They ran then, and as they ran, the earth shook and rumbled beneath their feet and bewildered voices of fellow villagers could be heard. Khai just kept yelling ‘Run to the mountain!’ at everyone they passed.
Walls were collapsing around them and roofs were being peeled off by the force of the gale.
Khai remembered Tajir yanking her to one side as an uprooted tree suddenly fell across their path, missing her and Ju by mere inches. Then they heard screams from the village they had left behind and the great swoosh of water, but still they kept running. Running and praying. They were almost there.
“Khai, up here,” Tajir yelled over his shoulder, leading the way up the hike-trail.
Khai’s legs were trembling under the weight, tired from the endless run and cut and bruised from the foliage and rough pebbles underfoot. They were halfway up the mountain when Khai sank to the still heaving ground, exhausted. “Tajir, stop,” she managed between the ragged breaths which forced their way out of her chest. She closed her eyes and held her child close to her racing heart. When she opened her eyes again, she saw the sea rush over the beloved wooden structures that they had called home.
Tajir sank down next to her. “Sayang, I don’t get this. You came running in, I thought you had lost it and I don’t know why I just grabbed our kids and followed you.”
Ju was crying and there were tears in Himo’s eyes. “Bu, Rex…”
Khai reached out for her son and kissed his forehead wordlessly. “I don’t know, Tajir. I don’t know.”
He saw the fear in her eyes then and he put a hand over her shoulder as they watched the carnage of the flooding waters. He could feel the silent shudders that wrecked her small body even as she put on a show of courage for their two young ones. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer for the people they had left behind.
When her silent sobs had subsided, he kissed her cheek. “We have to keep going, Khai. Can you manage?” Even with the overtones of fatigue Khai could hear the concern in his voice.
She nodded and stood up.
They made their way to the mountain top on all fours, slipping and sliding, and with minimal vision in the dark. Two days later they were rescued by air lifts.
The youngest child had been clutching an almost empty bottle of water when the rescue team found them. The four of them were very emotional and the elder child kept insisting that their mother had known, but that was just not possible for no national warning had been issued of the impending disaster. The mother and father were semi comatose from exhaustion and dehydration; they had given most of the water to the children apparently.
When I set up the IV line for rehydration, the elder child asked me if I had seen Rex and I shook my head, wondering how I would tell him that both of his parents might not make it through the night.
“Lie still, little one. Moving will make the line come out, and you have to set an example for your sister, no?” I said in a light tone, knowing that the ragged looking girl was watching from the bed next to his.
Then the rescue workers brought more injured people and I had to move away.
I learned that the child’s name had been Himaran, and that his sister and he had been relocated to a survivors’ camp. There, they had described the mad dash for the mountain. From the bits of information they had overheard from their late parents’ last conversations and stories of their last night in the wooden hut that they had told another rescue worker friend of mine, I pieced this together. It left me wondering if Khai had had a premonition that fateful December night and just how many more stories like this are out there.
The characters and events in this story, like most of the things I write, are real, but the ‘I’ in the story isn’t me. There are some fictitious parts to it – I had to create continuity – but I pretty much based the story on a friend’s retelling (the friend is the aide worker who set up the IV line).
I also changed the names of the people involved.
This story occurred during the massive tsunamis in the Asian region 6+ years ago and is dedicated to everyone who has suffered the devastating effects of a natural disaster before.
May Khai, Tajir and Rex rest in peace and I hope that Himo and Ju have found solace in each other and rediscovered how to fit into society.