A fearful anticipation filled the cave; the helicopters could be heard returning our way, flying low, and coming up the gorge. The two men at the entrance jumped, and fled into the depths of the cavern, and we all crouched together in the gloom, holding our breath—waiting. Soon, we saw one of the choppers slowly passing by the cave, making its way along the far side of the gorge; it was in no hurry, plodding and probing, as it went. Not a moment later, the cave erupted with the sound of another chopper much closer now, hovering just above the mouth of the cave, casting a whirling shadow on the dirt just beyond the cave’s entrance. Instantly, the mood shifted from anticipation to action: I ran towards the entrance hoping to preempt a landing, or any further inquiry from those inside the chopper; the middle brother chased after me; and the eldest followed after him. The youngest froze, his eyes wide in surprise and confusion, while Avi grabbed a large rock in each hand, preparing to fight, if the brothers attacked him.
I had made it about half-way to the entrance before I was knocked to the ground; and as I kicked my assailant in the shins, he was simultaneously tackled, brutally, by his older brother. For a moment he stopped fighting, stunned, as he was surprisingly flattened from behind, unexpectedly; and as the two men began to struggle together, I jumped up and ran outside. The helicopter hadn’t landed—perhaps there wasn’t room—but was still hovering above; but now had pulled out away from the cliff-face, out into the gorge a short distance, for better viewing into the cave. I waved nonchalantly, and smiled up at the men and women in the aircraft. Seeing the pilots conferring through the windshield, I turned as if to enter the cave again—took a step or two—and then turned back towards them once again, waving a second time, smiling and nodding as if to assure them that all was well. I watched breathlessly until they waved back, having made their decision to continue up the gorge.
The two brothers were standing again and arguing intently—though whispering—when I returned; the younger was sullen and his face hardened bitterly, as the other spoke incredulously and wide-eyed to him, shaking his head and gesturing broadly—occasionally whacking him on the side of his head with an open palm. I sat next to Avi, who had dropped the two rocks, but was keeping them close, in case of another escalation. The youngster looked more at peace now, as he followed his older brother’s argument; something in his bored expression told me that he had seen them disagree before. I caught his eye, then looked briefly at the two bickering men, rolled my eyes and smiled; he understood my meaning and smiled back.
Avi crouched cautiously, and remained alert, as he watched the other’s movements; himself ready for whatever might come. Though night was drawing near, and the time for his release had nearly arrived, he was taking nothing for granted, believing in no prior agreements; although he allowed himself to indulge in some hope, and he couldn’t keep himself from enjoying a rush of adrenaline from anticipation of his freedom, as the light began to wane. We talked together, as we waited for the night, and he told me these things, along with thanking me, and confiding some other details worth mentioning: ‘I feel like maybe I have a new life now…another chance. You know what I mean? Yes?’ I nodded that I did. ‘If I get out of here…it’s strange, you know…maybe this will help me…I have that feeling. I don’t know, maybe I will be a better person. Does that sound crazy?’ I shook my head that it wasn’t. ‘I want to hurt these guys, before…maybe kill them, for what they are doing to me…but you give me another way to see them. I don’t know, I still want to hurt them, but I also…well, thank you…maybe I don’t need to do anything…I just let them be.’
‘Yes, Avi,’ I finally replied, ‘…just let them be. I believe that is good wisdom.’
‘I think that maybe I would lose everything,’ Avi continued pensively. ‘And never see my family again…thank you for saving me…my children thank you.’ He looked at the other men in the cave with a nascent compassion in his eyes, and continued haltingly, ‘…maybe I understand them…maybe I would do the same if I was in their shoes…I know, you get angry, very angry when you will lose what you love, and someone must pay…’ he shrugged and smiled half-heartedly before finishing, ‘…but it doesn’t help much.’
‘It is impossible to see straight, when all you are looking at is what you’ve lost,’ I enjoined.
‘Or only what somebody else has gained,’ he added.
Suddenly, it seemed, everyone in the cave noticed simultaneously that the light had gone—the day was spent. We turned to look outside the cave, and the ridge across the gorge was barely visible, the sky and the rock were fusing into one, and it was time for Avi to return home.
The brothers approached us in the gathering darkness, and it was clear their hopes had now shifted from Avi to me, as the younger two men held me tight against the cave wall, pressing firmly down on my shoulders to keep me seated, while the oldest brother grabbed Avi, and lifting him abruptly, said, ‘You, go. Now!’ as he shoved Avi towards the front of the cave. Briefly, his form stood momentarily in the cave entrance, as a silhouette against the night sky and then he was gone. I could hear his footsteps faintly as he vanished into the night; they fell fast and in quick succession—he was running—I imagine in a great hurry to return home to the life, and the people that he loved.
* * *