Moments of Silence

Earthquakes this severe have happened before. The last one was a few years ago, and happened at night. I woke up to my bed shaking in the pitch darkness, the windows rattling and a deep, buzzing boom growling out of the ground. I thought I was going to die, and for days afterward my feet felt like the ground still shivered.

Today I was sitting on the same bed, reading for class, and the furniture began to shake. It only took a moment to realise that the tremor wasn’t a synapse firing off a memory but a quaking growing stronger as I leapt off my bed calling for my father, my sister in tow. My mother wasn’t home, and she was all I could think of as we hurried past the cook and the cleaning woman crouching in the kitchen doorway to get outside. They followed.

When it was over, the television reports had already begun pouring in, and the phone calls began to make sure that friends and family were safe. The details are already here: Richter scale measurements, casualty estimates, the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund phone number on television. But what I cannot shake from my mind is an image of a man buried to his neck, being dug out of the rubble, his forehead bloodied. Bundles of what were people only hours before being rushed to ambulances. The dusty feet and bloody kneed-shalwar they emerge from poking out of the back of a dabba van as it drives off, an attendant gently pressing the man’s ankle down because he kept trying to bend his knee. Feet run over broken concrete, people are standing around the broken building, drifting and confused. We have all been thrust into a shocked displacement, a confused wonderment as to how exactly this happened; in Ramzan of all months..and a sort of stubborn holding-onto-our-hats for the aftershocks, the first of which came around four in the evening.

But Islamabad! Four hours away from home, weekend-trip Islamabad… You pass F-10, where Margalla Towers is, at least twice a day if you’re in the city. In the midst of the overwhelming enormity of death and destruction nobody can predict or control is the inevitable pointless debate: who will pay for the reconstruction of the apartments? Legal mouths chatter jargon, the channel is changed from Geo and CNN to MTV, it’s time for iftaari. I am making another phone call, this time to cry with a friend for her loss; a nation is hushed, whispering a prayer…mourning for its sudden dead, one bright autumn day in October.

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