Down The Cave: A Memoir

Najla Firdaus180410160055

It was in the fourth year of my elementary school, and just like any other 4th graders, I was extremely excited about going on a field trip—or study tour, or field tour, or study trip. Call it whatever you want to call it because, basically, it’s when school kids go out to study (play) outside of their overfully sickening study hours in their classrooms—especially when I was recently being bullied and I socializing with the other kids was everything but fun. Actually, I wasn’t really being bullied. Maybe it was a regular fight between girl-friends. That one friend of mine was so arrogant my other friends won’t hang out with her and I was suspected to be the traitor because I was the one left who still befriended her. Well, anyway, that was the past. The arrogant friend was transfered to another school, I was free from the traitor-traitory thing, everyone’s happy. Also, there must be another story that’s more interesting than traitors and bullies. I was really excited when the teacher said that we were going on a field trip to Dago highland in Bandung, so I expected green scenery, tall trees and fresh air, birds’ songs, perfect for a change of mood after studies and bullies.
I sat beside Hana on the tour bus. She was a friend that has never been a part of the bullies nor the bullied. I still don’t quite understand about why a person can be as perfect as Hana. She’s always neutral, and she still socializes well. Moreover, she is the school owner’s daughter. I felt strangely comfortable as soon as the bus started to depart. The bus was large, there are children from 3 different classes inside, although 3 classes weren’t too many because my school is a private school and there weren’t that many students like a public elementary school, but it was still a lot, enough to make the air inside the bus warm and dense. The kids’ sweat and odor in mid day didn’t bother me at all. Instead, I felt like I was about to fall asleep. Hana didn’t start a conversation. She was silent as grave. My eyes were getting heavier and heavier until I couldn’t feel like opening it up anymore.
I spent most of the time in the bus sleeping and I think Hana did too. I was awaken by the teacher’s loud voice giving instruction in a hurry. It was Bu Dining, she’s always strict in class. She spoke loudly so everyone, every single kids—which are louder—could hear her instruction properly. She told us to get off because the huge bus could not go any further. We got off the bus, and the moment I was outside, I noticed that we were arriving at the destination. There were trees everywhere my eyes have seen. Tall, triangular pine trees touching the sky, stand steadily in a tight, neat order. I was looking at several signs near where the bus was parked, but Bu Dining continued her instruction. We were told to get into a military truck with half-open roof. I thought, it was so cool. The air breeze slapped my face and I said to myself, this is gonna be a really fun trip.
Actually I noticed something when we arrived at the destinantion; the teachers never handed out worksheets or anything like that. I thought they were just goin to let us have real fun, how nice. And then I saw the sign: GUA BELANDA.
It was a cave. Its mouth was not really small, but not big either, but for me it looked so large and and it felt like it was sucking me like a thick dark black hole. They painted its outer rock wall with white, and everything outside the cave didn’t seem too important, well, except the greenies. I imagined the inside of the cave must be so huge, because it was really really dark. Then my teacher started to put us in small groups because apparently the cave has narrow parts where we could only walk one by one in a line. Also, the small group is to minimize the chance of someone getting lost, because we would remember those few people behind and in front of us. I was separated with Hana. I recall one of my friends—I forgot who was it—talked to me, saying that she was scared, terrified even. Well, I was still, at that ime, very excited, so curious. My blood boiled with adrenaline even though it indeed looked so dark and creepy like it was ready to swallow me whole. I’ve seen many haunted empty houses as a kid, I just know that this cave was not any different, maybe worse. So the instructor, a slender middle aged man, gave each groups two flashlights with the same size and color. He also warned us to make sure the batteries were still working, because we wouldn’t like it if the batteries die inside the cave.
The next thing I knew I was already inside the throat of the cave. I didn’t remember who were the kids in my group. The one in the front were holding one of the flashlights, the other one was held by the last person in the back, and I was in the middle. The limited lights weren’t really reaching me well. I can only see the back of the person in front of me and the walls on my right and left side poorly. The walls looked like it was made with rocks and covered with cement, with water stains that looked like random faces, old but steady. The instructor was talking about something—probably warning us not to trip, fall over, or get separated and get lost, or about some history behind the cave.—while I was occupied with something else. I knew that this place must have a long unpleasant history behind it. It was the place where so many people got killed, starved, tortured, or left to death. He probably told us to hold hands and never let go of it so we would always stick together. It’s easy to lost someone in the dark, or get an extra person instead—We turned to a corner. There was a small cell, with rusty bars. A man, more of just a skeleton, was sitting behind those bars, staring with his empty eye sockets right through me in a silent air. I was visualizing.
Suddenly I got so scared to look anywhere else than the back of the next person. But then that back dissapeared. Suddenly the cave was crowded, so many people behind and in front of me. It was getting hot and hard to breathe because of the people breathing in the same narrow space, then it got so noisy with I didn’t know what kind of voices. Like grey ants on a TV screen. Like women chattering in a market. Like impatient car horns in a traffic jam. Noisy. Then it stopped. Everything stopped. But I was alone. In the dark. I lost my friends and my teachers and the instructor and my flashlight and alone. I was seeing things. I continued to drag my legs to move forward and my friends were there again. It got silent again, just the sound of our feet touching the dirt echoing in the dark. Then my feet were stuck. I stepped on something softer than dirt. It felt damp and tender. It also kinda felt like mud, but thicker and denser, and squishy. I have felt a similiar feeling when stepping on my brother’s arm because he was laying on th ground when I was practicing scout marching at home. My hands slipped. The holding hands broke. And then the person behind me grabbed my hand back in a hurry. I continued walking, frantically. I wanted to see what I stepped on to so bad. But somehing told me I really shouldn’t. So I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t. No I wasn’t hallucinating.
I don’t quite remember what happened after that. I went to Gua Jepang, but nothing really interesting happened there. It was so weird. And I’m sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Or I was, but not the squishy thing I stepped on. I just know it from the pit of my stomach. I came home after that, didn’t really remember how I got home. But I do remember I never have checked the bottom of my shoes, ever. I never know, don’t want to know. I was seeing things for the next days, everyday, like faces on the walls, things in the dark, things I might have made them myself. I asked my mother what was the purpose in going to that place. She said it was to learn about history.

Illustration retrieved from : The Evil Wiki

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