The Earth Moves

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

19th April 2016
It was the ease with which everything disappeared, this awed her the most. The way that people, lives, houses could just vanish, crumble, cease to be what they had just been. It was terrifying, but liberating. She knew this was the wrong response, as she observed those around her crying, searching through the dust that had, minutes ago, been their lives.

She should have helped, like the other willing tourists, scrabbled at the earth for sign of life and made herself bleed lifting bricks, but she didn't.

She looked on, still, as an idea gathered force in her mind, and eventually, took over.

She'd been on a rooftop. At first, the dogs. There was howling and barking, afterwards a silence, then this rough, grating, deep sound, like the earth clearing its throat. And everything that had been solid, suddenly wasn't.

'Earthquake!' yelled one of the backpackers in her dorm. And he lurched to the stairs, shouting at everyone to 'get off the fucking roof!'

She didn't move. 'Carla!' he yelled right into her face, as he passed her table, still wobbling, on his way to the stairwell. She stared at him. 'You need to get down, now,' he said, his calmness impressing her. She didn't move and he shrugged, grabbed a crying girl, and shoved her to the stairs.

Carla knew they all throught she was weird, not joining in with the drinking games, the group meals. As soon as a single room came up she's be in it, and would be able to stop making excuses. The grating sound stopped, and everything stilled. There was no noise at first, and then cheering and laughter from the tourists, partway down the stairs, and a growing cacophony from the street below. Dogs started up again, a motorbike roared to life and she heard fragments of Spanish.

It began again. And this time, it didn't stop. She didn't have time to feel fear. Some instinct propelled her under the table even as she tried to count how many floors the hostel had, all piled up on top of one another, the owner having added layer upon layer of shoddily build brickwork to create more rooms to catch the tourist dollar.

I'm going to die, she thought, and wasn't surprised. Hadn't she known that this trip would be her last? Hadn't she felt something as she stepped off the place at Lima airport, something that told her, you won't be going home?

The building began to sway, frantic movements of concerete trying to hold itself together. The sound grew from roaring to grating to booming, thunder deep down, explosions from inside the earth, a ripping of rock, accompanied by screaming, howling, engines, confusion.

It seemed to last for ever. A hole in the wall appeared right next to her face so she could see straight down to the street. Carla saw dust clouds billowing as buildings collapsed, saw people fall, cars move, the land itself rippling like a sheet shaken in the wind. As if it was nothing. And then she understood what she had known all along. She was nothing, none of them were anything.

Somehow, the patchy concrete and holey brickwork and wood stuck like plasters to bridge gaps in the mortar - somehow it held together. Carla waited to feel the falling begin, the falling she knew would end in death, but instead things stopped moving, little by little, and she crawled out from underneath the table.

Several things struck her with sickening force. The world was wrecked around her. Hers was one of the only buildings still standing. She could see bodies, and pieces of bodies sticking out from concrete; people trapped by their own prosperity. Cars lay on their sides. Cracks zig-zagged along the roads. She heard moaning, crying, the sounds of hell made real, brought to earth.

Immediately, people began to run about, scrabble in the dirt, try to help. Carla knew she should go. She wasn't hurt, she was calm, she had first aid training. But she stood still, watched as the world began to move through the dust and wreckage of what, minutes ago, had been a lively tourist town where people came to fly in planes and look at lines on the ground.

She stood, and watched, a lone figure on a lone building, watching life begin all over again. And in it, she saw her opportunity.

She could disappear. She realised this was what she'd felt at the start of the trip. She wasn't going to go home because she was going to be given a gift, that of being able to vanish. She didn't have to go home and try to fit back in where she didn't belong, where she'd never belong. Her family would issue statements saying she was missing. They wouldn't bother to come and look, but they might contact the embassy and ask for names of those who'd been found. They might. That was what you got for being weird; for being the lumpy, plain girl in a family of fiery feminine women who traded beauty for life. That was what you got for being the girl at school who was always picked last for sports teams. That was what you got for being the ill one, the name on the presciption form. She'd been handed a gift, she knew. The feeling grew and grew as she realised the possibilities.

She felt a ripple of excitement in her belly, even as she watched the chaos unfolding below, the headless chicken behaviour of a town ripped in half. She'd always known soemthing like this would happen. She knew it, a growing certainty inside her told her this was all her fault. She'd wanted to disappear, and had come to Peru to do just that. So all this was for her. The earth had listened, and created a chaos from which she could slip unnoticed, to a place where she could reinvent herself.

She ducked down below what was left of the concrete walls on the roof. She needed a plan. People would start looking, foreigners would be sent to gather information on who was left. There would be helplines, passports gathered.

She'd have to leave everything except what she was wearing. She'd be a fugitive, from her own life.

It was a gift.

An hour later, she had a plan. Nobody had come to check if anyone was alive up on the roof. Perhaps they assumed nobody was stupid enough to stay there.

She waited until dark, when the first rumbles of rescue vehicles rumbled into the village. Someone shouted, in English, 'There might be aftershocks. Stay in the open. Go to the museum gardens. Do not collect your possessions. Stay away from buildings.'

She crept down the stairs, which was hard as there were gaps. She passed her dorm without stopping, not even considering her medication, and crept down the next corridor, which took her onto a balcony which she knew ran around the back of the house to where a tree grew, its branches reaching up high. She'd noticed it before when thinking about how easy it would be for robbers to climb up and break in.

She reached the tree and used its branches to climb down the final two storeys. She sent thanks to the tree for standing tall and knew it had been just for her.

She took a final look at the wreckage of the town, and slipped away, onto a road leading away from everything, to where she'd find her escape.

She imagined her obituary. Her parents might give details, they might not. She was sure the diagnosis of bipolar disorder wouldn't creep in; they didn't like anything to sully the family sheen. They'd say she was a loner, perhaps, as everyone knew that was true. They'd say she was on the trip of a lifetime, lying about how she'd been given money 'to go and sort herself out,' and stop embarrassing everyone. She was unstable, the doctor said. She couldn't help it. The medicine would help, he told the family, aghast around the dining table, somehow blaming her as if she'd chosen it, just to be able to continue being awkward.

And the medication had helped, enough for her to be able to go away, work in an orphanage or do somehting else useful, think about those worse off and stop doing weird stuff. Becasue that was what it boiled down to - she'd chosen to be weird, and there was no room for it, never had been.

She walked and walked and the thoughts fell away, leaves off a tree, bricks off a building. And she'd keep walking until it was morning time, when she should take her meds, the ones that zapped all the colour of of her world, took away her spark and her fabulous mind, and made her like everyone else. And in a few days, perhaps the old Carla would start to come back.

The medicated Carla died in the earthquake. The real Carla would be somewhere else, living however she wanted, as weirdly as she wanted. Perhaps she'd find other people like her. It was a thought, that. Maybe that could become the new quest: to keep on walking until she found a place she could be. And if she reached the bottom of the continent, well, she could turn around and go back. She'd cut her hair and lose some weight and change so even if they did look for her - which they wouldn't: after their initial grief and regret there'd be relief - she would be different.

She shook herself, head to foot, like a dog coming out of the water, like the earth changing level in places, like buildings feeling this change and being unablle to adjust, like the lies that dripped off the tongues of doctors, like fleas off a cat, lice off a deer, water off a duck, love off her parents as they shook her, for her own good, as they spanked her, for their own good, as they.... her thoughts were already picking up, just like they used to, and she knew she'd start to feel like herself again.

She walked on, watching the moon as it led the way, onwards.