There is a scientific explanation for most things. For example, darkness is the absence of light. But for me, darkness also meant the absence of control; the inability to take charge of my own life. And for that, I was lost and terrified. I was about to wallow in darkness when I felt a friendly nudge on my boots.
“No. 5, move forward”
The thick Thai accent startled me from my own thought.
Just then, I heard another voice ahead called out “No. 3 out.” And in that moment, I was alive with hope. There was always a way out. In my moments of panic, I had completely forgotten that we had walked through the entire route before the exercise. Turn right, past two doors, make a u-turn, then under the caged tunnel. I can do it, I said to myself. The exit was near, I was so sure of it.
“Careful with the steps.”
I wasn’t listening anymore. I could smell the fresh air and the feel the cool breeze as I clumsily tripped out of the simulated room. The safety helmet tumbled over my head but I didn’t care. Taking off the black goggles, I squinted a little to adjust myself to the dusk lights. I sighed in relief, but my comfort was cut short. After I heard my number being called, I answered.
“Go in, again, your technique was all wrong” The fire instructor commanded.
I was dumbstruck.
“Alone?” I blurted.
“Yes, alone. Go on” He pointed at the door.
It was stupid. It was crazy. To enter the room I had so desperately wanted to get out of. Alone, i.e. nobody to follow. I stared right at him for several seconds, as though he had asked me to swallow a live lizard – which would not had made any difference at that point. I must have looked so paralysed, because the strict instructor shrugged off his request with a disappointed look.
Half relieved, half ashamed, I quickly find a nearby bench to sit. I could feel all eyes on me but I didn’t care. I removed the helmet and my glasses and placed it next to me. Breathe. Why was it so hard? I closed my eyes and put my head in between my legs – more blood circulating in my brain is probably the best thing right now. All I could think about was: If this had been a real fire, I might not have survived it.
“Are you okay?”
I looked up and saw Guy 1 crouching in front of me.
“I’m fine,” I said quietly, “I just need some air.”
I can’t remember what he said after that, but in the language that only two others surrounding us would understand. He must have heard my conversation with the instructor because he offered a spot on his team, which was the last group. I had two options; (1) to pass the course with the leniency of the instructor or (2) to try again, pass the course with certainty, and hopefully overcome the fear of darkness. I had never been the type who rely on uncertainties; I could still fail on a technicality. And I wasn’t about to consider that possibility, so I agreed.
The second round was no easier than the first, but I managed. Little did I know then, the worst had yet to come.
To be continued.
Read Part 1 here.