"Ugh! Ughh! Ughhh!" Synchronizing sounds of people huffing and puffing echoed loudly within the rainforest reserve, as if the alien sounds wished to compete with the mixture of faint chirps, roars, and hoots of the forest residents. The group of men was moving in between the intricate tree roots in a bee-line. Each step was at a snail's pace.
Upon closer look, they carried around three to four bags of ten kilograms of rice while having a personal backpack upon their backs. Everyone was bringing at least a total of sixty to eighty kilos per person when factoring in their personal belongings.
The trekkers concentrated on their own steps, while the leading man with a black cap led the procession. Each step was careful and excruciatingly slow. The lead tracker had to factor in the group's safety while guiding them through a much forgiving terrain to make the trekking slightly easier with all their weight. On several occasions, he paused, placed the bags of rice down, and took out his GPS and compass to make sure they were on the right track.
An out of the ordinary well-dressed man and his team of bodyguards moved slower than the leading pack as they were carrying a large icebox with several bags of rice stacked on top upon their shoulders together. No one tried to ask what was inside, though they were curious; from their dried prune-like looks, it seemed that the icebox was extremely heavy even without the additional rice bags. They looked like they suffered a lot. Even the well-dressed man’s good looks were 'squished' into a somewhat ugly grimace.
A slim but large suitcase was sandwiched between the ice-box and the plastic rice bags. It turned out, they still brought together one 'suitcase' after abandoning the other five. The two guards in suits, Marco and Zidane, had thrown away their expansive custom outer suit some time ago after they got permission to do so. They even rolled up their sleeves and loosened their black ties so that they could be more comfortable. After three hours of trekking in unsuitable attire, their sleek leather shoes showed apparent signs of wear and tear as well as covered in dirt and mud. They kept on praying that it will last until their journey home.
Silas, who was carrying the front part with his superior, was silent and looked very much at ease than the other two. He concentrated on his steps properly since the large meandering roots were like naturally-occurring booby traps everywhere.
Contrary to their expectations, they did not even desire to admire the lush forest and the occasional wild birds fluttering by. The weight was too much after three hours! They felt like their backbones were cracking with every step, not much to say about their lingering will.
Alan rubbed off the sweat accumulating on his brow with his white handkerchief in annoyance. Although the sun didn't really penetrate through the thick tree canopies, the heat had made him drenched with sweat from head to toe. Hence, he already smelled funny even before reaching the illusive aborigine village. He wondered how far they still need to go. Wasn't it just a free and easy three-hour trekking session?
Secretly, he was glad when the leading guide paused his steps to check the route. Their stuff was so much that the gap between them and the others has widened significantly.
Alan regretted that he arrogantly dismissed the other bodyguards. He didn't know that Miles had taken the extra length with arranging for such an elaborate set-up and his new subordinate's added humanitarian mission to carry provisions. Although slightly unhappy, he couldn't say anything since he was the one who was eager to tag along.
Alan was unwilling to leave the rations he had meticulously chosen behind. What can the aborigine offer later? What if they had to eat snails or dirt? Alan could still bear the lack of facilities, but he could not sleep at unhygienic locations and eat commoners' food.
Looking at the easygoing Miles a few meters ahead of him, talking enthusiastically in hushed tones with Arash next to him, he felt a slight bit of helplessness. It seemed that Arash treated him with caution and a bit of suspicion all this while.
Although Arash was out of breath, he could see that Arash treated his butler with a friendly attitude. He was so polite and sincerely smiled at Miles all the time as he carried the three rice bags over his shoulder earnestly. Miles was only carrying a large bag full of vacuum-packed ready-to-eat meals with his left hand while animatedly swung his other arm around, explaining elaborately about something to Arash.
As he was thinking to himself, he felt his steps jolted, and the heavy weight was gone from his shoulder all of a sudden.
The heavy icebox fell together with the rice bags and the large briefcase!
Alan turned to see that Zidane had fallen after his foot was caught in between a tree root. The others who were already far ahead paused their steps to see what was going on.
"Are you alright? Could you continue?" Alan asked the brawny bodyguard stoically.
Zidane nodded expressionlessly, "A misstep. Apologies, everyone. Give me a few minutes."
Alan nodded stoically and waited for his bodyguards to arrange everything back. Nonetheless, Arash and Rob rushed over in a hurry. They helped Zidane up and checked his condition, even when the bodyguard objected. Rob proceeded to spray a coolant on Zidane's ankle.
"Everyone, let's take a thirty minutes' break. Just take a rest for a while before we continue. Let's give some time for Zidane to recover." Arash announced.
Zidane turned to look at his own superior for confirmation. It had made Alan feeling somewhat awkward since everyone's stare was on him now. After getting Young Master Alan's non-verbal consent, he nodded gratefully to Arash and Rob.
This occasion had made Alan re-evaluated his own attitude towards his subordinates. Truthfully, he never considered these men as his real subordinates at all since all of them were assigned by the family for him. Although outwardly, it seemed like they followed his instructions, they will answer to the family's order rather than his when they have to choose. In other words, they were more like spies who reported back to the family on whatever he did. Only Miles was considered as his own people whom he could confide in.
Once the thirty minutes were over, everyone reluctantly stood up to continue the extreme trekking session. They helped each other to load the rice bags on their shoulders and started walking ever so carefully this time; a fall in this kind of place would make the afflicted person a burden to the rest. Alan, Silas, Marco, and especially Zidane, showed signs of exhaustion, though they didn't say anything verbally. Their faces were pale, and they sweated like they just came out of the shower without using a towel. This time, it was more like wet dried prunes covered with bits of soaked seaweed.
Surprisingly, our uncle wasn't having a difficult time. Yes, the rice bags were heavy, but he felt it was manageable. Most of the time, he was listening to his wife's voice with a wireless earplug on one ear as background music, while half-listening to the kind foreigner old man's talk glorifying his talented boss ceaselessly with the other. The kind-hearted Arash had whispered to Rob to take short fifteen minutes breaks for every half-hour of trekking despite Rob's objection.
Like this, although Alan's team was left way behind, the multiple fifteen-minute breaks gave them time to catch up. The majority of the trekkers were silent throughout the journey, except for Miles, who spent time talking a lot to Arash in hushed tones. It seemed that Miles was the only one who enjoyed the excursion and the company very much.
The forest was slowly getting dimmer and visibility was getting low, though when one looked at the time, it was just around five to six in the evening. The walk continued for around two more hours before they saw flickering lights from afar within the woods.
Automatically, everyone's pace increased. Finally, the destination was just around the corner!
Alan was having a hard time breathing from the short burst. His guards had been slightly too eager and increased the pace too much, trying to catch up with the rest. He nearly tripped too! Their actions angered him somewhat, as he wanted them to slow down. What if someone in their team of four slipped and broke a bone? Since it was quite dark already, a misstep could mean a bad fall.
Nonetheless, before he could open his mouth, a few paces ahead, everyone stopped suddenly. It forced him and his other three guards to stop abruptly too. This too, nearly made the rice bags fell from the icebox.
Alan saw hundreds of fire torches filling all the spaces in between the thick arboreal trees! Holding those fire torches were a large group of bronze bare-chested men with eager smiles plastered upon their faces. How did he know they smiled? Because that was the only thing he could see reflected by the torches! In a way, if he was alone, he would think he was in a nightmare setting with a Cheshire cat's multiple sinister smiles floated about.
A decrepit old man with twig-like hair took a few steps forward with his hands behind his back, an evil grin plastered upon his prune-like face.