaks at 6.00 am I notice that the leaves of the undamaged plants glitter with the raindrops that cling to them until they fall to the ground or evaporate into the air. They seem so clean that I can’t stop myself from sucking them. Every little drop does so much good to my parched mouth and cracked lips! Again I find that I will have to be more careful when using the plants in my modest habitation. In future I shouldn’t pull out the whole of the

plant, but pluck only a few leaves each time to allow the plants to recuperate. If I use up the leaves too quickly, the plants will stop providing me treats like these tasty little raindrops.

However, “picking” the drops, which are hanging from the leaves, is quite a demanding task. If I touch a plant too firmly, all the drops immediately fall to the ground. It takes a lot of patience and gentleness – like when approaching a woman. So, here on Nevis, I’m forced to practise gentle kissing. First I steal the drops from the longest leaves or twigs, and then I try to move my head closer to the stalk without touching the other twigs. If I’m not careful, all the drops fall to the ground at once. I begin to talk to the plants. To the most attractive ones I give names – beautiful female names.

Will I ever again embrace my wife Miriam? She is so close, only a few kilometres away, yet so far from me. Just now she is taking the children to breakfast. Toni will start it with a plate full of fruits, mainly strawberries. Mariansa will take a long time before she decides which delicious sort of oat flakes she will take. Friendly waitresses will offer them freshly made juices of various flavours. Miriam will order the speciality of the day. Which one is on offer on Saturdays? Knowing the preferences of Toni and Mariansa, the staff will also bring a basket full of toast on which Miriam will spread butter and different marmalades. Enough: I shouldn’t be thinking of food. For me, breakfast time is usually an opportunity to read the morning newspaper that comes to Nisbet by fax from London and New York.

But this is now only a dream and I have to face reality. So, let’s see what I’ve got here. First, I chisel the words “Day 4” into the wall. Then I remember that yesterday the rescuers were looking for me from a helicopter, but flew over me only once. Surely, they will continue the search today, but it is not certain that they will notice me. Should I, for all that, try to climb out of here on my own by scaling this wall? Well, at least I can try.

After a thorough mental preparation I put on the sports shoes, put on my rucksack and tackle the wall. The first two metres aren’t problematic, especially because I had already removed the moss from that part of the wall. However, only with extreme efforts can I pull myself up another metre, but there I can’t find any handholds and no crevice into which I can put my foot. After a few minutes of uncomfortable and tense pressing against the wall I start to shake. A few centimetres away from my face I can see only the smooth and mossy upper part of the wall. I remove more moss with my hand, but then I realise that I should stop climbing. A fall from here could already be very dangerous, in spite of those decaying trunks lying at the bottom of the wall (or maybe just because of them). Maybe one of the trunks hasn’t yet decayed and I could get impaled on splinters. I must get down; I can never climb this wall. Now that I have already survived three days in the hollow, I prefer to wait down there for some more time, until the rescuers find me, instead of getting badly hurt or even killed. So, I carefully climb down, take off my rucksack and my shoes, and take a rest.

Two or three more times that day I make similar attempts to climb the wall…

What else can I do to save myself from the hollow? Of course I could draw the attention of the rescuers with smoke. But how can I light a fire? By rubbing dry wood, by using a flint stone or a lens. With the Scouts we learned how to do it and today I will try it out.

There are no suitable stones. The island was a volcano, and the stones are soft rather than hard. So, I decide to use the wood – like I have seen it work in TV documentaries. I have plenty of wood here, but it isn’t very dry. Hence, I split a few biggish trunks so that I can get to the wood that isn’t wet. Next, I find a hard stick and start rubbing it against the wood inside the trunk. Ouch! My hands are wounded and sore, so I can’t do it like this. I have to try something else: I pull a strong string out of my trouser belt to make quite a firm bow. I tie the ends of the string round the stick and start moving the bow backwards and forwards. How simple it seemed in the film, and yet how difficult it is for me. I would need two more healthy hands to do this. I realise that “I can’t make bread from this flour”; in other words, I can’t make any fire or smoke with this wood.

Every hour I shout out for help for a while, which exhausts me quite a lot, and by mid-morning I am already very tired. Maybe I should try “plan three” now – making use of the only sunrays that I get in here: I will try to light a fire by using a lens.

I failed again and, as a consequence, my morale was pretty low. My ears were pricked all day, but I never heard a sound that could have come from a helicopter. I could only hear those distant sounds that were always the same and were obviously the sounds of the regular flights over the island. I couldn’t understand why the rescuers didn’t fly again in the sky above me; I thought it very likely they would notice me this time. Is it possible that they already stopped the rescue operation? – I wondered. I hope not, as I am still alive, waiting for them. It is true that I am in bad shape, wounded and exhausted, but also still full of hope that I will be saved. I still hope to get my life back!

More and more it seemed to me that I would have to find my own way out of the hole, which meant I would have to go back to that awful wall. Since my sports shoes were wet, dirty and worn out, I thought it would be too dangerous to use them for climbing. At the same time I knew I would need them desperately once I got out of the hole because I would then have to continue my way through the jungle. For this reason I threw both my shoes, one by one, up to the ground above the wall. The wall was so high that I had to hurl the shoes up a few times before I succeeded. Then they were waiting for me up there, in case I managed to climb out of the hole.

I knew that climbing would be easier if the surface wasn’t mossy, so I decided to remove as much moss as possible and, at the same time, also try to chisel a few small, but useful steps into the wall. Routinely, I climbed the first three metres and started clearing the wall at this point. The work was very tiring and my newly awoken enthusiasm began to fade again. I simply didn’t dare to start climbing the fourth metre of the wall. The instinctive fear of the height was reinforced by the memory of my recent experience of falling off the wall, due to which my bones were still very sore.

Again I decided to give up climbing and wait for the rescuers. But as before, a half-hour rest helped me renew my strength and off I went up the wall again, where I stayed for about 15 minutes. The last thing that I tried that day was leaning a decaying trunk against the wall in the hope that it would help me climb out of the hole, but I failed. Some trunks were already too dilapidated to be used for climbing; others were solid enough, but too heavy for me to move, especially since my strength was on the wane.

I was surprised that I was still passing a considerable amount of urine. It was, however, becoming increasingly dark, and after consuming it I no longer had any direct signs of dehydration. Nevertheless, I was thirsty all the time, especially when exerting myself physically. Hence, in the evening I had the last two Domžale plants from my “greenhouse”. I thought I should prepare a stalk before I turn in for the night and later enjoy chewing it while lying on my back. Thus, when I again settled down in my bed, I placed the previously plucked stalk against the wall or a nearby branch, then I bit into it, turned it around and bit again; after that I had to chew it for a while until I was able, with the greatest delight, to suck the liquid out of the plant’s fibres. The water in the root seemed free of any other substances, which I found most agreeable – I didn’t fancy any other tastes or smells. By consuming the water I also cleaned my teeth a bit. Though there can’t have been many traces of food left on my teeth I still felt that I was very dirty and smelly. My wife later admitted that when she first saw me at the hospital she noticed that my teeth were yellow (later the colour vanished). And it didn’t seem odd that, after our first hug, Toni avoided further contacts with me. If for no other reason, I must have had an unpleasant smell because of the consumption of urine that left traces on my beard and shirt.

The night fell quickly. Oh, how I hoped it would also end quickly. I positioned my tired body into a slightly renewed nest and looked up at the familiar silhouette. In the darkness, I could again see the contours of the young man’s head. But, look – the picture is changing: more and more it reminds me of a skeleton’s skull …

That night, for the first time, I accepted the possibility that I could meet my death in the hole. And with that awareness in my mind, I had to rethink my life again: My soul isn’t burdened with serious sins. I have committed some minor sins, but have already confessed them and repented for them. My life has mostly been good and rich, especially in the last ten years. During that time I was involved in the successful political project of Slovenian independence, together with true friends and good colleagues we created a flourishing and profitable company and, most importantly, I got married, although late in life, and raised a wonderful young family. I couldn’t have found a better wife than Miriam. I could never have had a better boy and a lovelier girl than Toni and Mariansa. We love each other very much and have so much fun together. And my 85-year-old mother is always so good to us – she will die of sorrow over the death of her only son.

And yet, maybe it is Your will, oh God, that I leave them all. You must know why. You are almighty and all knowing. You can save me as well. I know that I can’t trick You with my promises. The only thing I can do is beg You, as my loved ones must be begging You, as many other people, mainly here on Nevis, must be begging You. I can feel their prayers. I feel the positive energy they are sending me.

My God, I feel You all around me. My faith has never before been so solid and deep.

If I live through this I will remember everything I feel now. I will tell others about it. To those who have doubts, I will say get rid of them, because God exists. God is infinitely good and he can do anything. However, his ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension and this difficulty has shaken the faith of many people. But to me, the death, which is perhaps very near now, will bring His light even closer. I accept everything, my dear God, I even accept the fact that you will separate me from my beloved family. Only You know why it has to be like this.

If I live through this I will remember all these thoughts and be assured that God has saved me. If I live through this I will commit myself to special deeds – in thanks, and in memory of my salvation.

The night hours are passing very slowly; even the minutes seem very long …

Fortunately, the cold doesn’t increase my pains. The wounds to my leg, both hands and on my back are very sore, though they are, thank God, healing well. In addition, all my muscles are sore and numerous scratches and abrasions are smarting.

At night, when I start to shake with cold, the pains in my wounds are somehow subdued, “frozen” and postponed until the morning because the cold then becomes the prevailing trouble.

Why do I have to be in this awful situation? Is it my punishment for not obeying my mother when she advised me against this journey? I could now say that I am sorry for not obeying her, but that would be just a trite phrase. My mother had also advised me against several other journeys that all ended with my safe return. I understand that she is worried about us all and would prefer us to always stay in the safety of our home. My wife and I, of course, can’t accept that, but we are fully aware of our responsibilities whenever we set off on a journey (which happens very rarely).

It would be insincere of me, and utterly unnecessary, to say to myself: “Oh, I’m so sorry to have come to this island of Nevis.” We have to accept the past and take it for what it is. Regretting our past actions can sometimes have a positive, comforting effect, but in most cases it leads to traumatic self-accusation. Being aware of the mistakes we have made in the past is useful only if it helps us avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Speculating about what could have happened differently is completely unproductive; in such cases we just play with our imagination and we can direct our thoughts in any direction we want, either negative or positive. For example, I can choose to say that it was

GOOD that the First World War broke out; that the Austro-Hungarian monarchy disintegrated; that Yugoslavia was set up; that this new state, though consisting of several nations, had a single army; that Niko Kranjac came from Dalmatia to serve in the army in Slovenia; that in Rakek he met Slava Pirc; that they got married; that Miriam was born to them; that I met Miriam; that we got married; that I got my son Toni and daughter Mariansa. If the First World War hadn’t broken out and the monarchy hadn’t disintegrated, history would have taken a completely different course. Other people would have met and married each other and perhaps I wouldn’t have been born.

Alternatively, I can say that it was

BAD that I attended the grammar school; that I met my school mate France Jamnik; that he influenced my decision to study law; that I became a lawyer; that I subscribed to the lawyers’ mailing list; that in this way I learned about an invitation to a conference on Nevis; that I attended the conference a year ago; that I found the island so attractive I wanted to come back a year later with my family; that I was tempted to climb Nevis Peak; that I got stuck in this hole. If I had trained as a carpenter, I would now be at home, trimming my hedge.

Bullshit, I wouldn’t trim any hedge! I might have enlisted in a different regiment in the army and not have served in 1975 in Raška, but in 1971 in Slavonski Brod, in that very unit that was, on 22 October, sitting in the truck that was involved in the road accident in which all those soldiers died …

Was I destined to have this accident here on Nevis? Does destiny exist? For Christians the answer to this question is clear, and recorded in the Bible: God gave Man free will and this is incompatible with any predestination. While I am here struggling for my life, I am, more than ever before, aware of the possibility and the importance of personal decisions. When, tomorrow morning, I look again at the mighty wall of my hole, I will freely, and possibly for several times, decide whether I should climb it, risking a dangerous, maybe even fatal, fall, or whether I should be more careful and trust that help is coming. My instincts tell me that I do have the ability to decide for myself, that my future hasn’t been predestined. I quite enjoy this vast freedom. I enjoy knowing that I can act in accordance with my own free will. And if I, being in this very restricted environment, can feel so much personal freedom, how much more freedom is at the disposal of the people out there!

If I am right, and I believe I am, then any form of superstition and fortune telling is without foundation. I have never believed in astrology, as I have always found it illogical (mainly because it contradicts the laws of nature) that particular constellations of stars, that are characteristic of our time of birth, could in any way influence our lives in the present, let alone in the distant future. I wonder how this could be done – can every one of the millions of stars send some invisible rays and messages through the universe and through the buildings that man has created and in this way influence a newly born baby? Astrologists say that in the first moments after its birth a child absorbs information that will stay in his or her body for decades and influence his or her character in the years to come. If children are really so sensitive, then I suggest we should worry more about the functioning of the air-conditioning system in the delivery room, the sounds coming from the room next-door or about the number of active mobile telephones that are close to newly born babies.

Similarly, I don’t believe in horoscopes because so far nobody has managed to convince me that they can be explained in a logical way. The fact that people born under the same astrological sign presumably have similar characteristics is the closest one can get in an attempt to provide any proof in favour of horoscopes. However, I explain this phenomenon in a different way: I find it logical that the children that were carried and born in the same season possess certain similarities – yet, this can only be true in those parts of the world that are subject to big changes in the weather for the different seasons, like the differences between winter and summer.

I do not object to people reading various horoscopes as long as they do it for fun and don’t take the contents too seriously. And since I do not believe in fate or in the possibility of foretelling the future, it is logical that I find every form of fortune-telling morally unacceptable. Those people who do it for money should reconsider their activities and realise how harmful they could be: their customers trust them and, in order to follow the fortune-tellers’ advice, they might make the wrong decisions that will bring negative consequences into their lives. Fortune-tellers should be aware of the big responsibility they take each time they discuss the future with their clients.

So why has astrology survived throughout the history of mankind? I think that its existence is a result of peoples’ primary, in modern times often subconscious, need to transcend everyday reality. Those who don’t believe in God want to believe in some other spiritual principle. This shows us that there are really very few absolute atheists: people need some sort of faith.

The messages of astrologers and fortune-tellers are normally very general so that they can later be interpreted in various ways. If I had gone to see a fortune-teller before our journey to Nevis and asked her to foretell our future, she would have said something like: “Generally it will be a successful journey, but be aware of poisonous insects and other animals that can bite you and especially your children. You will run into minor problems at one airport, but your return home will be safe.” Since I am rather sceptical about fortune telling, I would have assessed that the lady hadn’t told me anything important and I would have quickly forgotten about the whole incident. However, if I was susceptible to fortune telling, I would have tried to think of other similar cases in which the actual events had confirmed the predictions of the fortune-teller, and would also have been prepared to discuss the issue with other people.

The fortune-teller might also have told me this: “The beginning of the journey will be good, but later the life of one of you will be in danger. Though help will come quickly, the consequences of the event will be with you for a few more months.” If I hadn’t had this accident, I could believe that the fortune-teller had referred to an incident in Miami when, at a set of traffic lights, one of the children ran into the road too quickly. We all got very scared, but I managed to pull the child back at the last moment. If I wanted to agree with the fortune-teller, I would argue that, due to the shock in Miami, the child might wet the bed for a few times in the future months. However, since a serious accident did happen to me, I could now believe that the fortune-teller was absolutely right.

People only talk about fortune telling when its predictions have at least partly come true; they don’t mention other occasions, which are much more numerous, when the predictions don’t come true. I have never heard any passionate report that would go like this: “ Imagine, the other day I went to a fortune-teller who told me this and that – and none of it came true.” People quickly forget about wrong predictions and false horoscopes, and in this way they can create an impression that predictions are generally correct. However, if we admit that only some predictions are in accordance with actual events, then we have to conclude that the fortune-tellers are only guessing at the future. As we know, guessing doesn’t provide us with reliable answers, so we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

But what can I say about my belief that right at this moment certain people out there are sincerely praying for me? Shouldn’t I, following the same cold logic, deny the possibility of God’s intervention and the impact of a prayer, as I deny astrology? Certainly not, religion is a completely different issue. Almighty God created our world; therefore the laws of nature cannot in any way contradict the will of God and His involvement in everything that surrounds us.

I pray again. At first solemnly and aloud, but once I begin to fall asleep, I only now and then whisper some more words of my prayer.

The night is so long. Have I been asleep for a while? Probably not more than for about fifteen minutes …

What was I thinking about? I remember: I was wondering why I have to be in this awful situation.

If I’m not here as a result of fate, is it because God is punishing me? That maybe so, but in that case the punishment isn’t in proportion to my sins. Could it be God’s finger? A warning? By all means, I deserve one. If for nothing else, then certainly for my pride and selfishness – for thinking only about myself and my family.

Alright – I accept the warning and humbly admit my vanity. I will remember this experience. I will bear it in mind.

I try to be as honest as possible to myself, as well as to God. But what if I will later again forget the resolutions I have made this evening? I have this familiar feeling that Christians always have after confession: we would like to repent sincerely and make a firm decision not to sin again, alas, we also know that we have been through the same experience a hundred times before, and each time have sinned again …

I have to make sure that I will remember these good resolutions in years to come. It will surely be easy to remember the event itself, but more difficult to keep in mind today’s thoughts and firm decisions. I have to think of some act, which will demonstrate my determination to remember this whole experience.

Thus, I decide that, if I survive this accident and if my health permits it, exactly a year from now, and each subsequent year, I will fast for one week in order to remember these moments and have some extra time for the so-much-needed reflections on the world and my place in it.Already now I can tell that I will enjoy fasting – because I will have access to an unlimited quantity of water.

From my book: Second Place of Birth: Nevis

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