The darkness is full of silence, my love, except for the slow drip of water somewhere nearby.
I wish I could reach the water – not to turn it off, even if I could, but to drink a little. I’m appallingly thirsty, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, my throat so dray I find it nearly impossible to swallow. It must be at least a day or longer since I’ve last had anything to drink.
I listen to the water, since it’s the only thing I can hear, and I wish, my darling, that – since I can’t drink from it – that it would stop. The sound of it is torture. At other times I listen to it, and I imagine it’s your voice.
There is no way I can reach the dripping water. There must be a hundred tons of broken building on top of me, and a substantial portion of that is pressing down on my legs, abdomen and right arm. A huge slab of masonry is just above my face, close enough that if I raise my head my nose and forehead touch it. Something has wedged the slab in place before it could fall all the way down and crush me flat.
Maybe someone would say that was a kindness. I don’t think you would, though. Not if you knew where I am, and how.
Don’t you worry about pain, though. I’m feeling no pain at all. In fact, apart from my head, neck, and left arm, I have no sensation, anywhere. The numbness has lasted long enough for me to stop worrying that the sensation would come creeping back.
I remember how you used to laugh at my dislike for pain. You were always the strong one, the one who could tolerate physical discomfort, while I was the one who would wince at paper cuts and twisted ankles. It was the same when it rained; I was the one who would hate getting wet, while you delighted in it, gloried in the feel of the water crashing down and soaking you to the skin.
Now I have no pain and no water, either. You needn’t worry, my darling, on that account.
I wonder how long it has been since the earthquake. I was walking upstairs to the bank when it struck. At first I’d thought it was nothing, one of the tiny quakes we had ten or fifteen times a year, and not even hesitated as I walked up the stairs. Then a giant hand grabbed hold of the building and shook, shook hard, the reinforced concrete crumpling like paper. Running was useless, so I’d stood where I was on the landing till it fell away below me.
The cold is getting more severe. I can feel it stealing up my chest, little by little, like a rising tide. Maybe the water I’m hearing is gathering beneath me, and it’s going to kill me with hypothermia before I die of thirst.
That’s the kind of joke I would have told you if I could have talked to you now. In the old days I’d have laughed immoderately and you’d have called me stupid.
I wish I could hear you call me stupid now.
By now, my love, you must have heard about the earthquake. Wherever you are, they’ll have spoken about it in the media, because a quake that could bring down a building like this would have laid waste to the town. How many injured, how many dead? Ten thousand, a hundred thousand? Is there a count that makes sense?
Once upon a time, I’d been talking to you about the meaninglessness of numbers when talking of deaths en masse. We’d been lying in bed after making love, you snuggled against my side, your arm thrown across my chest, listening to my voice; maybe you weren’t that interested in what I was saying, you were listening to me speak – because that was how much you loved me.
“If there’s a single death,” I’d said, looking up at the ceiling fan slowly turning round and round, “say, a kid run over by a car, then that’s a tragedy. The kid has a name, a face. Its parents are people. Its classmates and teachers can be depended on to shed tears. But if you have forty people, say, killed in a bus that falls off a cliffside road, then that one death is divided by forty. The impact is so much less; you can’t have it otherwise. Isn’t that true?”
“Mmm hmm,” you’d said, your face rubbing against my ribs, your hair spread across my shoulder.
“So you have a thousand killed in a train accident, or fifty thousand killed in a war. Who can even remember their names? Even if you found a list of their names, what would it matter to anyone? You don’t know who those people are, do you? So how does it matter, unless you know one of them personally?”
Your hand had gone tracking down my chest and past my navel, and after that we’d had other things to do than talk.
Oh, but I remember those times, my darling, your sighs as we made love, your laughter as I said something that amused you, even your outrage when we fought. I don’t think I’ve ever remembered them quite as well as at this moment, with the thirst gnawing away my throat and the cold spreading up towards my heart.
So. Now I am one of those faceless thousands – I wonder how many there are who were mercifully extinguished in that first instance. I wonder how many were picked broken by the rescuers from the rubble – for certainly they must be busy, far above, though they will never reach down here, not in the time I have left. And I wonder how many are lying like me under masses of shattered brick and stone, waiting for the end. There must be a lot. Some of them might be within almost touching distance of me, if only I could move both my arms and there was nothing in the way.
I wonder what you’re doing now. I don’t have any sense of time, of course, so I have no idea if it’s day or night up there. I don’t even know where you are now, in what part of the world; maybe the stars are shining down on you while a noonday sun glowers down on this flattened town. Perhaps you’re at work, frowning over Excel sheets and task lists. How hard you tried to make me understand Excel, and how frustrated you got with my stupidity! It makes me smile, and brings a brief flush of warmth. I wish I could tell you: next time you explain it to me, I promise to understand.
If I could call you, would you take my call? Don’t worry, I won’t be disturbing you at work, or in whatever you’re doing. My cell phone is lost forever, trapped in my trouser pocket beside my right hand; it might as well be on Ganymede for all the good it does me. But suppose I could, would you take it?
I imagine your frown as you see the number on your phone, the old familiar number, after so long. Maybe you wouldn’t take the call. But I’d like to imagine that at this moment, knowing of the quake, you would take it.
“Hello?” you’d say.
I used to tease you about that “Hello”, made always in that defensive tone of voice. “Don’t you even check to see who’s calling?” I used to ask.
“Hi,” I’d say, now, when you took the call. “Hi, my love.”
There would be, perhaps, a brief moment of silence. Then what would you reply? Would it be a flat “Yes,” or would you cry out my name at my call, at that intimation that I’m alive? What would you say?
I know what I would say, though. If you would talk to me, I would walk us through our memories together, the long talks over the phone, hour after hour; the walks down a sandy beach, hand in hand, the ice creams we’d shared while you ordered me not to gobble yours all up. If you would talk to me, I would remind you of the stupid jokes we’d cracked, and how you’d pretended not to know the world was round until I’d realised you were doing that to amuse me. If you would talk to me, I’d tell you about the times I would run to you in the airport arrival lounge and hug you so tight that neither of us could breathe.
If you would talk to me, my love, I would remind you again that I’ll love you forever and always, that my love never died, and never will. Even though my body won’t survive more than a few hours longer at most, and even though I have no belief in any life after death, I won’t go away. I will always be with you.
When you look out of the window and see the crows hopping along the wall, I’ll be those crows. I’ll be the squirrel which runs up to your kitchen window, demanding to be fed. I’ll be the green moth which flutters along your ceiling of an evening. I’ll be the snail which you find crawling slowly along the gutter, and I’ll be the kites which wheel overhead in the afternoon sunshine.
I will be there, my love, when you see the green commuter trains run along their tracks, and remember me sitting by you, squashed against a sweaty fat man with a greasy turban on his head. I’ll be in the rain which comes crashing down and the thunder and lightning, I’ll be there in the wind and the storm, I’ll be there in your waking and I’ll be there when you go to bed.
If you would talk to me, my love, I would remind you of what you’d once told me, a long time ago; that you would love me forever and a day.
The cold has reached over my heart, high enough that I can, somehow, reach round my left arm and touch it; and, yes, it is water. I bring it to my lips, lick the thin film of moisture off my fingers, and dip again. Maybe I’ll drown before I freeze, then. Funny.
My arm moves up and down, mechanically, pulling a few drops to my lips. We’d walk together drinking soda out of bottles, which would turn into sweat in high summer almost as fast as we drank it down.
...I must have slept a bit, perhaps. The water has almost reached my chin. If I crane my neck I can let drops dribble into my mouth. It’s just as well, the cold is numbing, too much to bear, too much for me to move my left arm any longer.
If you would talk to me, my love, I’d tell you about entropy, about how all the energy in the universe is running down to a state of total equilibrium, and when that happens, that will be the end of time and space. Oh, I’d tell you all about black holes and the Big Bang, and dark matter and energy, and how every atom of our bodies, every bit of our energies, came from the stars and would in the end return to the stars again. Would you listen to me as I told you this? I’d like to think you would, at least this one time.
If you would talk to me, my love, I’d tell you about my dreams, about the dinosaurs and vampires and crazy people who did even more insane things, and you’d laugh at me and tell me people don’t sleep to watch free movies, they sleep to get some rest. And then you would laugh at me again, for sleeping so much.
If you would talk to me, my love, I’d tell you about the photos you sent me, with your tongue stuck out and your eyes crossed, and I’d tell you how glad they made me feel, and how they never failed to bring a dash of pleasure to my heart. I would tell you never to stop taking photos like that, if only because I would be in those photos, too.
If you would talk to me, my love, I’d be telling you about the bike rides we’d taken, you yelling instructions over my shoulder as you checked the GPS on your phone for directions, your voice half carried away by the wind so I had to keep telling you to repeat yourself.
The wind was in your hair, the wheels sang on the road, and the warmth was all around, the warmth of your arms around me, the warmth of the sun on our skins, the warmth of your love, my love, the warmth of everything.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014