“Are you all OK?”
Erik’s voice between whispers was the first utterance out of our mouths after we fell to the ground. Entering the portal was the easiest part. As we would say afterwards, ‘it was only a small jump’. Because the rest of it… wasn’t so straightforward.
When Sofia entered, crying out David’s name in desperation, her hand empty, we were already in mid-air, flying at an incredible speed. I knew the portal was closed as it was pitch black. From that moment on, the nightmare began. While a screenwriter might call it an adventure, for me it was awful.
Unable to see a thing, we all began to shout, to scream, smashing into each other’s limbs. The speed was uncontrollable, the steep drop terrifying but the worst thing was that we didn’t know how we were going to end up – shattered or dead. Never had I imagined anything as bad as this. Second by second, the screams and the terror got worse. It was the first time that I had ever heard Samuel scream like that. He did not only shout. His cry was like a desperate child, crying out hysterically for something … I was also crying. But the tears didn’t stay long on my face because of the speed at which they were shooting off behind me.
Suddenly, between the screams, I heard something: “ERIK!” “ERIK!”
For a second, I thought it was Sofia, but it was clearly a boy’s voice.
It was Erik’s voice!
I didn’t get it until I heard Sofia shouting out her own name: SOFIA! SOFIA! A few seconds later, Samuel joined in with what the others were doing. Clever! Even after everything we had gone through these past months, this was the first time that I finally understood Erik’s ability to handle danger. It was not to be the only one. There would be more. With all of us calling out our names, we were able to let the others know how far we were from each other. It also helped us to focus on something else other than the chaos in which we found ourselves.
Then, the darkness began to break and, although we continued to be trapped by an energy that carried us through the air to no one knew where, we all stopped shouting. It helped a bit that we managed to grab each other’s hands and we knew that the four of us were in it together. We remembered this for several days afterwards. I believe that it formed a bond between us which, a few weeks later, really helped us to get over our problems, although not all of them.
Suddenly, the speed lessened. We did not see it coming and we crashed into each other. Samuel hit me fully on the right eye with his shoe, and I lost my sight for a few seconds. Sofia’s left elbow buried itself into my back. The pain reverberated through my body. We were about to resume screaming when the portal disappeared. The darkness closed behind us and like a puppet on a string I felt each of my arms and legs touch gently down onto the ground. My heart almost leapt out of my body after such an abrupt halt. The problem is that the head doesn’t have the same control as the arms. As a result, my head struck a small stone.
Suddenly, I felt blood when I touched myself with my left hand. It wasn’t much, but it made me throw-up. Without being able to stop myself, I wretched all over the back of Sofia’s clothes. I wanted to die. Disgusting! It was gross. I wasn’t the only one who vomited. Samuel was on all fours, doing the same. I looked at Erik and he was wiping a small trail of blood from his nose. We were a wreck. The four of us were on the floor, full of aches and bruises.
What we were never able to explain was when exactly our clothes had changed. Slowly and stiffly, we sat up one by one on the grass, while we gazed around us, feeling the white tunics which now covered our bodies and the animal skins (we found out subsequently that they were sheepskin) that were protecting us from the intense December cold in the Ebro Valley. Clearly, they were clothes taken from Ancient Roman times, just like the ones described in history books, or shown in films about the Romans which I had seen at some time or other.
“Yes,” replied Samuel in response to Erik’s question. “It seems that we are all in one piece.” Looking around him, he lowered his voice, “And now I suggest we quickly hide behind that wall to the right.”
He pointed to some stones which in their day must have been part of a house. The stones were not like those we had seen in Roman ruins. They were small and were held together with something like mud and straw. We didn’t stop to think. The four of us, crouching down, moved quickly thirty metres across to the point that Samuel had pointed out. We stayed there, pressed against the wall as closely as we could.
The scene was unbelievable. As Nicola had mentioned, we were in exactly the same place where we had jumped… but more than 2000 years earlier. It was like one of the drawings of the city we had seen in some of the history books – a great expanse, covered in grass and remains from the first settlers. Salduie, I think they had said in class.
As dawn broke, with not a cloud in the sky, we could make out the River Ebro to the north and very far, in the distance, the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees. It seemed to me that there was much more snow there than I could ever remember seeing. From where we were, we could see the snow-covered mountains of the Sierra de Albarracín to the north-east. It was spectacular. I had never seen them covered with snow before. To the south, we could clearly identify the Muela de María and La Muela mountains. The difference was that now they were covered with trees. As we continued looking around, we could see the Moncayo to the north-west, as imposing as ever but this time totally covered with snow, from the summit to the base as far as we could see. In all my life, I would never have imagined that from the Calle Mayor I could see the highest mountain in the whole of the province of Zaragoza. There were no buildings in the way….
“Look out!” Samuel’s shout and shove left me completely disoriented.
“Behind you, Elsa!” Erik shouted.
I glanced from one side to the other almost at the same time as I tried to sink into the ground. Both of them were very nervous. Sofia at my side also grasped my arm. I couldn’t understand why, until something stepped on my right foot and I cried out in pain. Samuel quickly covered my mouth with his hand and grabbed me physically with his other arm, pulling me closer to the wall where we were hiding.
Until I turned my head, I couldn’t work out what was happening. I had my back to what they were all witnessing behind me. A group of people were running. From front on, it seemed that they were heading straight for us. They were all young people, of our age – boys and girls, all dressed in the same white tunics covered with animal skins. But they weren’t actually running towards us. In fact, they were chasing something. I looked around several times to find out what. Samuel removed his hand from my mouth. Erik looked at me and, putting his finger to his mouth, motioned me to keep quiet. Sofia was motionless. Erik pointed down at my foot and then at a boy who had just run in desperation past where we were, towards the west.
It was hard to take it all in until I began rubbing an area on my foot. I realised that the boy who was being pursued had trodden on me. He was probably our age and, in marked contrast with his pursuers, he was black. In desperation, he ran with incredible agility. His clothing was not as fine as the others. It was greyer and, above all, dirtier. I could not believe what I was seeing. It wasn’t fair. There were far more of them and they were going to catch him at any moment.
But what really wrenched me out of my past life, the life that I had had, all the experiences I had until that moment with my parents, my friends and way of life… (a life of luxury, I could say at that moment), was the sound of a knife thrown by someone from behind. It was like a whistle, almost imperceptible, which terminated in another, far louder sound: the tremendous crash of the boy to the ground as the knife found its target in the calf of his right leg.
What followed could be said to be the exact moment that we realised that our lives had changed forever.
Almost straight after the boy hit the ground, his pursuers arrived. One of them, with utter cold-heartedness, grabbed the handle of the knife and, with a tug, pulled it out of his leg, now lying motionless on the floor. He cleaned it and put it back into the sheath in his belt. His quarry cried out in pain as he fingered the wound on his leg with his right hand. But there was no relief to be found because immediately, he began to receive a series of kicks to every part of his body. There were more than 10 of them and they were aiming blows at his legs, his ribs and his head.
“Thief! Thief!” They yelled while they gave him a brutal beating.
The four of us looked at each other. We could hear what they were saying. We assumed that we had jumped into an era in which another language, different from ours, was spoken. But we were able to understand it. “You are filth!”, they lashed out at him. “Beat him some more so that he will not do it again,” a couple of them at the outer rim of the group shouted.
We looked at each other. Samuel shrugged his shoulders and pointed to his ears where he sat, implying that he had understood everything. The ‘jump’ was over: we had new clothes, a new language, … what more was there to surprise us?
We continued to crouch down behind the ruins of the wall, out of sight of the group. Sofia’s eyes were full of tears. Erik held her in his arms while he made every effort not to cry out himself. I heard Samuel behind me breathing very quickly. I didn’t want to look at his face. No one said anything. None of us got up. We were passive witnesses to a crime.
It was not until one of the girls who was kicking him shouted out and pulled back for the others to look at her that they stopped. The lower part of the boy’s white tunic was stained with blood.
At that moment, they stopped hitting him.
His body was stretched out on the ground. He was not moving and he was no longer groaning.
As if it were perfectly normal, his attackers looked around them, smiled and ran off in the direction they had come.
One of them came back and, from the boy’s inert right hand on the ground, he took something that was round and red. I tried to refocus, to see what it was.
It was an apple.
As the group was running past us, we heard some of them say the same words:
“It doesn’t matter. It’s not important. He was just a slave.”
Writer: Glen Lapson © 2016
English translator: Rose Cartledge
Publisher: Fundacion ECUUP
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