The six-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti was on Monday, 12 July. This is a fiction piece I wrote shortly after the earthquake. Feel free to click on the top image in my sidebar, it is a link to Oxfam Ireland's donate page (for their international website, go here).
A man watches a small butterfly as it flies past. He flicks his cigar against the side of his chair. A single flake of ash falls into the water below. At that moment, everything changes. It is as though a pebble has been tossed into a pond. Nothing can stop the ripples.
They spread to a shore, where an egret rises from his perch in alarm. He flies over a tobacco farm, carefully situated near a fast flowing river. The egret grows tired, but he cannot stop until he is out of the place he calls the Land of No Trees.
Others not do hear the warning the egret calls. They continue their lives, not knowing that the ripples are spreading further and further from their epicentre, and they will soon reach them.
He clings to life beneath the ground. It surely must be below the ground, for all is dark and dirty. Others were near; he had heard their moans of pain. But all is quiet now. Somewhere above he hears shouting. Is it English? He cannot move. A board is pressing against his stomach. He does the only thing he can do. He shouts. A shaft of light reaches him as a piece of corrugated tin is yanked away. He blinks in the bright sunlight. No, it is night, the light is a torch. A hand reaches toward him. He is saved.
Escape from this hellhole is impossible. She is trapped inside her one room shack; another home collapsed against the doorway. Her son was somewhere outside. She can only pray that he survived. She paces back and forth. Someone tried to reach her earlier, but they spoke only French. She could not understand. She shouted in her native tongue that she could not get out. They left. The last scrap of food had been eaten hours ago, maybe even days. Time has ceased to have meaning. Her cooking fire from last night – or maybe the night before – has gone out, leaving only cold gray ash. She sits
down on the dirt and waits for death.
Lost in the streets, an American calls out to people around him. They turn eagerly toward him, but look away, their eyes dulling, when they realise that he is none of their own. ‘Foo blá,’ they mutter. Crazy white man. He has lost his glasses somewhere, and he stumbles blindly. ‘Au secours!’ he calls out in broken French. They shrug, not understanding.
Problems have started already. She returns to find her home looted. The flood of tears will not stop. But how can she deny the hungry some food? All of her family is dead. She has only one distant cousin, in England somewhere. He will help her.
Hope wells in people like a plastic bag filling with wind at a landfill. It floats and soars, climbing higher and higher. It refuses to fall, no matter how hard they tell themselves that the people they are waiting for are dead. Families anxiously sit inside, listening to the news, hovering over telephones and computers, waiting.
Accounts dwindle, are even exhausted. Others fill, ones with names such as The Red Cross, Unicef, and Oxfam. In all the chaos, everyone grieves. For families. Friends. For people that they will never meet. And those that they don’t even know.
Inside a hospital, a reporter observes chaos from the shadows. He doesn’t move, too afraid of crushing those laid out on the floor. He turns to his cameraman with a determined expression. The cameraman, as though they are the same person, has the thought too. They drop their things and run outside to help. When the station calls them, they are nowhere to be found. They won’t lose their jobs.
This is the scale of one event, one stone tossed into a pond. It spreads across the world, ripples growing ever larger, affecting more and more people as time passes.
If only it will be remembered. After the news stories have long been archived, and the trickle of media attention dried up, people will still need us. Some will answer their call. Too many will forget and live their lives in peace, never remembering what happened on this day. The day the world paused and forgot to breathe. A few people, who have no obligation to help, or even to care, will hold their breath for what seems like forever. Life will never go back to being normal for them. Don’t let yourself get carried away with the quality of your life. Some people don’t have one.
Theme Thursday, where interpretations run amok.