Driftwords – Crossing the Border

August 12th, 2008

We started out just before dawn. Twenty of us, dressed in shades of dust and earth, running doubled-over from the weight of our packs. We tried not to pant from the exertion, tried not to leave iridescent plumes of breath behind to mark our passage. The sound of ragged breathing filled my head, and I trained my gaze on the ground, willing my feet and lungs to find some kind of rhythm. I didn’t look up until the first shots rang out, scattering random fire across my path. By then, I was running alone. There was no time to look back – no time to find out if the others had spread out or been shot. I got close – close enough to glimpse the river. Then the bullets came thick and fast, and I knew I’d been spotted. I had no choice but to turn back and sprint for the tree line.

There is another way, but it’s just as dangerous and far more grueling. The others dug tunnels to go underneath the river. They’re labyrinthine, these tunnels; excavated by hand with rudimentary tools, using no master plan, and no map. They were started, then stopped, then started again years – sometimes generations – later. Some run parallel for miles; others intersect, floors falling through ceilings, walls growing thin before eroding entirely. Portions are reinforced with concrete and rubble; others have collapsed, filling entire sections with mud and water. Oral history is the only assurance that the tunnels were ever once complete. A few people have tried this way, but no one knows if they made it across. More likely, they got turned around or trapped, and they’re still down there somewhere, buried in all the mud and darkness. The oldest of the others said it would take weeks to navigate the tunnels, weeks of dead-ends and cave-ins, with no guarantee of a clear passage. But they also said that on the other side, the tunnels break the surface several miles across the border. They said the opening is in the middle of a field, so far from the river that you can’t even hear gunfire.

Entry Filed under: Driftwords