In an ancient city, my mind played tricks on me
|It was the trip of a lifetime, the holiday of the century. A pilgrimage of sorts for my father. We had flown thousands of kilometres over endless oceans and massive expanses of land to get here. Pompeii. We had expected to feel like we were walking among the ancients, like we were in another world. A total disappointment when faced with the reality: sweltering heat, a barely there breeze and a chatterbox tour guide who wore his tweed pants way too high to be healthy.
Perspiration dotted our brows as we trekked up the cobblestone paths, pausing every so often to ‘admire’ the dilapidated buildings. As we got to the forum; a large square of... well let’s face it, dead grass and sand, heat began to cloud my vision. Colours twirled in dizzying spiral. Great, not only was I stuck in the gloomy remains of a long gone city; I was coming down with heatstroke.
I shook my head, as if flinging the dizziness away to evaporate in the searing hot air. It was so boiling, I felt like I was on a rotisserie, burning to a crisp. The guide gestured us over to the shade, finally, a break. I took a swig from one of the many water bottles weighing down my backpack, sighing as the heavenly liquid trickled down my throat, and the guide began to weave us the tale of how Pompeii had been destroyed. Great, a history lesson whilst on a holiday, just what I wanted. His nasal voice was getting irritating, droning on in badly accented English. Trying to tune him out, I turned and stared passively past the city’s boundaries, past the crystal waters and far off island of Capri. His steady tone broke through and I gave in, listening.
I let my imagination take over, embellishing his story, allowing myself to experience it my own way. I could almost see a girl, a citizen of old Pompeii near the nearby column. No, wait. I was the girl. I could feel the scorching breeze on her skin and smell the stale city air...
... Tremors were becoming increasingly rougher, rhythmically rocking the earth into submission. Instinctively, I glanced to the mountains, fearing the worst. An ominous, patchy mushroom of smog and ash was expelling from the peaks, branching out and extending high into the heavens. I shrivelled back against the column in horror.
The blotchy cloud seemed to advance towards me, stems of pumice and ash streaming out in bursts like meteorites. All the animals were hysterical; tearing at their chains, gnawing, biting and ripping in desperation. The citizens were worse. Confusion had set in, people dashing frantically to the lower entrance to the city, along the coastline to the boats.
A steady flow of grey smog encompassed the outer walls of the city. God, it was so fast. I estimated thirty seconds before it reached me. No, fifteen, ten. There was no use running. Ash swirled around me, filling my mouth and constricting my lungs. I knew it would only be seconds before I passed out, suffocated or was blanketed by scorching lava, already speeding down the hills towards my home. The heat stung at my eyes. Squinting, all I could see was blackness, with the bubbling vivid orange of cascading lava in the distance.
My blood boiled in my veins, the fire in the air so harsh, so unforgiving. I clung to life, my breaths coming in short wheezing gasps, the flaming smog swarming down my trachea. The fiery lava was close, I could feel my skin burning and peeling like sundried tomatoes. It was only a matter of seconds. I could see a wave of orange fire metres away, searing hot and ready to envelope me. With smoke in my lungs, I let out a final choked scream...
... I flinched, expecting the heat, expecting the end. Nothing came. I searched for the image, catching only flickers of orange light. The droning of the guide’s voice continued on in the background, bringing me back to reality, saying something about finding me a good Italian boy and getting married on the Isle of Capri. Nonsense really. I sank back against the wall, breathing in deeply. I could almost smell the ash again, but not quite.
The tour group began to move along again, trudging along and snapping pictures in frenzy. I took one last deep breath and stood up, my head not spinning as much. I stood there for a moment longer, and with exhilarated breath, I went and caught up with my family and the matchmaking Italian in the high tweed pants.