An enthusiastic up-and-coming journalist goes above and beyond her pay grade for the story of her career.
She woke up to the smell of impending death. The blades of the chopper were spluttering into life with a garish futility as the thick sands of the island held them fast. The charred and still burning chassis of the helicopter vibrated and jerked uneasily with every weak attempt the blades made at liberty and she shook with every single one. Her safety belt was shredded and she brushed it off her, meeting no resistance as a parody to its existence. She coughed every now and then. She brushed the hair that had not stuck to the blood on her forehead out from her eyes and then assessed the various cuts of different sizes and depths that adorned her hands. The pilot was sporting jewellery; the windshield had shattered, piercing along his neck and collarbone. His face was a mockery of the Calvin Klein model he used to be. He was so young, but now he was so dead.
Leaving her alone, with no navigator and no transport with which to navigate.
She crawled on her side out of the wreck that was smoking unhealthily. Her suit was torn everywhere and she decided that Giorgio Armani was not, not suitable for unscheduled descents at speeds close to four times the optimal rate for a controlled and safe landing. But if she had joined Hades’ halls, at least she would have done so in a fourteen hundred dollar suit and she could cry VIP status in the halls of the dead. Despite the somewhat joyful approach to the macabre, she did not want to dwell on death just yet. She was very much alive, and she had arrived at her destination despite the predicament she now found herself in. The sky was clear out here, ocean air smelled cleaner, fresher and invigorating than the city that she spends most of her time sardined in with the rest of a bourgeoning tumult of people who were all angry to share their little piece of the world with others. The black smoke diluted and did not hang so thick and ominous but she had landed – okay more like crashed than landed – and that would certainly have been enough to alert the very hostile island inhabitants to go and investigate the intruder.
The helicopter groaned several more times as the blades finally gave out. The ocean breeze was substituted with a tinge of kerosene and she made for the nearest cover as the explosion – more like subsequent little explosions akin to a subterfuge implemented at a dinner table when flatulence was necessary – shook the ground and reduced the helicopter of its sponsors and most of its frame. She crossed herself like a good practicing Catholic and then cursed and blasphemed aloud like an even better Dissenter and set about surveying her wounds. Nothing seemed too damaged, there was a lot of surface damage: cuts, slightly deeper gashes and just general jarring of most bones. There was a threat of whiplash in her neck that she hoped she could avoid aggravating with very small movements. Whilst laying on her back, she felt her way, tentatively, into her pocket to find her phone. It was intact, thank God. But she was not going to try and signal for help and find no reception and then lament as to the pain of her isolation and eventual death by starvation, thirst, savages or a mixture of the three; instead she turned on Pac Man and went about trying to top her top score.
She had time.
She had ten hours of continued use battery power left on her phone.
When Pac Man had calmed her heart attack heart rate down to a more acceptable suburban beats per minute, the sky had dimmed slightly and the sun was looking to make its to the human eye very slow descent to usher in darkness and the latter half of the day. Everything ached slightly less and was replaced with throbs, some dull, some very interesting that you would take home to meet the family, but certainly ever present. When Pac Man got infuriating and seven high scores were set and bested, she started to get the feeling that she was being watched. The sand angel she had formed from her spot and minimal movement suffered irrevocable structural damage as she lifted herself slowly onto her knees and looked around. Dusk was falling on the island with not a drop of rain in sight to follow suit.
She did not miss Baltimore for one second.
Her mind executive produced, wrote and directed reruns of the crash sequence. Her and the pilot were both looking at recorded charts of the area, the ocean and landmasses that they were speeding over at low altitude all the way waiting to find their island. It was the kind of island that you read about. Moreover it was the kind of island that was true. Completely untouched by the civilisations around it, isolated from Burger King and brochure promoting Christianity (the watered down insults that dared to belong to it) and central heating. It was, most likely, the final bastion of nature uninterrupted, unaltered and uncompromising. Like everybody else, she had no idea about it until Indian fishermen, conducting off the radar illegal patronage in waters not their own, chanced upon spear wielding hostile roughly attired humans who yelled gutturally and showed no discernible recognition for the fishermen who resembled and, at the same time, held no resemblance to those they had just encountered. They returned to India profoundly affected by what they saw and soon some of the world felt the same profound affectation.
So the world had to know, had to. Anthropologists, scientists, human rights people, everyone was mobilised on a global front to begin the inevitable debate of: Disturb or not? The exchange spanned years. Satellite shots and fourth-hand sources formed the brunt of the knowledge gained about these islands. Someone wrote a book and that was it. Now, in the 21st Century when nothing – not even the United Nations – could stop whimsical decisions, a twentysomething up and coming reporter from Baltimore decided to do her journalistic duty and give the world their much needed Sentinelese exclusive. It was almost too easy. She secured holidays from her employer and lavishly embellished this opportunity to a similarly young cameraman with a penchant for flying helicopters. She had no boyfriend to let know she was leaving town for a while to come back famous and she left a cryptic message on her parents’ answering machine. The answer to J. Alfred Prufrock’s overwhelming question, Blaise Pascal’s Wager and Edmund Burke’s Sublime and the Beautiful all lay some miles off India’s Western coast and that Tuesday she had dressed for the occasion; a new pants and bra combo too and she could not remember the last time she’d bought new underwear. Fortunately there were no spear-toting savages intent on spilling the blood of invaders that coincided with her helicopter’s very unscheduled and unadvised attempt at making a crater. Instead, with slightly more discretion but with similar brutality thrown into a cocktail mixer of marksmanship and thoroughly bad luck, a dart found the side window open and began rapid assimilation with the pilot’s neck.
He died almost instantly as the chopper began its spiralling dive and rendezvous with the island floor with her cursing in a torrent and her fears for death at an all time high. Whoever fired the dart had not appeared and with the now very present fear of being watched, she hastily put two and two together. Once gingerly on her feet, with the throbs increasing with the physical effort, she limped around the area of the downed chopper, picking up debris that would be useful for her survival. There were not many survival guides for alone on a desert island and she was pretty sure that if she were to be marooned (or is that a word only used if you were on a ship? she thought) on a ‘desert’ island, it would be with the ‘one or three things that she would be allowed to have with her.’ She did collect some useful things, the lockbox that was meant to survive in the eventuality of a crash had done, but not entirely because the explosion was perhaps not catered for. There were provisions to provide her with decimal increments on the survival scale. The sky continued to grow darker and when she had finished collecting, she turned towards the forested distance and saw a man statuesque, his eyes burrowing into her, irrespective of the distance. She attributed it to an overactive imagination turned away to pile her provisions and turned back to see he had multiplied and simultaneously had a sex change as there were nine statues, six men and three women; they had come slightly closer too. This was no hallucination.
The Zen effect of Pac Man and the hours that had passed was substituted for something hinting at panic as more and more of these people emerged from the forest. Dark skinned men and women, wearing very little and adorned with what could only be described as tribal markings. They inched closer, increasing in numbers, but all the while communicating amongst themselves no doubt assessing the new arrival to their home. There was no telling if they knew where the perimeter of her personal bubble of space started, or if they would respect it. Wanting that would label her a flaming hypocrite not that she would admit it, being here was violating the perimeter of their personal bubbles of space and she did not respect it.
Suddenly she started to miss Baltimore just that little bit more.
Here they were, in all their naked, no technology, primal glory. The Sentinelese people. She did it. She found them. She could imagine all the ‘fuck yous’ that she could fire like a machine gun at all of her colleagues and the cowards who cried inaction out of some ‘compassionate intrigue’. She could imagine all the reporters who would want to report on her report of this discovery. Hell, she could write another book on them, a better book: the first firsthand book! She imagined sponsoring a small Sentinelese child, sending him Gap Kids clothes, money for a college fund and how the quality of life would improve a thousand fold due to her initiative and insatiable desire to attain the unattainable. This attitude separated her from everyone else, her grandmother and mother had it – a trait that all the firstborn women in her family inherited. She smiled and laughed quietly, conscious of any sudden movements that could displace the tension into something more. She reached into her pocket once more, and went to the camera application. She flipped the phone over to a landscape setting and steadied her shaking hands to attain the best shot. The camera click was quiet, but the light and consequent flash was not so subtle.
Enraged or frightened, the Sentinelese people descended upon her.