She was standing on a bridge. The skies were painted bright red by the setting sun. There was this steady rippling sound of flowing water. The dark clouds formed a strange pattern. Somehow, the whole nature reflected the mood she was in. Birds were returning to their nests ... She felt they were chattering about the day's experiences. There had been lot of fun, adventure, tears, anger, disputes, fights, friendship and love in her life. Those days seemed to be in the distant past... She used to reflect on them with a strange sort of detachment. She had become so much used to the sense of loss, that she even feared to dream.
But today something happened which triggered her childhood memories. The Great Sichuan Earthquake was the news headlines. As she read those reports, she was left speechless. She was lost in thoughts of her own homeland. She could recollect lots of moments from her childhood which she had pushed back to the corners of her mind.. smiling faces of her parents, the red-oxide floor, the three steps on the veranda, the red roses near them, her old bicycle, the colorful chains, fights with siblings, last bench in the classroom, playing with friends, dad reading the newspaper, a tree filled with umpteen ripe mangoes, children throwing stones at them, then the college days, laughter at the hostel, television sessions, the fear that swept over her when the Bhuj earthquake was reported, rush back to home, tearful faces, rescue operations, the whole ruins around, indefinite search .. and suddenly she wanted all things to get blurred ... She was always running away from the facts. She never could accept her past losses as a whole.
It was year 2001. She was at Ahmadabad doing her 3rd semester in B.Tech. She used to go home in every 2 weeks and this week also she was supposed to go. As it was republic day, she decided to stay at hostel and take part in the 'Wings of Hope' activities organized by their college. Her day started pretty early. They were to be in college by 8.00 AM for flag-hoisting. After the national anthem, students were forming groups and setting off to the orphanages to give food and gifts they had collected. It was then one of the students received a call from his friends watching the TV. A devastating, high magnitude earth quake has struck in Bhuj and the whole area was destroyed. She was shell-shocked. Her home was in the earthquake hit area. The whole world seemed to doom upon her. She didn't have enough strength to imagine what could have happened to her family. She now badly wanted to be in her home-town.
The journey was hard and emotionally tiresome. She couldn’t get any information about her family. The whole transport system was blocked. After a long journey, they found that roads were all damaged. It was impossible for the vehicle to move forward. So, she started walking. All she could see around was total damage and disaster. The sights filled her with so much fright. She prayed hard for her loved ones to be safe. She would give anything for them to be safe. But as she moved on, she became hopeless. Most of the houses, schools, hospitals and other buildings were flattened. The place was an utter chaos. Like her, the people who survived were searching for their dear ones. Children were crying everywhere. The medics were rushing all over to help the injured. People were trying to rescue those who were trapped under the ruins. She found detached limbs, lifeless figures and blood all around.
She tried to locate the place where her house stood. But, all that faced her was a huge pile of damaged building materials and a portion of the wall. She didn't have enough courage to look more. She sat paralyzed, staring at the remains. She wished she had come home for the weekend. God had been cruel enough to keep her alive and make her a victim of the disaster. The few seconds in which mother earth expressed her anger made her lose everything associated with her life. She had lost her whole family, her home, most of the people she had known and loved. Her whole life, till that point was ruined.
Later, somebody retrieved the bodies of her dear ones from underneath the demolished concrete. She didn't want to see them now. She wanted the lively images to persist in her memory, not these images. But the situation forced her to confront them. She was the only one left to accept them and pay due respects to the departed souls. Till date, her body burns with the pain they would have suffered. So many times she wished, had I been home that weekend, we could have planned something else and my life wouldn't have changed so drastically. She wouldn't have been left alone to face this world. Those few seconds changed her life forever. She had almost lost her whole identity of existence. She even doubted if God existed. How could he be so merciless? She was left with nothing but thoughts which used to drive her crazy and lonely.
Life had forced her to move on, bearing the survivor's guilt. She graduated with good score and became a software engineer. She remembered the list of things she had promised her mother with her first salary. She could not gift her brother the most sophisticated watch. She could not invest in their business to make it bigger, as they dreamed of. She could not buy a car for her family (As a matter of fact, she didn't study driving till now in her life. She somehow avoided it always). She could not make the lawn for their garden and buy more plants. She missed those gardening sessions with her father. She could not paint their rooms with their favorite colors. She could not buy better furniture and beautiful curtains for her home. There were very many small and big things which they dreamed of doing when she got a high-paid job. Her parents had always given her the best they could, sacrificing their own likes and interests. She wanted her parents to live a rich, comfortable and happy life. They had planned so much. But, as somebody rightly said, Man proposes but God disposes.
The slight drizzle brought her back to the present, to one of the small bridges across the river Yangtze, Shanghai. She was now a little more than thousand kilometers away from the disaster area. She decided to reach the affected area as soon as possible and join the rescue operations. She was not sure if she could stand the view of the disaster. But, she remembered the many people who had tried their best to rescue her villages from the ruins and put back the city in order. Now, it was her chance to help someone.
So, she set out to Sichuan, in hope of rescuing someone or help someone overcome the despair and grief of loss. Maybe, she will also find some peace of mind, if she could really be of help to the people out there …