Authors: Becky Wicks
On December 26, 2004, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake occurred off the western coast of Northern Sumatra, causing a tsunami that hit 14 countries and affected 5 million people worldwide.
This fictional story, based on numerous accounts from that time, is dedicated to those who lost their lives and the ones who were left behind, picking up the pieces.
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It's always our self we find in the sea.”
- E.E Cummings
'Don't go!' I yell at the boy. It's the eight-year-old who showed me a plastic container full of tiny crabs on the beach and told me his name was... I can't remember. He had sand on his face then, but now there's only blood. He's crying, spinning around. A lady in an
I heart Bangkok
T-shirt is trying to lead him back out of the room. 'Don't go!' I yell again.
He turns in my direction. His watery, red eyes land on my face. I can feel my heart breaking and bleeding like the rest of me as I try to sit up and the crushing pressure in my chest makes me flop like a ragdoll. I'm worn out, useless. My limbs won't do anything I'm asking them to. 'It's me!' I call when he looks away again. 'It's me, remember? Please, remember!'
The boy doesn't look back this time. He doesn't hear me because my words aren't really coming out. 'Don't go! Don't you recognize me?'
When he scans the other beds and sobs into the chest of the tourist, I know
would ever recognize me. I'm blown up like a bunch of helium balloons; I can tell that much. My organs and tissues have absorbed what feels like half the ocean through my lungs. My long brown hair is a blooded, matted clump and the only people here who'd know me through any deformity at all are dead.
'Come back!' I beg anyway as they make for the exit. 'Don't leave me, please! I have no one!'
The door shuts. I'm alone with the dying. The water roars over me again; so real it makes me choke. My lungs are full of cold, wet sand. I'm drowning from the inside out.
'Come back!' I wake up blubbering, sweat sticking my pajamas to my skin. I reach out to the other side of the bed but it's empty. I sit up, swipe my hands over my face, throw the covers off. 'Colin!'
The flat echoes with my voice.
I flop back down again. Jesus Christ, Amy. This is her fault. I guess it didn't take much for the dreams to come back. It's probably good that Colin's not here. Yes. That's my
done for the day already. I'm grateful Colin's not here.
I drag myself up, head to the bathroom, almost trip over Sega as she curls around my legs in the hallway, purring. I rest my head against the cool mirror. I look like pooh and Colin's moved my Body Shop bath salts. I move them back into alignment - the pink jar, the purple jar, the baby blue jar and when I look into the mirror again I see my mother, as usual, buried deep in my reflection. She's always in my eyes, so Maria says.
I imagine her hand stroking my hair back now, telling me things are OK, like she did when Charlotte's dad let us watch
Nightmare on Elm Street
that time when we were nine and I woke up three nights running, thinking Freddy Krueger was about to slash my neck.
My mouth is so dry. I put my head to the tap, take three huge gulps, peel my damp pajamas off and turn the shower on, but as I step under the stream I almost fall. Shit. That stupid dream... making me all shaky. I can see it all again. Mom now, too.
'Do you want her wedding band?' the Irish nurse asked me as I squinted at the body lying glassy-eyed and soulless on the table. I was waiting for the recognition to sink in.
'That's not my mom,' I said. How could it be my mom?
But it was, they said. The ocean had filled her up; squeezed the soul out of her beautiful eyes, ballooned her like it had me, only she was never swept away to safety and neither was my dad. There must have been nowhere for them to run to, from that hotel room.
I stand up, shake out my entire body, force myself to stand under the shower. I squirt three blobs of Dove cream onto my hands and try to lather the memories away. I know they'll come back again, though.
'It'll do you good.' That's what Amy said the other day, when she threw the purple envelope onto my keyboard, mid-type. When I first pulled out the glittery invitation I wondered what she was talking about, obviously. We get a million press invites at
and while they're definitely fun, none of them ever do us any good. They just expand our thighs and corrupt our livers, usually.
'Thailand,' Amy beamed. 'In four week's time!'
I tried my hardest not to vomit all over my laptop.
'Oh, come on Izz, it's been ages. I really think you need to go back.' She perched her bum on my desk then, clearly not registering the goose bumps springing up around my scars. 'Maybe it'll help. It's time you had some fun somewhere else, get out of London, meet some new people. Backpackers are the funnest of the fun! You can tag a holiday on...'
'Backpackers have diseases,' I told her. 'And I don't ever need to go back to Thailand, Amy.'
I left the invite on my desk, walked out of the building into the throng of Covent Garden. I couldn't bring myself to talk to anyone when they called. I suppose I was a bit embarrassed for reacting the way I did. I got on the tube, went to the church near Maria's for the afternoon and talked to my parents from the second pew. I knew they'd want to hear any news at all about Thailand, even if it was about a stupid cookbook launch. They loved it there - the food, the sun, the people. 'The land of smiles', my dad grinned as we got off the plane that time. 'Sawa-dee-kaaaa! Say it, Izzy!'
I need coffee. I turn off the water, climb out of the shower. In the kitchen I put my three small teaspoons of Nescafe granules into a mug and boil the kettle. Colin's left me a note:
Probably working late again tonight. Don't forget we need teabags.
Great. He's forgotten we were supposed to be choosing a color for the hallway tonight. He probably won't even wake me up when he gets home. I suppose he knows he needs as much sleep as he can get before the sweating and sobbing force him to move to the sofa. I think we've gone to bed angry more than anything else since we moved in and he keeps moving my stuff too; more than he did in the Brixton house. He knows I hate that.
'Why do you have to line everything up? What are you, Hitler?,' he asked me last night over his glasses, after he'd watched me move the remote controls back together on the coffee table. He put his finger under his nose as he did it, too.
'You know why.'
'Well, you could try not to.'
'Don't you think I do that? Every day?'
'It's getting worse, baby. You need to see someone. Maybe it'll help.'
They all say that.
Maybe it'll help.
I frown to myself as Sega curls around my legs again, pour the water over my coffee, wash the dish Colin's left in the sink. He tries his best, I know he does. We all know I can't be the easiest person to share a space with.
I carry my mug to the leather cream sofa, turn the TV on. I'll choose the color myself I guess, soon as I've seen where they're at in
. I put my feet up, start flicking through the usual mindless rubbish. Shit, the teabags. I'll have to go out at some point. Unless I just add them to the Sainsburys delivery order.
Colin's laptop is on the floor. I reach for it, open it up and it whirs to life. His emails start pouring through in little windows to the top right. I banish them with clicks like I'm swatting at bugs, but one catches my eye before it disappears and my stomach lurches.
No, no, no, no, no...
'Who was that girl?'
Sasi's walking straight around the corner towards Sonthi. He's checking the pressure on the tanks and I watch his eyes roll, catch the weary look he throws me before he stands up straight with his wetsuit rolled down to his waist. She marches right up to him, shoves his chest with her palms. I catch her elbow, lower my voice at her.
'Not here, Sasi, we have people coming any second.'
She ignores me, dashes her hands dramatically through her pink-tipped hair and growls at Sonthi. 'Do you think I don't know what you're
You're trying to make me jealous!'
He holds his hands up at her, motions to the three tourists now stepping from the white sand onto the concrete floor towards us. They're eyeing us all in amusement already. I turn, hurry towards them, force a smile to my face even though my fists are clenched.
'Hey, guys, all ready? We're just doing the equipment checks.' I usher the British mom, dad and their teenage daughter across to one of the wooden tables, sit them down. 'Can I get you a drink while we set up?' I say. I widen my best, most hospitable smile and signal to Kalaya to get some water. She gives me the thumbs up from behind the reception desk as another little kid races up from the beach, throws his arms around his dad and beams up at me. He's holding a giant stick that must have washed up on the sand. He's wearing red board shorts.
'We're going to have to leave this little one here,' his dad says, dropping a kiss on the boy's head. My heart pangs for a minute. He must be seven or eight. Younger than Toby was. 'Your receptionist said that would be OK.'
'Not a problem,' Kalaya answers for me, coming up behind me with a pitcher of water and plastic glasses. She smiles at the boy, puts a hand to his head. 'What's your name?'
'Michael,' he tells her, still clutching his stick like it's made of gold.
'We can do drawings if you like,' Kalaya says, leaning down to him. 'Or maybe I teach you Thai?'
His mom and dad laugh. 'Thai would be useful, right, Michael?' the woman says, ruffling his hair, too. Michael groans, flattens his hair like he's sick of everyone touching it, points the stick at his sister. She rolls her eyes, pretends halfheartedly to have been struck by a spell. I throw Kalaya a thankful look, head back to Sonthi to help him with the tanks. Sasi's still giving him some kind of lecture, this time in Thai. I know what it's about. I lower my voice again.
'Guys, I really wish you wouldn't bring your shit here. You wanna yell at each other? Go home and do it.'
'It's not me, it's her,' Sonthi says now, lifting his fake blue-rimmed Ray Bans from his eyes. 'She broke up with me!'
'You're such a
,' Sasi spits at him before turning on her heels and storming off to the pathway at the side of the dive shop. Three seconds later we hear her scooter start up and the sound of her screeching away up the path. He shrugs at me, walks to the rail of wetsuits, picks out three for our British guests. This is their second dive with us and they've already written something really nice on TripAdvisor, so I promised them a ten percent discount for this one. I might have to make it twenty now that Sonthi's put on his show.
'Why do you antagonize her?' I ask him, picking up the masks from their box. The strap falls off one immediately and I curse under my breath, throwing it down again.
'When are we getting the new ones?' he asks, ignoring my question.
'In a month, but we'll need to get them from Bangkok. Just found out. They're a third of the price there.'
'I'll go with you,' Kalaya says now, walking up behind me and looping her arms around me. I turn to her, uncurl her from me gently, noting the British family watching me as they sip their water on the bench. I grab my own mask and snorkel.
'We'll need you here to hold the fort,' I tell Kalaya quietly. She pouts, folds her arms now, looks around her.
'Where's Sasi?' she asks.
'Gone,' Sonthi and I say at the same time.
'She knows you've been with a
,' she tells us, ponytail bouncing, eyes narrowed as she looks from him to me. 'She knows everything you did last night.'
'I wonder how she found
out,' Sonthi replies darkly.
Kalaya scowls even more, glossed lips shimmering in the sunshine. 'She deserves to know,' she says haughtily, picking up some flippers and walking back with us to the bench.
I try to disguise my burgeoning bad mood as we suit up and get everybody ready for the boat.
'Come explore the magical underwater world of the Andaman Sea, the mom says, smiling at me with shining, kind eyes when I hand her a mask. She's reading from the sign on the wall; the closest replica to the one Charlie had up here before the tsunami. My eyes scan the photos around it. We try to take one of every person who qualifies for their Open Water certificate with us. Charlie did the same thing.
'It's definitely magical,' I say, before the usual jolt to my stomach at the sight of the plaque makes me inhale sharply. No one's ever mentioned how I built everything up exactly the same - not to my face anyway. Sometimes I wonder if anyone even noticed. Only a few people ever comment on the plaque:
'Toby and Charlie. Out diving.'
The mom's noticed. She runs her fingers over it, shoots me a look but clearly thinks better of saying anything out loud.
I brief the group on our dive site, a cool little spot where we sometimes see stingrays. The little kid gets up from the bench when we all do. He's still holding the driftwood, pointing it like he's casting spells with a wand. 'Let's do this, mer-people,' I say.