It was a dull Friday morning. Nothing unusual in the air, the birds sang their familiar music, the wind blew in its normal pace and the sky assumed its usual color. I had gone to the kitchen to heat some milk for Ivana. I was weak and lazy, therefore decided to compromise the morning breakfast with rice and vegetables. My husband was gone since the morning and I assumed he was probably out working in the field again. Elsa had gone to school and Ivana was still sleeping. Elsa’s classes had started early in the morning. She had skipped breakfast again and I was wondering if she would be hungry by now. I decided to pack some dry food for her. I hoped that Ivana would sleep for a few more hours. She had been crying the entire night and gave me a really tough time rocking her to sleep. Tired and sleepy, I leaned on to the wall for a support while waiting for the milk to boil. I had a few seconds before it boiled, and I closed my eyes to make use of the void.
I only stayed in that state for a moment longer, I felt a sudden tremor transfer through the walls of my house and then right through my body. The impact had suddenly pushed me down flat to the floor. My head hit the sides of the bottom shelf and my hand turned bloody as I touched to measure the intensity of it. Before I managed to steady myself or to open my eyes, I could hear loud and distant shrieks, rumbling of things around me, pounding of buildings and objects and I was immediately engulfed in panic and apprehension. I quickly opened my eyes to take charge of the situation. I watched in horror that almost everything around me had fallen down to pieces as I sprang my way through the debris to the room where Ivana laid.
She was crying then and my heart skipped a few beats before I took her in my hands. I took her out of the cradle along with a pile of crumbled clothes that lay around and crawled under the bed. She was crying loudly along with me. Hot tears were flowing down my own eyes and the blood oozing out from my head mixed with it to flow down in thick springs and wet the linen that wrapped her. I did not exactly know if I had to run out or stay under the bed, all I could do was to yell out for help on top of my voice. I stayed there for a few more minutes waiting for help to arrive before I felt the earth shake again. I closed my eyes and held Ivana as close to me as I could. The pain in my head was growing by each second while I prayed for our lives to be spared. This time I heard a distinct rumbling of walls around me break down into massive chunks. It only lasted a few seconds, but it seemed like an hour. I felt as if the ground was going to tear apart to engulf us in it. The wailing at the distance grew more prominent and my own wailing floated along with theirs in a chorus.
It was then that the ceiling came crashing down. The bed I was hiding under had now been slashed into two. A wooden plank pierced straight through the back of my shoulders the next second. I was yawning and shrieking in pain and terror. For a second, I thought I would never get out. Everything around me was vibrating, moving, shaking, trembling and it seemed like an eternity before it stopped. I knew it was risky to stay indoors anymore. I did not want to get trapped in the wreckage. I knew that I would not probably make it outside alive if the tremor hit again, but I knew that I had to do whatever it takes to keep Ivana alive. I crawled out of the bed shielding her around my chest and running out through the remains of my house towards where the door to our house once stood. All I could see were smashed windows, jammed doors and ceiling down to the floor. I stood perplexed not knowing what to do.
It was then that I noticed thick clouds of smoke and fumes erupt out of our tiny kitchen. I started wailing again as I started to run around the house in a frenzy looking for an escape route. I did not know how Elsa had been or why their father did not come looking for us yet. I felt a shudder as an evil realization dawned upon me. If we remained indoors, the fire would definitely kill us even if the quake did not. When I saw light falling down through a broken window, I saw my chance and seared towards it. I crept out through the tiny space and felt pieces of the glass pricking my skin. Pieces of my clothing were torn but this was not the right time to worry about honor or disgrace.
The sight outside horrified me. There was no yard, no fence, no trees or buildings around. Everything had fallen to the ground and the village was in a state of utter catastrophe. Ivana had stopped crying sometime through the ordeal. I ran out to look for their father into the yard but he was nowhere to be seen. Still holding Ivana close, I sprang out to the place where I saw a crowd. There was death and destruction everywhere. Most of them had lost relatives, houses, cattle, and the land. Now, we had nothing except the clothes we wore and the pieces of accessories we managed to pick up through the escape. I was bleeding heavily now and I knew I was slowly losing consciousness.
I opened my eyes in a green tent made of cloth and I realized I was lying on the floor against and small rocks and pebbles piercing into my back. My shoulders were exposed and thick white bandage surrounded a portion of it. I saw a few men in military uniforms outside the tent safeguarding me and a few other wounded women and their children.I wondered if our protectors knew if their own family were sound and alive. And then it struck me. I couldn’t find Ivana. I rushed out of the tent to look out for her.I knew she was with me right till I passed out. I roared to the man in the uniform asking about her. He asked me to relax and gave me a sheet of paper to fill in my details. He promised to return with Ivana in a while. I couldn’t relax or calm down. There was so much of anguish and despair all around that the fear of the worst started to eat me alive.
I walked around to see hundreds of similar tents around. The news of thousands of people who were dead and missing around the state spread all around. There were corpses heaped around in every other corner. There were priests, doctors, Muslims, Christians, illiterates, children, elderly. Everyone laid on their backs next to each other. The woman next to me told me that around 60 school children were found dead in the school that Elsa attended. I did not wish to stay alive to wake up to this news ever. I worried about her being hungry and now they were telling me that probably she would never have to eat again. They were telling me I would probably never see her again. We set out to the school to look for our kids unwilling to believe the military statistics.
Outside the demolished school were a hundred children in blue and white uniforms who were dragged out of the classrooms only to be moved out to tiny coffins. Some lost a leg, some had lost their hands, some couldn’t move anymore while some lost their eyesight. My heart shattered to pieces and I felt the helplessness consuming me from within. It was then that I saw her being taken away. I almost fell down to my knees at the sight of her lifeless limb falling out of a carriage. I hopped on to her and held her frame tightly against mine. I did not know how to hold on anymore. Hot tears fell down my cheeks and I began to howl and yell at her pale body. I shook her violently plunging my nails into her bare flesh asking her to wake up. I kicked and hit my heads to the floor as I watched them carry her away.
The news of Ivana’s death arrived in the evening. They hadn’t even given me the time to come to terms with Elsa’s demise . And now, they were telling me the toddler who was only crying a few hours ago was now no more. Their father did not come back yet and Elsa was gone too. I did not know why this was happening to me. Ivana was only four few months old. I did not even have enough of her. She was not even old enough to remember our faces. I knew I shouldn’t have come out of the house at all. And this was the toll I had to pay. I would have happily traded my entire life for them if that made their survival possible. All I could do was to cry out in pain, bang my head to the ground and curse my own destiny.
It was not the fallen buildings or busted monuments around that worried me, what was more deplorable was the sight of a hundred broken families and countless promises that went un-kept. There were so many around me who had seen their reason for living become one with the soil. Children who saw their father buried, mother buried and siblings buried. There were families where every other survived member had become helpless handicaps. There were thousands of us who were lonely now. None can ever mend the repairs to our lives or families.No one who could give us the answers we wanted. And the worst part is that there was no one to blame except our wretched fate. Our life can never be normal again.The meaning of life will never be same again. The quake had robbed us of everything we had. I had no family or a place to call home. I was no more a mother or a wife. I was a victim. A victim of a calamity that turned thousands of innocent men into nothing more than mere victims.