It was a hot and sultry December evening in Melbourne. Vienna and her pet dog, Tannie were about to call it a day, when her attention was drawn to the notice board- it was a notice from Dr. David Cooper, Director of University for all the faculty members of the archeology department, where Vienna was a junior faculty.
The notice read:
‘This is to inform you that we at the Caltech University are planning to assign an archeologist from the history department to go on an exciting mission to Cairo, to bring back the Golden Chipmunk to the University museum.’
After reading the notice, Vienna was thrilled.
This could be a chance to prove to the fastidious Dr. Cooper that she was mature enough to go on a dangerous and exciting mission like this, she thought to herself. However, she doubted Cooper would allow a junior faculty like her to be selected.
She spent the rest of her weekend thinking of how she would win the confidence of her director and go on the mission to retrieve the Golden Chipmunk.
On Monday morning, Vienna gathered her courage and took an appointment to meet Dr. Cooper to express her desire to go on the mission. After much difficulty, she finally got an appointment with him at 4 PM that evening. She was very nervous.
Throughout the day, Vienna practiced how to sound more convincing. She reached the director’s office much before time and waited. Her nervousness continued to grow! At 4 PM, Vienna was called in to meet Dr. Cooper.
Vienna spoke as confidently as she could. She sat across him and mustered her courage to make her plea.
“Sir, I read the notice about the mission to Cairo. I am confident that I will be able to complete the mission successfully,” she said, without flinching.
However, Dr. Cooper dismissed her plea. “Vienna, you are an excellent archeologist, but you are too young and immature to go on this mission,” he said, a look of deep concern in his eyes.
Despite him expressing his concern over her age, Vienna did not stop pleading. She persisted saying, “Sir, I can prove to you that I am mature and hardworking, and I won’t stop till I accomplish the mission.”
Finally, after much convincing, Dr. Cooper agreed, but with one condition. “I will observe your work for a week,” he said. “Prove yourself to me to earn this mission.” Cooper’s words got Vienna very excited, but she tried to keep herself calm in front of the director.
Over the next seven days, Vienna completed all her tasks on time. She worked extra hours, spoke less, and did not play her usual pranks on her colleagues. She even dressed neatly, despite being tired from working overtime and hardly getting any sleep. She remained focused.
Cooper kept track of all her actions. After two weeks, Vienna got a call from the director’s office. She was asked to meet the director immediately. Thoughts started floating through Vienna’s anxious mind.
Is he going to approve or reject my application? Maybe he has someone else on his mind for the job? With the same sense of nervousness she had a week ago, she entered Cooper’s office. With bated breath, she waited to be called in.
When the time finally came, Dr. Cooper told her that he had good news. “Vienna, I have good news for you. But before I break the news to you, I need to admit that you were loyal and honest with your work, and I am really proud of you,” he said, a smile beaming across his face.
“So, I have decided to send you on the mission,” he finally stated and Vienna could not hold back her happiness this time around. She felt on top of the world! She thanked Dr.Cooper for believing in her ability. “Thank you for this opportunity, Sir. I promise I won’t let you down.”
Just as Vienna was preparing to celebrate, Dr. Cooper dropped a bombshell. “There is a problem,” said Cooper. This left Vienna confused, and so she asked, “What is it?”
Cooper unapologetically said, “The mission starts two ays before Christmas eve, and I know how important it is for you to celebrate the holiday with your parents.”
Vienna felt heartbroken. Christmas was the only time of year she got to fly to California and see her parents. However, she put up a stern face and answered, “I won’t let my celebration affect the mission, sir.”
Without wasting any time, Vienna left Dr. Cooper’s office and went straight to her desk to check the date- it was the 20th of December, which meant she only had three days to prepare and do enough research about the mission and the relics.
Thinking about missing spending time with her parents made her feel miserable, but the excitement to go on the mission was so high, it gave her gooseflesh every time she thought about it. She could barely get any sleep on the nights leading up to her departure.
On the 23rd of December, Vienna and Tannie flew to Cairo, the capital city of Egypt. She was awestruck by the beauty of the land of the Pharaohs, but she did not allow it to distract her from her mission. Vienna’s mission was to go to Mokattam Mountain and secure the Golden Chipmunk.
The first order of duty was for Vienna to contact her local guide, Hamid, and hire an SUV to go to the mountain- an hour’s drive, southeast from Cairo. On their drive to the mountain, Hamid appeared to be a bit frightened. He kept advising Vienna to think twice about climbing the mountain. However, determinedly, Vienna kept driving at a speed to reach her destination.
In less than an hour, they were at the foot of the majestic Mokattam. Vienna and Tannie got down from the vehicle, and Vienna was stunned to find the place looked different from what she thought of it- there were no skulls, the birds didn’t have the head of a sea lion, there were no talking dogs to be seen, nor were there any barking cats, and the trees and plants weren’t singing either.
Hamid got down after them and explained.
“In Arabic, Mokattam means ‘cut off’ or ‘broken off’. The mountain is divided into three sections. The highest section is the most dangerous. No one has returned from that point. The other two sections are easy to trudge through.”
Vienna smiled and said, “We are heading for the highest.” Hamid, though impressed by Vienna’s courage, was too afraid to get out of the vehicle.
Vienna and Tanny started walking up the mountain. It was difficult terrain, but Vienna’s training in mountaineering helped her scale up fast. After she reached the highest section of the mountain, she sat down to take rest and drink water. While sipping water, she heard Tanny barking at a big rock. She got suspicious and went close and saw the word ‘CAUTION’ inscribed on the rock. Vienna’s sixth sense whispered to her- the Golden Chipmunk is here.
She pushed the rock with all her energy. To her surprise, the rock slithered into an opening. There was a small cave where a chipmunk sat, cradled in a cleft, emitting golden shine. Vienna had found the Golden Chipmunk!
However, to retrieve the Chipmunk, she had to pass through several tricky traps. Vienna took a deep breath and looked at Tannie, who was getting restless to enter the cave. She asked him to wait near the rock and prepared to enter. With a deep breath, she said to herself, “Where there is a will, there is a way!”
She ducked down and jumped five times to escape the giant swinging blades, and at last, she rolled over a huge mud ball and reached the Golden Chipmunk. Cautiously, she picked it up with her bare hands, nestling it between her arms.
Suddenly, there was a thunderous noise! The swinging blades collapsed. Vienna ran out of the cave, like a deer escaping a hunter. Coming out of the cave, she picked Tannie up in her arms and started running downward, until she was out of danger.
Vienna reached the top of the mountain, Mokattam, and she was thrilled. She quickly snapped out of it, telling herself she would have enough time to celebrate once she delivered the Golden Chipmunk and proved herself to Dr. Cooper. Vienna also wanted to prove her efficiency by completing the mission before time.
Hamid was stunned to see Vienna and Tannie running down the hill alive. Vienna jumped into the front seat, safely placed the Golden Chipmunk in the backseat, and drove towards the airport at high speed. She was determined to catch the next flight back to Melbourne.
On the way to the airport, Hamid said, “You are a brave lady! No one has scaled the highest point and come down without getting injured.” Vienna smiled and continued to focus on the road.
She reached the airport just in time to board the plane. It was a long flight; Vienna took this opportunity to get some rest. She didn’t realize when her drowsiness slipped into a deep sleep. She started dreaming of holiday time in California- Santa Clause, cakes, chocolates, laughter, and joy with her parents and brothers. Throughout the year, she longed to dig into her mother’s signature fruit cake, stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, and raisin pudding. This year, she decided to sacrifice all of it to fulfill her professional commitment.
She was fast asleep when the flight attendant announced they had landed in Melbourne.
After deboarding, she decided to go to the University and meet Dr. Cooper without wasting much time. She was still apprehensive. Dr. Cooper was always at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day to watch his favourite sport, Cricket. Nevertheless, she wanted to give it a shot, as she didn’t want to risk taking the precious relic to her house.
To her surprise, she found Dr. Cooper and his team in the office. Vienna walked into his office with disheveled hair and beads of sweat on her forehead, yet she looked confident of her achievement. The moment she opened Dr. Cooper’s office door, she was greeted with thunderous applause by Cooper and her departmental colleagues.
Cooper proudly said, “I knew you would bring the Chipmunk, so I decided to skip my Boxing Day match, just the way you skipped being at home for Christmas. Also, all colleagues have skipped their family time to be here and celebrate your grand victory.”
With pride, Vienna handed over the Golden Chipmunk to the director of the university museum. As Vienna prepared to go home, Dr. Cooper asked her to wait until he made an announcement.
“This is the first time in the last 30 years,” he said, “that someone as young as Vienna has completed the mission in record time. So, on behalf of the University, I would like to thank Vienna for her incredible achievement. I have the pleasure to announce a cash prize of $50,000 and a promotion in her name. Vienna will now be a senior faculty in the archeology department, starting next term.”
Listening to the announcement, Vienna could not hold back her tears. With elation, she yelled “Thanks for making it a ‘Memorable Christmas’ Dr. Cooper”.
And the most memorable Christmas it was!
Atreyee Roy was born in 2009 in a Bengali family in Tamil Nadu. In the first decade of her life, Atreyee visited a number of places in India and abroad. She loves going to her native village in Odisha, where she enjoys fishing and swimming in the river. She is an avid dancer and has formed a dance club in her community. She loves to read books on history, archeology and paleontology. She is currently studying in class 6, at PSBB Millennium School, Chennai.