I knew what was happening. Instinctively, like a long-forgotten piano song that wells to my fingers when they stroke the white and black keys. This memory must lay deep within the homo sapien psyche, reaching back to when the earth was still new and threw tantrums, tears of lava bursting forth as a shuddering sob tore the ground apart, uprooted trees, roused the sea, leaving only the sky unshaken. I, sitting on the balcony, plastic chair, folded Times magazine in hand, considering lunch, when suddenly I felt the earth stir through the legs of my chair and with it my heart paused, primal ears pricking.
Everything began to vibrate, a distant gong resounding from deep within the earth, the mountains themselves emitting an audible groan – that sound I will never forget. My feet carried me to the street below as did everyone else’s; we hugged each other, not sure what else to hold onto. When the ground shakes everything shakes; power lines swung like slack skipping ropes and buildings wavered as if in a nervous dance; I waited for the ground to split beneath my feet and reveal a cavernous black vein into the earth. We all waited, naked in our fear as the one thing we always took for granted threatened our trust and confronted us with death, and some people had their lives taken away from them, unfairly, unjustly – they did not ask to die, but they never had the chance to negotiate.
Tragedies multiplied around the country and I was still alive in the world where they deserved to be too. I felt guilty for having life in the destruction – streets crumbled, piles of destroyed lives, buildings with walls torn down to reveal the innocent bedroom of a child who would never sit in a bedroom again, confined to the mere existence of being someone else’s fading memory.
The city was shocked into silence, until people had no choice but to resume their daily lives with sadness in their hearts, deep gashes in the city and countryside, roads swallowed, trees felled, mud huts caved in to a dusty pile of rubble, the village people quiet and wide-eyed, children strangely wise, the mountains echoing silence. I saw a nation lose its hope, and through the brave faces people pulled over their fear I saw humanity stripped bare and the beauty that permeates it. I saw life.