house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Monday, 5 March 2012

44 days, 5

Thirty five years later (and I am still a child). And, more importantly, they are still young.

How do they do it, those people who can look at a picture and tell if the person in it is alive or dead? I look at this picture, my uncle and aunt and cousins, and they look radiant, full of hope and light and love. My uncle's dark eyes glow like torches, his smile pulls at the corners of my mouth until I find myself sitting there with a wide stupid grin and don't even know why. I wish I had known him better.

They had lived in Brazil for seven years, had just come back. On the night of the earthquake, they had asked us for dinner, they had asked lots of people for dinner. A celebration! They were back, full of new words and tropical stories and plans and dreams and success!

I was eight years old and I wanted to go. I wanted to play with my cousins and hear a tale about anacondas. That afternoon I ran a fever, the visit was canceled. I slept.

During my sleep the earth quaked and my city crumbled. My uncle's house fell and squashed them all, hosts and guests and tropical fish in a tank. A week later, I remember being taken to a cemetery that looked alarmingly like a rising of the dead; there were coffins everywhere, open, closed, stacked on top of each other, and people in black, stunned or screaming. My mother stopped in front of a long line of coffins (I know now, there were ten, but back then it looked interminable): 'here they are' she said. 'Hosts, guests, cousins, grannies, everyone. All ours.'

But those boxes weren't 'ours', they didn't mean anything to me. I never went back to that place. What I have – which feels both 'alive' and 'ours' – is their picture, full of hope and light and love, and the promise of stories about an anaconda that swallowed a boat.


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