Her brown skin glistens with sweat under the light from the seven strategically placed candle lanterns that illuminate the entirety of the cave. Her locks are tied in a ponytail as not to obstruct her peripherals. She looks back at his insurance. Caroline held on a slab, by two of the burliest men in the cave. Another holds a lit log close enough to her arm for her to feel its heat but not close enough to cause any damage, from her observation. They’ve done a number on Caroline already.
“I know right?” He fixes his tie and dusts off his blazer.
In this post-apocalyptic world, where the strongest rule, it’s rare to see a man of his stature (or lack thereof) in any sort of leadership position, let alone the sole ruler of some of the most herculean men she has ever seen. Clearly, he is not to be fucked with.
“Seems a bit excessive…” He gets up from his chair and walks around his desk towards her as she faces the slab. “…but your reputation precedes you my dear” She feels his hand caress her locks and his tongue make its way around her shoulder. Her eyes stay focused on the slab. She feels the molten metal of anger, in the depths of her heart, flow through every last vein and infiltrate her entire body.
“Now, now dear. Let’s not let our emotions ruin this lovely encounter,” he says as he unclenches her fist for her.
“What do you want from her?” she asks.
“Oh come now Sindi, I’m sure you’ve figured out that it’s not Caroline we want,”
A wave of confusion crashes over the rocky shores that was once home to her still facial expression.
“Oh, you haven’t? Guess we’ve overestimated you,”
“Why would you take her if… it’s me you want isn’t it?”
“Bingo! Now that we’re all on the same page, we can…”
“Who told you that name?”
“All in due time my dear. Now let’s get on to business. A long time ago, in a place not far from here, there lived a nation of people who had perfected the art of smithing. They lived in splendor with surplus precious resources that attracted people, from across the oceans, for trade. Then along came some ambitious men whose intentions weren’t very clear at the time. They offered to help build a fortress to keep the people’s most prized imperishable resources safe.”
“Exactly! 5 keys were created and they were made in the shape of birds. It is said that the bank was only to be opened once with every cycle of the moon”
“That’s rather inconvenient.”
“Well my dear, they lived in a time when patience was more of a habit than a virtue. As a token of appreciation, two gold-plated rhinos were created to bind the elders and their new friends, eternally. It is said that the bank could only be opened when both the rhinos were in their rightful place in the elders’ chamber. A sudden shift in climate caused the foreign partners to leave, taking with them their half of the golden pair, forever sealing the treasures of the land in an impenetrable fortress.”
“What does all this have to do with Caroline and me?”
“Patience. Now, it is said that 5 of the elders were entrusted with the keys, but when the climate change started affecting the people of the land, they traveled north to help build one of the greatest civilizations in southern Africa. The rhino was left behind for some reason. Some say it was a message to their old friends but as to what the message actually is, there is much debate. In the late 1800’s a man named Cecil Rhodes bought all five of the keys and made copies for his friends. All but one were returned, or so the legend says. Another key was sent to Europe which didn’t make sense for a while, because that would mean there are 6 authentic keys in total. We’ve now come to realize, the hard way, that one of the keys was a decoy. Now we need you to provide us with the last key.”
“If I find this key for you, will you let us go?”
He carries a smile that could easily be mistaken for that of an insane asylum escapee. His smile soon turns into a chuckle that sends shivers down her spine.
“Find it? My dear, you already have it.”
“I think you might have me mistaken for someone else,”
“Just before the start of the apocalypse, when the chaos erupted, your mother handed you a box. A gift if you will. She told you to lock yourself in your room. She told you to protect it with your life. You did as you were told and even went a step further as to hide in your closet. You heard her screams. You heard the heavy footsteps on the staircase. You heard her shout ‘RUN’. Then all you could hear was the banging on your door. So you jumped out the window and ran, with a wall of tears built between your eyelids, until you couldn’t anymore.”
“How do you know all this?” she asks as the wall of tears is re-erected.
“We know everything.”
“There’s that God-complex you all have in common…” she replies “…but if you know me as well as you suggest then you must’ve known that, by touching Caroline, you have signed your own death warrant.”
“Oh no, no, no, no my dear. See that’s where you’ve got me all wrong. I’m not like the boys you’ve been playing with. I never do the dying.” There’s something about him that bothers her. Something doesn’t seem right with this picture. But her main focus is on how to make it out alive.
She looks towards the entrance of the cave where the guard, armed with a machete, stands firmly in the desert sand. She scans the cave and estimates her chances of surviving a sudden sprint to the door at ‘more than likely’, with the good assumption that she’s the quickest in the cave.
“When I was 16, my father took me on a ride along with him and his partner. For most of the day, the most interesting thing that happened was an argument between a disgruntled recipient of a parking ticket and a traffic cop. Then came the call. We headed straight to the bank and met up with the rest of his team. We all geared up and headed in. Everything went as planned. That is until I made eye contact with one of the hostages. He looked so frightened. I couldn’t understand it. We weren’t there for him. Then he tried to make a break for it and I shot him. Blood streamed onto the sides of his face as he laid, face down, on the floor as we had originally instructed him to. Poetic don’t you think? Like king Laius and Oedipus, we always end up doing exactly as the Oracle has predicted. Every time I think of that day I remember seeing that look in his eye. The look of desperation. I could swear I saw the neurons in his amygdala booking a plane ticket. I look at you know and see that same look. Don’t condemn Caroline to a painful end just because you thought you could outrun a bullet.” he says as he pulls out a gun from the back of his chinos.
“What do you want from me?!” she exclaimed.
“I already told you…” she feels his hand grip her locks “…and I don’t. like. REPEATING MYSELF!” his other one meets her stomach with such force.
“So you think that Rhodes sent his friends the real copies or that he actually kept them for himself and that I somehow have one of them?” she says after catching her breath.
“Now when you put it like that it almost sounds a bit silly…” he says with a smile.”…but no, we have those five already. The one you have is the one that made its way around Europe.”
“And how did my mother, a grade 8 history teacher at a local government school, end up with such a precious artifact.”
“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” he replies.
“My mother’s dead,”
“You’ll be meeting her soon,”
“Why did they do it?” she asks after a slight pause.
“Do what dear?”
“Build the bank…”
He grins with pride “Now that, my dear, is the right question.”
“Do you have an answer?”
“It was an experiment”
“Sounds like a very expensive experiment”
“Indeed it was. But to them, it was worth it.”
“To see if they could scam some Africans into making them a gold plated rhinoceros?”
The grin returns “They were testing whether a simple banking system could be accepted in a civilized society. Not only was it accepted, it was loved”
The guard at the entrance of the cave makes his way towards them.
“They’re here aren’t they?” asks the leader.
“Open the doors” commands a voice from outside.
“Yes ma’am” is the reply from what seems to be the closest foot soldier to the door.
“It’s a pity…” Says the man with the gun. “I thought we’d have more time.”
The doors swing open and a female figure walk in the middle of a squadron of armed men.
Sindi’s face puzzles itself in recognition. Her knees drop her to the ground as tears of confusion rain from her face. She opens her mouth to speak. The only word that falls from her lips is a question so deeply rooted in her heart that she can barely stand the taste of it.