‘WHATISTHIS?’ Charlotte smoothed her fingers over a carving that resembled a flower. She turned to him, the gravel crunching beneath her feet. ‘Is it a tomb?’
‘It is neither of those things.’
She squinted at the primitive entrance. It had to be a tunnel. ‘A cave?’
Something clicked above her right ear and she turned to him.
‘We both need a little magic,’ he said, holding out a long wooden stick for her inspection.
‘The magic of fire?’ Her nose wrinkled. ‘Mankind discovered fire long before our times.’
He raised it above their heads and ignited a flame. ‘There is more,’ he promised, and caught her hand.
She gasped as, with a powerful arm around her waist, he pulled her inside with him.
She couldn’t see a thing.
‘The first and only time my father brought me down here,’ he told her as he moved in front of her to lead the way, ‘he left me here in the dark.’
‘Why would he do that?’
Akeem sneered. ‘To see if I could find my way back.’
‘I did,’ he said. ‘But not before I found something else first.’
‘It’s so dark... I’m surprised you found anything,’ she whispered. ‘I can barely see my own hands. There’s nothing here but rock.’
‘Look with better eyes, qalbi.’
‘I can see...’ She squinted. ‘Rock.’
‘Look further than the end of your nose.’
‘But that’s the safest place to look when you can only plan your next step.’
‘Is that what life has been like for you?’ he asked. ‘Only planning the next step?’
‘I thought what my life has been like was easy for you to figure out?’
‘It was,’ he said. ‘But I want to know the why—the how.’
‘That’s not a simple thing to answer...’ she said, and suddenly the past became too visceral, the hunger she could never sate pulling at her abdomen. ‘I just did it.’
‘Survived, of course.’
He stopped in front of her. His eyes still on the path ahead, he said, ‘Then let there be more light, qalbi, so you can plan your next step better.’
He placed his torch on the cave wall, and as the flame caught and blazed its heat was transferred to the lamp next to it, and the next, until all around them lights raged like fireflies.
Akeem threw the torch into a corner. Pre-prepared kindling lit up like a furnace in aceramic bowl, and just as the flames had kissed each other to rage into light, so did the ceramic pots buried in the ground. All around them was light, where before there had been none, coming to life around them, from deep within the red earth, one flame after another.
The red stone walls burst into life around them, bringing the cavern and a natural pool to life. The waters, so still and so blue, became almost translucent before them. Unexpected lush green and foliage climbed the walls.
Shadows and flame had turned the darkness into something living. Something oozing life. Left by the generations before them who had passed through here.
It was an oasis underground.
She moved to stand beside him. ‘It’s beautiful.’
And it was. It was almost alien in its beauty. And its unexpectedness overwhelmed her with its utter abundance of life—so much alive and living where it shouldn’t. She felt so small before it. So insignificant.
‘This reminds me to be better,’ he said, his eyes forward. ‘Bigger.’