Friday, June 03, 2005


Raya lived in a little house with his wife and his two twin boys and his old mother. Even when he was young he lived in the house; he lived in it his whole life. When he was seventeen his father died from some illness, so Raya went out and got a job. One of his friends painted buildings, and he hired Raya.

Raya would work during the day, his skin burning in the hot sun. At night when he returned home his wife would have a meal ready for him. The boys would want to play and sometimes they played soccer in the street in front of their little house. Then one day, while Raya was painting a doctor's office in town, he felt the earth shake. His paint bucket spilled and all the chemicals and dyes seeped into the ground. Raya started walking back to his little house to make sure it had not fallen over, but before he could return the streets started filling with water. People climbed up trees or they sat perched on the rooftops of buildings. Raya tried to find some way to get to his house and his family, but the current caught him and he was lucky to grab onto the iron balcony of an old hotel he once painted. He pulled himself up and waited.

His house was completely gone. He stood where he thought it once stood, but since nothing else remained, he couldn't be sure. He moved a little to the east, placed his feet on muddy and shaky dirt. Everything had been rearranged. The shoreline was different. Trees and bushes were missing in spots. He sat down and waited for his family to come back. After some time, he cried.

Raya stayed like that for two days. His old neighbors started returning, slowly. When they saw what had happened to everything, they cried. Dead bodies littered the coast and came up all the way to the edge of the neighborhood. Someone pointed way up in a tree and everyone looked and saw it was a little boy. Raya turned and tilted his head and noticed how the limbs of the tree perfectly cradled the limbs of the boy. He knew from the boy's bright orange shorts that it was one of his sons. He climbed the tree and placed his hand on the boy's ashen face. The skin was cold and slimy. Raya looked out from his high perch and saw nothing but mud and dead trees and people walking around and he wondered to himself how he was going to get his son down. Finally, he pushed him out of the tree and listened to the gasping sound the earth made when the boy landed.

The next morning, as the sun crept up over the sea, Raya lay on the ground, paralyzed by his misery. A small boy approached him and grabbed onto his leg and for some time Raya did not move. He believed that somehow, an apparition of his dead son had come to torment him for pushing the boy out of the tree. But the boy grabbed so hard that it hurt Raya's leg and Raya realized that it was his other son. He had somehow survived. He was so thankful he started crying again and between his tears he looked up to see a white man with a camera taking his picture. Snap snap. Snap snap snap he heard through his sobs.

Raya, with his son by his side, set about rebuilding their little house. With the help of his friends he found boards and planks and nails and tools. He promised to paint ten houses in exchange for some concrete blocks a neighbor found. He made his son work hard, all day, running around the village trying to get more supplies. His friends helped him with the roof and some of the more difficult aspects of the construction. Finally, after a few months, Raya had completed the house and he and his son moved in.

There had been no sign of his wife or his mother. Raya assumed they had been dragged out to the sea and drowned, and wished only that when they died they did not feel too much pain. He had heard once that drowning was a peaceful way to die and he hoped that this was true.

A couple of months after he and his son moved into their little house, soldiers with guns came to the village and began asking the people questions. Who died? Who came back? Where is the government? What are they doing for you? Raya told them that he and his son survived and that he rebuilt his house. They told him to give them money so they could protect and rebuild the area, but Raya had no money and he had no grudge against the government. He told them he needed to paint more houses to have any money, but they thought he was mocking him and they asked to see the papers for his house. There were no papers for his house. They said, you can't just build a house wherever you want. Raya told them that his house had always been there. They said they didn't believe him and that if he wanted to stay in his house, he would pay them. He said ok.

Raya went into town and asked his friends for money, told them he would pay them back when he started painting all the houses that the people were starting to build again. Raya knew that he would start making money again. But none of his friends had any money, either. They had given their money to the soldiers. He spent a week trying to get money. He even walked ten miles to where the white people had set up tents but they would not give him any money. He told them it was for his house so they gave him forms to complete, but he didn't know what to do with them. When he and his son finally returned later that night, his house and four other houses nearby were on fire. His little house burned quickly and in the morning it was just a pile of ashes on the blocks of concrete.

Raya tried to rebuild his house again, but none of his friends wanted to help. They thought that the rebels would burn their houses as well. His neighbors turned on him and called him a fool for not giving the soldiers any money. He went back to the tents with the white people and they let him stay there for a few days, feeding him and his son. Raya left his son there and went back to the village to try to make some money painting houses. The first thing he noticed was that someone was building a house on his old foundation of concrete blocks. The second thing he noticed was that all of his paint cans had been taken. No one had ever taken anything of his before. He didn't know what to do. He didn't understand why all of this had happened. He thought back to the times when he would come home from a day of work and listen to cricket games on the radio. He remembered lying in bed with his wife. He remembered going on walks with his mother. Maybe the ocean would come in and take him away. Who would notice? Who would care? He walked out to the where the tide slid against the sand and sat down. He let the water come in, come in, come in. After some time, the water came up to his chest. He thought how odd it all was. One day he was painting a building blue, the next day his house had disappeared. Pushing his son out of a tree, the soldiers burning his house, the white person taking his picture, sitting here now. The earth shakes and shimmies and we all fall down. The water hit him in the neck and he coughed, it hurt. He stood up and walked back into the village. He was hungry, he wondered if anyone would give him some food.

1 comment:

Awbnid said...