I slump on a mattress on the floor in the ground floor of my house. I look around at the familiar walls – I’ve been surrounded by them since I was two years old – and find them menacing. I try not to imagine the walls caving in to crush me and my loved ones, but I can’t help it. I look around trying to picture in my head what I should do when the next jolt comes. If it is big, will we have time to rush out? If not, where can we take cover? I stare blankly at a little backpack that sits at my foot every night. I need to put in some more batteries, and a headlight would probably be better than a torch, I think.
I drag myself out into my little compound from time to time. I stand beneath the garage and look up at my house. This is my house; I have always known it but never gave it much thought. But now I look at it from every possible angle. I gaze ruefully at the existing cracks and automatically scan for new cracks or loose bricks. I wonder if I can depend on the pillars I have always taken for granted. I try to calculate which way the house will sway and collapse if it comes to that, and where my family should be standing for minimum damage.
The neighbourhood has suddenly started to appear disturbingly threatening. My two and a half storey house is surrounded by taller buildings on three sides. One house away, a four storey building seems to be slightly leaning to one side. I had never thought about these houses before, now they seem to be looming too close for comfort – as if preparing to attack. One more thing I need to escape should the need arise. I glance at a few chairs and spare beds out under the garage. I can deal with a scattered life, but I cannot deal with this constant fear.
I walk the streets of the city I have always known and loved. I realize acutely the absence of old structures that were supposed to always be there, but I try to ignore it. I haven’t been able to summon the courage to get closer and really acknowledge the destruction. I notice every building as I walk, I cringe at the crack. I imagine most of the structures to be shifting or leaning, waiting for me to walk beneath them so they can finally let go. I curse my morbid imaginings under my breath, until my attention shifts to a suspiciously slanted electric pole or a wall waiting to crumble. Almost everything seems to give way to palpable fear and invites compulsive, sinister misgivings. This is like watching the Dumb Ways to Die video on loop.
I log on to Facebook and Twitter, read newspapers and listen to people. Once I get through the news on death and destruction, there is more to be optimistic about. There are hopeful stories from rescue, relief and rebuilding to survivors, and volunteers, etc. I reflect on the people I have met after the Earthquake – people who are enduring, resilient, always willing to move forward. I try to read all the articles, I look out for ways to be helpful and occupied, all the while reminding myself I need to keep my spirit up. This is enough to distract me for a bit – usually until the next jolt. I often find myself dreading and awaiting these relentless aftershocks. When it comes though, it’s back to square one; all that matters is whether I was able to run out to a safe and open space in time.
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