Alone. All alone. He stood all alone in the middle of that place. His eyes looked up at the sky looking at the stars. Stars were his world. His only friends who would never leave him. He had recently learned that the twinkle that people saw in the sky was just the brightness of the stars reaching the earth late. So in reality people saw the past. A past memory of the very bright stars. He was looking at the light that had glowed hours back. His only friends were pigments of some distant memory that didn’t even belong to him. The grass felt cold under his bare feet. He had spent the entire day inside and the night time was the only time he ever came out to look at the stars, rather the memory of the stars. He felt a cool breeze bristle past him. It was that time of the season when it was a little cold. He felt the hair on his hand rise and goose bumps covered his body. That place always did it to him. The first time around he’d been there he couldn’t survive it for more than a few hours but today he felt like he was back home. Back to that happy time where all he had felt was laughter and bliss.
In his rut of a life he was considered a recluse who rarely talked, kept to himself, worked a lot and just survived every day. But at night, every night since that fateful night, he’d come to the very spot where he stood now. He would sit and think of the times that had passed. The time he had laughed. The time he had played. The time he had made love. The time he had smoked. The time he had felt like he was happy. He could hear the laughter at times. But more often than not he heard a piercing silence. The silence just reminded him of the absence of what he had lost. Yet he came to keep that pain alive. To keep that memory alive. It had been almost a decade and yet the place kept him on a leash. For the watchmen who made his night round, this man was a nutcase. The watchmen had seen him cry, seen him dance, seen him sing, and seen him run here and there. It was the most unreal sight to see a grown man with a decent lifestyle act like a mad one. He would often shrug and say, “Those city folk are weird!” and walk away.
But the watchmen knew not why he stood there and danced or sang or wailed. This man felt at ease when he was there. It was the only place he would feel like himself or at least feel a distant connection to the man he had once been. An outlet to his past, a past so glorious and so distant. When he wasn’t here he felt like a dummy whose strings were in the hands of an unknown force. He would live through a day and not remember a single thing he had done that held any importance. His life was passing by like a meaningless debacle. But he felt something at night. He felt calm. A connection when he came back to that place. Today he was content by just sitting at his spot and looking at the stars. For the past few days he had been feeling uneasiness. His emotions had changed. The feelings had changed. They seemed like a distant memory now. They still left a pang in his heart but he had stopped prancing around and reliving. Now he would just sit and remember. It had become harder. Some things had changed. Some hadn’t. Some memories lived. Some died. And he felt incomplete. He felt suffocated without them but he had no choice. He couldn’t abandon them again. He couldn’t run again. He just couldn’t walk away again and live his life without this. This was his place. His everything.
He smiled when he remembered the time that she had kissed him. They awoke in each other’s embrace and he remembered her hands had caressed his face. They had one of those kisses, the kind that makes you feel connected. It was a perfect kiss. Passion and intimacy. He remembered how he had walked through his home looking around. He felt comfortable in his home. He even thought of his child, his little girl who looked like an angel while she slept on her princess bed in her room. He could hear his mother’s voice in the background singing her daily prayer. He could see his father struggling with the new sport shoes and fussing about how complicated things had become. He walked through that morning like he had every night. And then things changed. They felt a jerk. A jerk they had never felt before. Everyone looked shocked. His little girl was awake and calling for her mother. He saw her run to their child. His mother’s voice had stopped singing. His father stood with one shoe in his hand the other on his foot and fear on his face. And the jerking began. Everything began shaking. At first it was a jerk and then it grew. It grew into a violent and deadly shake. Everything was falling. The walls that had been their safe harbour were beginning to crack. At first they were small but the cracks grew exponentially. The walls began to break. He yelled for them all to run and lead them. Soon they were outside their home running down the stairs to get out. Everything was crumbling around them. Piece by piece everything fell. His father was the first to fall. His little girl kept screaming out of fear. His wife was drained of all her blood out of shock. She couldn’t move. She was in a state of panic. He tried to move her but she wouldn’t. He picked her up and ran. He was too scared to register his father’s fatal fall. He just ran. He had to save everything. He had to save everyone. They were his life, his family. He ran dragging and pulling them. And that’s when the floor beneath their feet crumbled. In a moment the beautiful morning turned deadly and soon he was pressed down on his own daughter and his wife on his other hand. A huge slab of rock pressed him from the back. His daughter was bleeding and his shirt was drenched with her blood. His wife was stiff in his arms. He saw his mother’s feet right in front of him. A bigger stone pressed her down. For the next 37 hours he lay their incapacitated. He passed in and out of consciousness. His daughter’s breath kept falling. His wife wasn’t moving at all. He kept believing he was dead too. He didn’t want to let them go. He kept holding onto them. There were times when he’d feel tears down his cheek but he wasn’t sure how real they were. He prayed for this to be a bad dream but god wasn’t listening. Suddenly he felt movement. The huge slab of debris that pinned him down began to move. He felt hands grabbing him. He strengthened his grip on his family. He couldn’t let them go. They might survive. He didn’t want to let them go. But everything else was a blur.
He woke up with a jolt. He was in the hospital one moment listening to the doctor tell him of his family’s death and the other he was back at the place where once his building, his home and his family stood. His eyes were wet. His heart was aching. He was back underneath that rock pressing him to his dead daughter. His hands shivered with which he had held his wife. He was there with them. He was there alone. He could still see his mother’s bloody feet, his father’s shoes, his daughters scream and his wife’s last kiss.
The stars were disappearing and the sky had turned greyish. The sun was about to rise and another pointless day without his family awaited him. He got up and turned to walk away from the life he wanted more than anything. The life that the earthquake had taken away from him. Other than God he blamed no one. And he walked. The only sense of life that he felt was when he came to the death bed of his family. That earthquake had taken a lot from a lot of people. He called it god’s joke. God had left him healthy and unharmed but had killed his soul, his reason for life.
~Dedicated to the millions who died during the earthquake that happened almost a decade back in Gujarat on 26th January 2001. It was one of the most horrific experience of my life. The pain and suffering was unimaginable.
Shweta A. K.