Nomen oblitum, or, Forgotten Name
Brian L. Tucker | Sayantan Halder
Inside a Belizean cave, you wade deeper into green water in search of Xibalba, the underworld. Alone—save for the snakes and cave crickets—you put on a miner’s lamp and begin to explore the murky Sibun River. You stumble and swallow a large gulp of water and spit out the muddy, gritty aftertaste. When you recover, you ease into a pair of flippers and move farther along the cave’s meandering tunnels.
Earlier in the town of Belmopan, you purchased a waterproof camera and now feel the tug of the device as you swim—imagining a catfish pulling you under. College just behind—the world stretching out ahead, inside this cavern—you can breathe the freedom from tireless, old professors with red, ink-stained fingers. What can they teach me about eternity anyway? you ask yourself.
The prehistoric cave, snaking beneath the hillsides of Belize, is overlapping and hidden like the coal mines of Appalachia—a land that time forgot. You believe the entrance to the Mayan underworld to be here, and the thought passes with a swooping rush, as a colony of bats feast on the mosquitoes above you.
You spot a ripple that you haven’t made and consider what dinosaur might’ve once lurked inside this very expanse. Regret pangs your insides, as you know someone has already discovered the sacrificial obsidian knives here, someone before them the majestic fossils. You wanted to be Daniel Boone, a discoverer of the afterlife. Now, there is only darkness left.
You roll onto your back, remove the flippers, place your feet directly into the squishy, unperturbed red-clay, rock bottom. The ripple appears again, just in front of you, and you instinctively place one arm down into the center of the watery ring.
“WHERE IS IT?!!” you shout.
“WHERE IS IT?!! WHERE IS it?! WHERE is it?” a familiar voice echoes around the empty, tomblike chamber.
Nowhere at all, you think, and draw up a handful of pebbles and debris from the cave bottom and drop it with a splash.
“This is all that’s left,” you say, losing hope of ever finding Xibalba.
You sift again through the mud and mire with your hand, as bits of rock fall back into the abyss, and your finger hits something else this time. You feel over it, around it, and detect a solid, cranial-like shape. You pull it slowly from the river floor and shake the sediments loose to find yourself staring into the hollow sockets of another forgotten name.