You read about these things, you see them on TV and hear of them on the news so often now days that it's become just another component of the world's background noise, yet you never expect to experience it first hand. And then you do. Someone's misplaced sense of moral outrage and perverted sense of justice finds the tiny pocket of planet Earth you happen to be occupying at the moment and is made manifest.
It was another terrorist bombing. I had no way of knowing that at the time, but it's what the rescue crew confirmed when they found us about twenty-four hours later.
I was in Mumbai, India, a twenty-four year old doctoral candidate in history doing some research for my dissertation on the British Raj that stretched from 1858 to 1947. I'd heard of some archived materials from that era in one of their libraries that I suspected would be valuable to my research. My dad insisted I combine my work with a much needed vacation to go find it. I tried to beg off because of the expense, but he and Mom made a big deal of it and insisted on footing the bill because no one in our family had ever managed to attend college, let alone go for a post grad degree, so they tapped into their hard-earned savings and sent me on a month-long stay on the subcontinent.
When I arrived at the front desk of the library three weeks later, it took a lot of begging and pleading to convince the head librarian to allow me into the archives located three floors underground. In fact, he wouldn't be convinced until he spoke to the history department at the University of Pennsylvania (on my cell phone) to verify that I was indeed one of theirs before leading me down several flights of stairs and unlocking a steel door to grant me access to their sanctum sanctorum.
At the bottom of the stairs he insisted I hand over my cell phone because photographing documents was prohibited, and the look of distrust on his face told me it was his considered opinion that foreigners like me were highly suspect and not to be taken at their word. He showed me to an old fashioned card catalogue that would tell me where I'd find what I was looking for and left me there with instructions to call him from the phone hanging on the wall by the door when I was ready to leave. As he locked me in, I wondered if the contents of the room truly warranted such tight security measures but, hey, it was their library so I'd play by their rules. I also wondered if I was going to be strip-searched when I left.
It was perhaps an hour later that I was back in a far corner of the cavernous, neon-lit room, meticulously wading through boxes of old documents and scribbling notes on a legal pad when three things happened in quick succession. First, I thought I heard a door open and close, then I heard a dull rumble and the room suddenly heaved and shook violently, toppling tables, chairs and bookshelves. Then the lights went out.
I found myself on my back, lying on the floor among and under boxes, books and loose papers, totally confused but apparently none the worse for the wear physically. My first though was an earthquake because I knew Mumbai sat on a seismically active zone. My next thought was that, whatever happened, the building must have withstood it fairly well because it didn't come crashing down on me.
"Fuck!" I thought, trying to overpower the feeling of panic welling up in my chest, "I need to get to that phone and get somebody to come and let me the hell out of here!"
I sat up, pushing papers and boxes off of me. It was pitch black and I literally couldn't see my hand in front of my face. There wasn't so much as a safety light burning anywhere that I could see. Since I had no idea which way I was facing, I had no idea in which direction the door lay. I sat there thinking about it for a few moments and decided to pick a direction at random and crawl until I bumped into a wall, then follow it around the room until I came to the door and the phone.
Good idea but not all that easy. There were toppled bookshelves, piles of books and cartons and overturned furniture everywhere, and I couldn't even find a wall for all the obstructions. I tried to stand, and discovered that I'd crawled under a table when I banged my head on it.
Then, from somewhere across the room, "Hello! Is someone there?"
I felt a little wave of relief wash over me. Not that I wished anyone the ill fortune to be in the same predicament I was in, but it was some comfort knowing I wasn't alone. I turned toward where I thought the voice was coming from and shouted, "Yeah, over here! Are you OK?"
There were distant sounds of things being moved and some grunts as if someone were struggling. Then, "I think I'm OK but there's something on top of me and I can't seem to get loose." It was a woman and she was speaking with a polished British accent.
"Well, uh, keep talking and I'll try to make my way over to you. Are you saying you're not hurt?"
"I may be, just a bit. My leg hurts where it seems to be pinned to the floor, and I've taken a few knocks but nothing seems at all life-threatening. Are you uninjured?"
I crawled out from under the table and stood. I'd only taken three steps before cracking my knee against something else. "Shit! Sorry, I just banged my knee. I'm fine, but I can't see a damned thing, so just try to be patient while I feel my way along. I don't suppose you have a flashlight or a lighter or anything, do you?"
"Sorry, I've no torch and I don't smoke. I'm afraid we're out of luck."
"Just thought I'd ask. Well, hang on and I'll work my way over to you."
I cursed the librarian for taking my cell phone. I knew there'd be no signal this far underground, but at least I'd have the light from the screen to help me find my way through the debris. You know how, when it suddenly gets dark, after a minute or so, your eyes adjust and you begin to make out dim, shadowy shapes? Well, that didn't happen because there was absolutely no light in the room! Nothing! Zilch! Not even a little spark!
It took me a few minutes to find her. I moved by shuffling my feet along the floor and waving my hands in front of me in horizontal and vertical arcs so I wouldn't trip or bump into anything. I'd take three or four steps until I ran up against some obstruction, try to figure out what it was with my hands and then move around it or over it. Of course, every time I turned one direction or another, it would get me completely disoriented and I'd have to ask the woman to give a shout to turn me back in the right direction.
Finally, when the sound of her voice told me she was only a few feet away. I got down on my hands and knees so I wouldn't accidentally kick her or step on her.
I bumped against something large and leaned my shoulder into it to try to move it out of the way. That elicited an "Oh my lord, that hurt! Please stop moving whatever you're moving!"
"Sorry. I think it's a book case. Is this what's got you pinned?"
"It must be." She was taking short, gasping breaths so I was pretty sure she was in quite a bit of pain, probably more than she was admitting to. Must be that stiff upper lip attitude coming through.
"OK, I'm going to have to feel around to find out how it's got you pinned. I apologize in advance if I touch you where I shouldn't. I'm not really that kind of guy."
She laughed at that. "Then I forgive you in advance. Given the circumstances, I suppose some liberties might be allowed. Just try not to move my leg in any way if you can avoid it."
I shuffled toward her voice with my hands on the floor until I pushed against something soft.
"That's my hip." she said before I could even ask. I caught a hint of some very nice perfume.
"OK. Is it only your leg that's pinned?"
"Yes, I can move everything else. This thing is lying across my upper right leg and my ankle. It's my ankle that hurts so much."
"Right! Well, here I go feeling around to figure out what's what."
I ran my hand along the bottom edge of the bookcase until I found her leg. She seemed to be wearing pants made of coarse cloth like denim, probably jeans. All the weight of the corner of the bookcase seemed to be on her right thigh and ankle, and there was a large book under her foot. I guessed the foot and ankle must have taken the bulk of the weight and I suspected it might be broken pretty badly.
I sat up thinking about it for a minute and came up with a plan. "Can I ask your name?"
"You may," she answered, emphasizing the appropriate form. It made me wonder if she was a school teacher. "I'm Anika. What's your's?" The name sounded Swedish or Norwegian.
"Matt, as in Matthew. It's nice to meet you Anika, although I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances. Look, here's what I have in mind. I'm going to crawl around you to get to the top of the bookcase and try to lift it up. When I do that, you need to scoot yourself out of the way. Can you do that?"
"I'll do my best." I heard her moving and she said, "Help me sit up so I can push myself back with my hands."
I ran my hand up her side to her shoulder and pushed under her. I lifted as she grabbed around my neck, groaning with either the effort or from the pain or both.
She took a deep breath and said, "All right, I'm ready when you are."
I moved around her body, pushing through piles of books to find the top center of the bookcase maybe three or four feet past her ankle. I stood, squatted like I was lifting weights and gripped with both hands. I took three deep breaths and pushed with my legs. "OK, I'm lifting now! Scoot back!"
It was much heavier than I expected it to be. I managed to raised it about a foot, but I could feel my fingers starting to slip. I heard her shuffling backwards and gasped, "Hurry! I can't hold it much longer!"
More shuffling and grunting, then, "All right! I'm sure I'm out of the way."
"Jeez, I hope so!" I tried to let it down easy, but it slipped out of my grasp and crashed to the floor with a bang. Since I didn't hear any blood-curdling screams, I assumed she really was out of the way.
I dropped to my knees and wheezed, "Damn, that thing's heavy! Are you OK?"
"Yes, I'm free," she hissed through her pain. "Thank you! My ankle is hurting so badly that I fear I may have broken it, though."
I knee-walked toward her voice. "I'm afraid my medical expertise doesn't go much beyond advanced first aid, but I'll have a look at it." I corrected myself, "I mean I'll have a feel of it."
When I thought I was close, I put out my hand and touched something.
"That's my left leg."
I reached past it and found her right knee. "OK, I'm gonna slide my hand down your leg and you tell me when I get to a sore spot." When I got to just above her ankle, she jerked and inhaled sharply.
I maneuvered around toward her feet so I could work with both hands. She was wearing sneakers and anklet socks. I palpated gently around her ankle and guessed from the swelling and tenderness that she had at least a sprain, probably a fracture. It had to be a closed injury because my hand didn't come away wet with blood.
"Anika, I'm going to loosen up your shoe laces to ease the pressure, but I think we should leave the shoe on your foot to help splint it. I don't suppose you brought a bath towel or a pillow with you today."
She laughed, "Well normally, I would have done, but it must have slipped my mind when I left my apartment this morning. Silly of me not to have anticipated this, wasn't it?"
"Good," I thought to myself, "At least she has a sense of humor."
"Yeah, I forgot mine too."
I was wearing a long sleeve white shirt over my T-shirt. That would have to do. I stripped it off, tried to fold it into a long bandage and wrapped a couple of snug figure eights around her shoe and ankle, then tied it in place with the ends of the sleeves. "Well, it's nothing professional, but that should keep it from moving around too much."
"Thanks, Matt. It actually does feel a little better."
"Good! It really needs some ice. Anika, do you remember where you were in relation to the door when everything went to hell?"
"Um, well I had just come in, so I couldn't have been more than a few feet away. But I have no idea which direction that would be from where we are now."
"So the guy who locked you in must have been right outside when it happened?"
"Nobody locked me in, Matt. I have a key because I use these archives all the time. If you can find the door, I can get us out." She seemed to be rubbing her hands around on the floor searching for something. "Well, I may have spoken prematurely because I can't seem to find my purse."
"Kind of a good news/bad news moment, huh? Tell you what, I'll round up a couple of chairs to get you situated, and then I'll try to find your purse. I suppose your cell phone is in it and not in your pocket, right?"
"I'm afraid so. Sorry."
It didn't take long to locate two chairs since the room was full of them. I lifted Anika up onto one chair and lifted her injured leg to rest on the other, sticking two books under the ankle to elevate it. Lifting her was no effort because she was small, probably not much more than a hundred and ten or fifteen pounds. When she was as comfortable as we could make her, I dropped down onto my hands and knees and began feeling around for her purse among all the debris.
"It's small and leather," she said, "not much larger than a pocketbook."
"Right! I sure hope it's not under that bookcase because there's no way I'll be able to get to it if it is."
She sighed and said, "I hope so too, but I shouldn't be at all surprised if that isn't exactly where it is, since I had it in my hand when the damned thing fell on me."
"Yeah, well let's hope for a little good luck."
I spent a good ten minutes feeling around on the floor with nothing to show for my efforts but dirty hands and frustration. I found another chair and dragged it back next to Anika, plopping down next to her in disappointment.
Then I had another thought. "You know, Anika, with the way the room heaved, it's possible the lock on the door might have sprung. If I can find it, it may already be open or it may be messed up enough that I can force it open."
Her hand found my knee and she said, "That's clever thinking, Matt. And I have an idea that may help find it. I have a few coins in my pocket. Do you have any?"
"I think so." I stuck my hand in my pocket and came out with four. "What are you thinking?"
"Well, I thought if you stood and threw one of the coins, then turned a bit and threw the next, eventually we'd be able to determine the nearest wall, assuming there are no large obstructions in the way. What do you think?"
"I thinks that's clever thinking on your part. Give me what you've got and let's see what we can find."
She found my outstretched hand and deposited six coins in my palm. I stood and threw the first one, trying for a high enough arc to miss any potential obstructions. It seemed to go a long way before hitting something. I continued to turn in arcs of what I estimated was about thirty or forty degrees and threw the coins. It seemed that the shortest distance was directly behind where we were sitting.
I got down on my hands and knees and tried to sound hopeful, "Well, here goes."
I tried my best to move in a straight line, shoving books and boxes out of the way of my progress. I asked Anika to say something every few seconds to insure she was still behind me. It only took a couple of minutes to find the wall.
"OK, I found it! I'm gonna move from side to side and try to find the door."
I'd edged to the right for only a few feet before I found it. I tried turning the knob but it was still locked. I pushed on the door, pulled on it and even slammed my shoulder against it, but I may as well have been trying to move the wall itself. "Wouldn't you know it!" I thought, "Good quality workmanship just when you don't need it." On the off chance the wall phone was still working, I picked it up and flipped the cradle a few times but it was as dead as I expected it to be.
"Sorry, Anika. No phone, no exit, no luck. I'll feel around on the floor on my way back and try one more time to find your pocketbook."
"At least you gave it the old college try, Matt. I guess now we wait patiently for them to come for us. At least it's a large room, so we won't be using up the air any time soon."
I dropped to my knees and mumbled, "Yeah, silver linings!"
Still empty-handed, I sat next to her and asked, "How's the ankle?"
"Throbbing, thank you."
After a few moments of silence, she asked, "Matt, would you mind terribly holding my hand? I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm frightened."
I moved my hand to the right and bumped into hers, lacing our fingers together. "If you're not ashamed to admit it, then I'm not either. I've never been in an earthquake before. Who knows what's going on outside that door?"
She squeezed my hand and corrected my thinking, "That was no earthquake, Matt. If it had been, the shaking would have continued for at least several seconds. No, this was sudden and all at once. My guess is that it was an explosion of some sort."
Damn! That hadn't even occurred to me. I turned toward her and said, "Now that you mention it, I think you must be right! It's a wonder the whole building didn't just fall in on us."
She patted my arm and educated me again, "The room we're trapped in is something like a very large bank vault. It's constructed of steel reinforced concrete about three feet thick and we're thirty feet below ground level. It would require one hell of a bomb to collapse it."
"Thanks for making me feel a little better. You seem to know an awful lot about it. Oh, wait, I guess you would, since you have your own key."
"Yes, well I teach history at the university here, and these archives are at least partially my responsibility since this library doubles as part of the university library. It's going to be the devil's own job to get this mess cleaned up and sorted again. There are hundreds and hundreds of incredibly valuable documents in here and I can only hope the damage isn't too severe. In fact, if you do much moving around, I'd ask that you keep in mind that the papers and books you're stepping on and wading through might be irreplaceable."
"I'll definitely keep that in mind. So, you teach history? That's quite a coincidence because I'm working on my doctoral dissertation in history, and I came here to do some research on the Raj. I guess my timing could have been better, though."
"It certainly could have been. What university do you attend, if you don't mind my asking? An American one if I may guess by you accent."
"University of Pennsylvania."
She voiced her approval, "Now that one's got a reputation for its history department!"
"Yeah, that's why I picked it. Did you go to university here in India?"
"No, all my degrees are from Oxford. I've only been at this position for a little over a year."
"Are you liking it?"
"Very much so! Students here are very enthusiastic about learning everything, rather unlike the general apathy I found among so many of the students in England."
"Yeah, I see the same thing in the undergrad classes I teach as a TA. I get the feeling most of them are only there to fulfill the minimum obligation to the system."
"I suppose, as history professors, it's probably not reasonable for us to expect to be hailed as the torch bearers of modern-day academia. We choose history because we love to study it. Teaching it is the dues we pay to pursue our passion, don't you agree?"
"I'm sure you're right."
I squirmed in my chair because I needed to pee pretty badly. I hadn't really expected to be sealed up in a vault, so I had three cups of coffee with my breakfast. "Um, do you know if there's a restroom attached to this room?"
"Ah," she said, "Now that you mention it, I feel the need, myself. There is one at the far end of the room, although I rather doubt it has running water just now. If you can get back to the wall where you found the door and go left, you'll find another wall after a few feet. The restroom is almost all the way to the other end."
"Got it!" I said as I stood, "I'll see if I can blaze a trail. If I have any luck, I'll come back and serve as your crutch to get you taken care of."
"That would be wonderful. And if I may make a suggestion, check the sink to see if there's running water before you flush. If there isn't, perhaps you shouldn't flush until we've both had a chance to use it."
"Good thinking again, Anika. You're definitely the kind of person I'd want to be stranded with."
"Ever practical, that's how my father used to describe me for lack of more complimentary qualities."
"Well, that's parents for you. I only met you a few minutes ago and already I find you have many fine qualities."
"Thank you so much for that, Matt. Now, if you could expedite your mission, I'm feeling a rather pressing need."
"Oh, right! I'm on it, Chief!"
I stood, did a one-eighty and shuffled forward blindly with my hands extended until I found the wall. Then I sidled left, finding only a couple of obstructions to maneuver around until my shoulder bumped into the next wall, and slowly worked my way toward the other end of the room. I found two doors. The first one was locked, and that caused some momentary disappointment, but then I found another right next to it that wasn't.
Inside the door, I found a light switch and flipped it a half dozen times. Yeah, I knew it was an act of futility, but I couldn't help myself. Hope springs eternal. I found the sink first and tried the cold water. It ran! But then I shut it off immediately, thinking, "We're thirty feet underground and there may only be a few feet of water left in the pipe, if the main supply is shut off. Best not waste any."
I found the toilet and, out of deference to Anika, I sat to pee rather than aiming blind and splashing all over the place. When I was done, I stopped myself from flushing out of habit just in time.
When I got back to Anika, I told her what I thought about the water running in the sink and that it might be just residual, and suggested we conserve that for drinking. In fact, if neither of us had to have a BM, we probably shouldn't flush at all because there were probably three or four gallons of reasonably potable water in the tank. I suggested we set up our waiting area near the restroom. She agreed. I guess we were officially in survivor mode.
I helped her stand on her good foot and got on her right side, slipping my arm around her slim waist as she held onto my left shoulder. In spite of several missteps and near falls, we managed to stumble, fumble and hop our way back to the toilet on three legs. She grunted in pain with nearly every step, telling me her ankle must be exquisitely tender.
After easing her down onto the toilet seat, I left her to do her business and searched around for a long work table and three chairs, arranging them along the wall. The table was for extra shelter in case stuff began to rain down from above during any rescue attempt. She yelled out when she was finished and I got her situated in a chair again with her ankle elevated.
"Whew!" she puffed as she got settled, "Peeing has never been such an adventure before. I should have chucked my modesty and asked you to help me get my jeans up. If it turns out I need a full-time companion to look after me, perhaps you'll consider applying for the position."
"I'll certainly consider it if the employee benefit package is attractive enough."
As soon as it was out of my mouth, I blushed thinking how she might have interpreted that off-the-cuff, smart-ass comment. "Uh, please don't take that the wrong way. I didn't mean it like it sounded."
She laughed. "No offense taken, Matt. Benefits are, after all, important."
The moment I sat next to her, she found my hand and laced her fingers through mine again, saying, "I suppose there's absolutely nothing we can do now except sit here and wait for help to arrive, is there?"
"Nothing that I can think of at the moment."
Well, that wasn't strictly true. One or two wicked thoughts flashed through my mind, but I chose not to express them or dwell on them. It's just that when she mentioned my helping her on with her jeans, it generated some spicy mental images.
We sat silently in the blackness with our own thoughts for some time.
"Listen!" she whispered.
My heart gave a little start. "What? Did you hear something?"
She leaned against my shoulder and giggled, "No. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get your hopes up. I meant to say, 'listen to the profound silence'. I could actually hear my heart beating. I've been down here alone many times, but there was alway some kind of noise like the air conditioning or the hum of the neon lights."
I had to agree. "I suppose this is what Helen Keller's world was like. Talk about isolation! The only time I can remember it being this quiet was when I'd occasionally escape to my uncle's cabin in the mountains by myself. It's a good three miles from the highway, and I loved lying there in bed at night listening to absolutely nothing but my own thoughts. Once in a while I'd hear an owl or a deer or a coon moving around outside, but mostly it was a deep, deep silence like now. You kinda feel like you've lost touch with the rest of the world. And it wasn't the least bit scary; it was just very, very peaceful."
"Oh yes," she sighed, "I'm a bit like you in that respect. I'm not a highly social creature to begin with, and I often find myself craving solitude. Of course, I prefer to have the freedom to leave it when I've had enough."
"Yeah, options are good."
She was still leaning against my shoulder and smelling very nice. "I like your perfume, Anika. What kind is it?"
"Thank you, Matt. It's actually an American perfume called White Shoulders. Have you heard of it?"
"I don't really know much about that kind of stuff. But I'll remember the name if I ever want to buy a nice gift for a nice lady."
"And I'm sure she'll love you for it."
More silence. As I pondered our situation, I found myself leaning forward in my chair, straining to hear the sound of distant voices and jackhammers but there was nothing. I was finding it hard to suppress the anxiety and fear creeping into my mind as I imagined all the worst possible scenarios. "I wonder how bad the damage is up there. I guess if it's very bad, it'll probably be hours before they can get to us."
I sensed her turning toward me. "Matt, do you meditate?"
"Where did that come from?" I wondered. "Well, I've tried it a few times, but I've never been able to manage for more than a few minutes. Do you?"
"Yes, every morning after breakfast. Mastery is mostly a matter of desire and practice; there's nothing mystical about it. There's a Buddhist monk who gives instruction at the university, and he's helped me a lot in learning how to focus my thoughts. The reason I ask is because anxiety and the sense of elapsing time kind of melt away when you're deep into it. If you're interested, maybe we can give it a try when we've run out of things to talk about."
She must have been reading my mind. Or maybe it was the sweaty hand she was holding on to. I agreed, "It's definitely worth considering. I know this room is huge, but this all-consuming darkness is making me feel a little claustrophobic."
"Then why don't you get your mind off the darkness by telling me your life story?"
I snickered, "I don't know about your life, but mine isn't worth more than a few minutes of boring conversation. I wouldn't think of inflicting it on you unless you were feeling desperate for noise."
She raised my hand and touched it against her cheek. I wasn't expecting it, and I found myself wondering if it might be something more than a casual gesture. She said, "My life isn't exactly the stuff of legends either, but it's had its moments; like today, for instance. In general, it's been a good life so far, but I can't say growing up has created an especially rich catalogue of memories.
She went on, "But if you'd like, I'll begin. Let's see now; my father is financially very successful, and he confined his parental duties to seeing his children educated in all the best schools. I'm appreciative, of course, but there were many times when I would have preferred he were more father and less financier.
"And your mother?"
"A distant memory. The mothering in my family was carried out by a succession of governesses. You'd probably call them nannies."
That brought up a mental image of all those British movies where that was the way of the upper classes in society. "You know what my dad told me once, Anika? He told me that one of the great injustices in the world is that parenting doesn't come with a detailed instruction manual. He said there must be millions and millions of kids out there with parents who don't have a clue. It could be that your father wanted to do the right thing, but he only had access to the one tool, that of being a provider. Maybe he never learned how to be a parent from his parents."
Anika squeezed my hand again and said, "I suppose there's some truth in that, since, from all accounts, he grew up in boarding schools. The fact that your father actually told you something like that says he at least has the tools to communicate and to relate. I'd say you were lucky."
I had to agree. "Yeah, I'd say that too. I think the fact that he and Mom are still madly in love with each other after twenty-six years of marriage adds a lot to the package, too. It kind of gives you a picture of how it's supposed to be done. I hope I turn out to be as good at parenting as they are."
She bumped her shoulder agains mine. "If I ever marry and have children, I'd like permission to use your parents as role models."
She let go of my hand and said, "If you don't mind, I'm going to try to meditate myself into another place for a while and try to get my mind off the pain. My ankle is killing me!"
"Oh, sure. I wish there was something I could do to make it better."
"Just your being here beside me helps a lot. Look, if you've already made some attempts at meditating, you've probably already learned the first lessons of mindfulness, so sit up straight, put your hands on your knees and focus on your breathing for as long as you can. I'll be doing the same thing."
"Why not? At this point, it's any port in a storm, right?"
"So, she's not married," I thought, feeling mildly pleased about that piece of news. Strange how, even in the midst of dire circumstances, that particular biological imperative still lurks in the lizard part of the brain we call the limbic system.
I listened to her take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. I followed suit. For the first few minutes, it seemed to be working to some small degree. I tried to concentrate, taking note of the sound of air passing into and out of my nostrils, the feel of the air expanding my lungs and the rhythm of my breathing. But being undisciplined, every few seconds my mind would wander off and I'd begin wondering how long it was going to take before we were found, or if they even had any idea we were here. If the librarian was injured of killed, they wouldn't have any way of knowing we were locked up down here. Those thoughts would get the anxiety building all over again, and then I'd catch myself and try to get my focus back on my breathing.
After a few minutes of multiple and vain attempts, I finally gave up and paced up and down with my hand on the wall to guide me. That seemed to help more than my feeble mental exercises. That got me to wishing I had access to an elliptical runner or a treadmill. Hard physical exercise has always been a great stress reliever for me.
I didn't want to disturb Anika's peace, so after a few minutes of pacing, I stretched out on the worktable against the wall and tried to think of anything that might help facilitate our rescue. I thought the air conditioning ducts probably communicated with other areas of the building, and someone might hear me if I shouted into one or banged something against it, that is, if I could locate one. I assumed they were in the ceiling. I just felt like I needed to be doing something, anything, even if it was wrong! I knew a lot of my anxiety stemmed from my feeling of helplessness.
After maybe half an hour of listening to Anika's soft breathing, I heard her stir and ask, "How are you doing, Matt?"
"I'm OK. How about you? How's the pain?"
"It's manageable, but I wouldn't say no to a very large dose of morphine. Where are you?"
"I'm lying on a table about three feet from you. It feels good to stretch out."
"Would you mind if I join you? I think lying down with my leg elevated might be more comfortable than sitting."
"Sure. Tell you what; these tables are only about three feet wide, so let me round up another one and pile up some books for your leg. I did ask you about pillows before, didn't I?"
"Yes and I still don't have one. We'll just have to rough it."
"Right! Well, give me a couple of minutes." I moved toward the center of the room and found another table supporting the weight of a bookcase that had fallen against it. It turned out to be not nearly as massive as the one that had fallen on Anika, and I was able to push it back upright. I asked her to guide me back her way as I pushed and pulled the heavy worktable until it was butted up next to the other one. Then I gathered up some more books and stacked them to create sort of an incline for her leg to rest on.
"I await your strong shoulders, good sir."
"Um, Anika, it might be less painful for you if I just carried you."
"Thanks for the offer, and I believe I'll take you up on it."
I bent down so she could put her arm around my neck as I slid one arm behind her back and the other under her knees. It was only a few shuffling steps to the tables. I set her down gently, lifting her knees so I wouldn't accidentally bump her ankle agains the side of the table. When I slid my arm from under her shoulders, she held onto my neck and pulled me down to give me a quick kiss on the cheek, saying, "You really would make a quite satisfactory companion, you know."
"Ha! Maybe I should reconsider my career choices."
Once we got her leg into the most comfortable position and she was lying back flat, she let out a long exhale and sighed, "Oh yes, that feels so much better! I've always preferred a firm mattress."
"I don't think they get any firmer than this one. Would you like something under your head?"
"Um, perhaps a one or two inch thick book or stack of papers if there's anything like that handy."
"Coming right up." I searched around on my hands and knees until I found a carton of folders. I took a handful and felt my way back to the table.
"Raise your head," I instructed.
She did and I slid the stack under her. I felt her gathering her hair under her head before laying it back onto the folders.
"So you did bring your own padding! That's cheating, you know."
"You mean the hair? Yes, I've got scads of the stuff. Come on, come lie beside me and let's talk about the world."
I crawled up next to her from the end of the table rather than over her. I lay my head on a book and asked, "Any particular area of human history you'd like to discuss?"
"No, right now I'm more interested in current events. When do you expect to be awarded your doctorate?"
"I'm almost done with my dissertation and my orals are scheduled in six weeks, so probably at the end of this semester, about two months from now. Of course, that's assuming we're rescued from this mausoleum."
She reached over and slapped my shoulder playfully. "Quit being such a pessimist! If the damage is very bad, they'll probably have a great deal of debris removal to do before they get to this room, but there is a bright side, isn't there? We have plenty of air, we have water and we have each other. Good lord, man, we even have a toilet! And I don't suppose a day or so without food is more than we can tolerate."
That got my attention. "A day or so?! Do you think it'll take that long?"
"I should imagine so, unless the stairway from the ground floor is still clear. I mean, we can't even guess what it's like up there, but I think we should plan on at least that long, don't you?"
I thought about that for a while and had to agree. "Yeah, you're probably right. I guess I was deluding myself that they'd reach us in a matter of hours." I raised up on my elbow facing her and asked, "Do you think it was terrorists?"
"That would be my best guess. And it's a better than even chance it was Pakistanis, given the history between the two countries. I wonder what they think they're accomplishing with this kind of behavior. It does absolutely nothing to help resolve any problems. It's like they're playing an international game of oneupmanship! There's nothing more dangerous than mixing testosterone with a political cause, is there?"
I lay back again. "That's a good analogy. Everything I hear or read about terrorists says a desire for revenge overrides common sense every time. It's like these people have never managed to get past their adolescence. I wonder if the human species will ever evolve beyond it's lust for blood and war. I can't see us surviving for much longer if we don't."
Her left hand found my right and grasped it. "It's all too depressing to think about, so let's not. Let's entertain each other and make the time fly by, shall we? What sort of things do you like to do in your leisure time?"
"What leisure time would that be?"
She laughed, "You, too?"
I was impressed and envious of her buoyant attitude in the presence of her pain and our dodgy circumstances. Then a thought popped into my mind about something I read once about pain control. That thought led me to think about some way to apply the theory. "Anika, have your ever heard of a guy by the name of Bill Cosby?"
"Yes, I think so. Isn't he an American comedian?"
"Yes, but he's a lot more than that. Anyhow, have you ever heard any of his recordings?"
"Not that I recall."
"Well I used to practically get sick from laughing so hard listening to them when I was maybe ten or twelve years old. I memorized a few of his routines. Would you like to hear a couple?"
"Sounds delightful! Why don't you regale me with you wit, or rather, Mr. Cosby's wit?"