The first sound Jose heard was a low rumble, like an approaching subway train, then a pressure in his ears and a slightly sick feeling, like when dropping too fast in a lift.
He dropped his spade, momentarily confused. The lights along the tunnel flickered and dimmed. He turned quickly to check on the rest of his team, working 100metres further down the track and realised with a lurch, he could no longer see the reassuring dots of light on their helmets.
Jose opened his mouth to shout, his nose and mouth filled with thick acrid dust, choking and stinging his eyes and throat. He dropped to the ground in the foetal position, covering his face with his hands.
“I am too young to die! Please God help me and I promise will follow you forever.” The words seemed to have formed in his mind automatically.
“I know that I have never even believed in you, but if you are there, please, please let me see my mother and brothers again.”
The words of his silent prayer sounded desperately hollow even to him. He had no idea where they came from, perhaps it was because he was on his knees, like when a small child, kneeling alongside his mother, her gentle comforting tones,his small voice whispered in harmony asking for protection, safety and blessing.
He had long since abandoned that nightly prayer time preferring to stay out late and roll into bed long after his mother had put out the light and gone to sleep.
Jose, at 19, had been working in the mine for four months, but he knew enough to realise that part of the tunnel must have collapsed, causing a blast of debris to be forced along past where he had had been working.
So in that moment of desperation, like so many others before him, he seemed to have reconnected with that simple faith and had discovered an urgent desire to communicate with someone supremely powerful and with the resources to save him.
Gradually the roaring sound died down and was replaced by complete and utter silence. It was pitch black and panic and desperation began to set in. Jose tried again to shout again for Albert the team foreman, but although he formed the words, no sound seemed to come from his desperate mouth.
Jose’s did not realise that the blast had perforated his eardrums, causing temporary deafness and he felt utterly alone and terrified. As he tried to straighten his helmet that had slipped sideways he realised that the switch on his headlamp had switched off in his fall. Flicking it back on and he felt for the side of the tunnel and began to inch his way towards the emergency blast shelter where there was telephone and food supplies.
“Please God help me,” he whispered “I am truly sorry for all the wrong things I have done just give me another chance.”
He thought of his mother and tears began to form in his dirt encrusted eyes. She had already suffered so much. She knew the dangers of the mine all to well. Her first husband, Jose s father, had been killed in a mining accident even before Jose was born.
She had not wanted her eldest child to go down the mines but there was little other opportunity for employment in the area.
“Never mind me God, but if you are there, please save me for my mother’s sake,”
His tears were falling freely now washing away some of the grime and dirt from his eyes, He sniffed and his ears seemed to clear a little and in that moment he noticed a faint light ahead and saw Albert and the others waving to him.
As he drew close to them, Albert hugged him, giving thumbs up, motioned to the telephone, to indicate that communication with the surface had been established and rescue was already on its way.
Albert handed him flask a full of warm sweet tea. Relief swept over Jose like a flood,
“Thank you God, I am not going to forget this day, I promise."
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