The moon that night seemed a well pressed papadam, fried with only the purest coconut oil. Against the night skies glistened thousands of dotted lights. Hema, stood shadowing the light of a flickering candle. For it was one of those days, the electricity had been turned off for maintenance. From the looks of it they were not to have power for months to come. Torrential monsoon rains had played havoc. High-tension wires along with their massive pillars had been hurled onto the ground in the blink of an eye. The earth had opened and swallowed them whole. Yes. The roads had cracked and opened. The Mahaweli river had leaped out of its tied-up boundaries and sped to peek upon its neighbours.
The clock that did not hang anymore but was placed on the table, chimed the hour before midnight. The serenade of the sirens had become the norm, day and night. Stretches of reflective tape drew patterns across the whole village. White lines of crepe paper strips fluttered in the wind in every direction. Coffin after coffin went into the dining room of a neighbour allowing to pay final respects. One hundred and forty bodies had been dug up to be buried once again.
Fumes of hot food, tinkling of tin plates, mumblings of those in cooking duty, made the rescue groups hungry. Most of them stopped work and moved that way. Hema watched the two remaining diggers from a distance. Her husband annoyed her. For he too hastened to the kitchen to carry back a plate of food.
“Here. You must eat,” said Sanath handing over the plate of red rice with coconut sambal and dhal curry. Her anger evaporated. She had not eaten the whole day and she was hungry. A clump stuck to the back of her throat no matter how hard she swallowed. “How can I eat?” she muffled.
She looked out into the vast view before her. Their front doorstep had been washed away. What remained of the house was the bedroom. Half the roof had been wiped out. The room roofed and unroofed their heads at the same time. Through the doorway of the bedroom that had no door, she looked out to see several people at work. The night was thickening. But the bright torches of the rescue teams had transformed the area into constant day. The layers of mud had changed the land. There was no high rising mountain shadowing their village anymore. There was no village anymore. Stuck to the mud somewhere amidst the trees, roof panels, schoolbooks, slippers, and tuk-tuk was her daughter who had not eaten for five days. Hema placed the plate aside.
“They have found Mangala!” rang a neighbour’s voice.
The edges of wrapping were twisted to cove in Mangala like a caramel toffee. The body was taken away. Sanath had helped. She was to reappear in a wooden coffin.
The temple bell made a constant ringing in their ears. On full moon poya-days they did an extra ring like that. After a quick wash up by the makeshift tap outside and change of clothes, Hema set out once again as she had done for the last five days. Somewhere inside an open house chimed a clock. She reckoned it was two or three o’clock in the morning. The sound of the drills that had never stopped, the occasional sirens in the distance and the continuous temple bell, all contributed to the everyday routine she had begun to get used to.
When the media had arrived, politicians of great girth had arrived. When the photographers had arrived, charity had arrived. When the donations had arrived, humanity had left. For everyone had lost everything. With nothing, there was no need for anything. When there was something, there was need to have everything.
The sudden silence awakened Hema from her thoughts. The ardent sniffing of the police dog awakened the voices around. People ran in that direction. So did Hema. She hoped it was her girl and hoped it was not her girl at the same time.
“Piyal! I know that slipper anywhere. They found Piyal,” announced that same annoying voice.
Piyal who had been pulled out of the rubble was found to be alive. He had emerged out of the earth bringing hope to those who had lost it. Hema prayed under her voice.
The friends came out to the lake.
“What shall we do today?” asked Janaka.
“Let’s have a music class,” said Pavani.
“I will be the teacher,” said Mali.
Hema read the page from a schoolbook stuck in mud with salt-stained eyes.
“My girl had always wanted to be the teacher,” cracked her voice.
“They have found a child.”
Hema ran like the wind. She made her way down the slopes of rough rubble towards where the new rising sun glistened a bright golden. The golden rays brought hope. Hope for a new day. She ran like she was being chased. From a distance she saw two dogs not one. The ambulance siren got louder and stretchers were being carried that way.
“They have found a child!” yelled the same annoying voice.
Hema despised this voice. She despised the fear within the uncertainty in that sound. Sanath’s hand touched her shoulder. They stopped and waited. And waited.
Gayani Jayathilake is a Sri Lankan Writer living in Germany. She spent her time working as a language teacher before switching on to full-time writing to pursue her love for literature and verse. She loves to bring pieces of fiction and nonfiction into life when she is not working on her first novel. Her writing is the voice to her introverted self.