Everyone started running helter-skelter. There were many people on the beach besides Emmeline’s group and she knew that she had very little time from the moment the water receded, to the time the wave would hit to get everyone as far away from the beach as possible. She lost sight of her friends among the crowd. She hoped that they were safe. She got irritated when she saw one lady trying to carry her mattress, her bag and all her other belongings as a result of which she couldn’t run fast. Emmeline ran to her “What on earth do you think you are doing woman? Leave it and run! Do you value your things more than your life?” she made the lady drop every thing and run along with the rest.
She saw Jonathan close by helping an old man to walk fast. A few others from her group were carrying small children and running. Some were just running for their lives. She couldn’t see Nadia.
“Emmeline run to my house. It’s on a high hill. The wave won’t reach us there. It’s our only hope.” Shania shouted to her. And so they ran. Helping each other and shouting to one another to run to Shania’s house.
That was when Emmeline felt it- A slight tremble beneath the ground. It was very light at first but was increasing in magnitude very fast. It could only mean one thing. “IT’S COMING” she shouted. Maybe because they heard her or maybe because they too felt it but at once the volume of screams increased and people started running faster. When Emmeline reached Shania’s house and looked back, only a few people were left struggling up the hill but when she looked out at sea, she could already see the wave forming at the horizon. She urged on those last minute stragglers. By the time they reached the top of the hill, the wave had increased in size and was coming near.
They all watched helplessly as the cruel waters crashed onto the shore, sweeping away everything in its way as if they were nothing. They watched trees being uprooted and beach side shacks being swept away. It was a horrifying sight. The shack owners were safe with them on the hill but how they wept when they saw their only means of livelihood being swept away. The waters threatened to reach them but stopped just short. This must be the aftermath of an even bigger wave somewhere else Emmeline thought. Still it was scary enough and she was worried for the people who were actually experiencing the full force of this sample of nature’s fury.
She marvelled at the destruction below her. It amazed her how such a lovely holiday could turn so bad so fast! But then again these things could not be predicted. She felt a cold hand slip through hers. It was Nadia. “Scary isn’t it?” she asked. Emmeline squeezed her hand for comfort. It was indeed scary. Thankfully all the people on the beach had been saved. Or so she thought.
“Where’s Jonathan?” asked Emmeline. She wanted both of them by her side right then. “I don’t know” said Nadia “let’s go look”. They went searching for him among the people gathered there. All were visibly shaken and some were crying with fear and relief. They couldn’t seem to find Jonathan. They asked every one but no one had seen him. “Em, you don’t think he was…..” “Don’t even think about it!” Emmeline said in a firm voice which did not betray the doubts nagging her inside. She refused to believe that anything had happened to him. She was very fond of him (maybe even more than she was willing to admit) and she wouldn’t accept the fact that the tsunami had taken him.
After searching and calling out his name for so long, a small part of her was beginning to panic. But she still wouldn’t accept it. She remembered having seen him help an old man to climb up the hill. So they went in search of that old man. They found him. “Excuse us sir, but do you know where that boy who helped you climb up is?” Nadia asked.
“No I’m sorry I don’t. He just brought me here and went back down the hill.” he replied.
Both girls stood stunned for a moment not knowing how to react. He had gone back down? Why? It took some time to sink in. Nadia suddenly screamed “OH MY GOODNESS!!!!” and sank to the floor. Emmeline immediately looked out at the vast expanse of water below them now a murky greenish-brown but still swirling. With hopeful eyes she searched the water surface for any sign of life among the uprooted trees, destroyed vehicles, and all the other debris. Suddenly she felt sick and absolutely disgusted with herself. How could she have let this happen? She looked down to see Nadia looking at her with terrified eyes as though waiting for some sort of assurance or proof that what had just happened was a joke. She did not know what to say. Instead, she fell along side her friend and caught her in a tight hug. The reality of it all finally hit home and they both burst into tears. The two girls hugged each other and rocked back and forth. Emmeline could hear Nadia breathing in searing gasps. Some body tried comforting them. It was a sad moment indeed. Although Emmeline had managed to save the entire beach, she had lost her own best friend.
Finally someone strong came and lifted them of the ground. Somehow or the other Nadia and Emmeline were half carried, half gently led into the house by their other friends. There they were taken into the kitchen and given hot tea along with the other survivors who were in shock. Both were in a daze and didn’t really know what was going on. They were left alone in the kitchen. Emmeline could hear Shania and Joshua in the next room discussing how they could accommodate so many stranded people for that one night. It was too dangerous for anyone to leave the house and it was getting dark. The surrounding land would be quite marshy even after the waters receded. And since they were so far away from other houses, help would take some time to arrive.
She knew she ought to go and help them but she seemed to be immobilized. The old man who had been helped by Jonathan came and joined them in the kitchen. “May I?” he asked before pulling out a chair to sit down. “I’m really very sorry for your loss.” He said “I heard that the boy who helped me was a really good friend of yours. He was most polite even as he made me hurry and I owe my life to him” he paused and then continued “I know what it’s like to lose a friend. When I was 11, I watched my best friend die. He was crushed by a truck in front of my eyes. We were crossing the street together. Since there was no visible traffic on the road, he ran forward. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a speeding truck came and…” he stopped here recalling the horrifying memories of that fated day.
“We’re so sorry.” Nadia said in whisper.
The man shook his head “It’s been 50 years since the accident. But it took me almost a year to get used to crossing streets again. As a child, I was petrified by what I saw and developed a phobia for crossing roads and it took me a long time to overcome it. The fact is that it hurts and sometimes at night, the nightmares come back to haunt me. Only those who have experienced the same thing can really feel the same feeling pain of losing someone so near to your heart. I know how you feel. Although it was a long time ago, the memory remains etched in my mind. It always will.” There was silence after this speech as a lone tear slid down the side of his face.
Then he stood up “I don’t know if it is of any use but I feel that you ought to know. That boy. He said something about a cave before running down. He said that he had to get something precious from his bag. Once again, I’m sorry.” Saying that the old man walked out.
The girls had listened to him while he was speaking but now their thoughts reverted back to Jonathan. The hot tea calmed them and they felt better. Once they had composed themselves they were able to think straight. “I can’t believe it...” Emmeline said. Nadia didn’t say anything. She was astounded that such a lovely holiday could end in this way. Tomorrow they would have returned home and Emmeline and Jonathan had planned to attend a career counselling session together. Tears sprung up in her eyes.
Just then Joshua walked in and started rummaging in the cupboard. “What are you looking for?” Emmeline asked. “There are so many people in this house and they are all hungry.” He answered “I’m searching for food for them. We don’t seem to have enough. Any thing will do. Ahaa! Found it” he picked up a few packets of biscuits and some chip packets which they had brought for themselves and left.
“They need our help Nadu.” Emmeline said. Although they were both still upset, they were sensible girls and knew that it would not help anybody if they just sat around sulking. With a tear streaked yet determined face, Nadia nodded “Then let’s help them.”
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