Earthquake

By Mario Vargas Llosa

 

The earthquake itself isn’t the worst part, it’s what comes before and after. What comes before, minutes or seconds before the shaking starts, is the sound, a deep, muffled moan that rises from the depths of the earth and paralyzes people with terror. It’s a sound you can’t compare to any other. It’s hoarse, a groan, a death rattle of underground rocks that seems to say: “Get ready to tremble, sinners.”

 

When you hear that sound you have to start running, get outside if there’s time, or if not, stand in the front entryway, which is the last part of the house to come down during a temblor. And of course, close your eyes and while the earth shakes and sometimes sways like ocean waves, say a prayer to el Señor de los Temblores and ask him to save you from being crushed or buried alive under the rubble.

 

After the earthquake come the aftershocks, which are little quakes or temblors. They don’t last long and they aren’t all that strong. But since people’s nerves have been shattered by what just happened, with every tremble people are screaming and crying and running in panic. Sometimes these aftershocks keep coming for several days, and then folks take their mattresses outside to sleep, fearful the big one will be repeated.

 

We’re twins, you know. She’s a little darker and I’m a little lighter, but we’re identical. Even our gray hair and how much we weigh. And we have always got along fine. This time the earthquake caught us in the kitchen, fixing dinner. But since this is the fifth or sixth time we’re suffered through this, we have good reflexes and the second we hear that terrible noise we start running out to the rear patio where we have the chicken coop. Poor hens! What a fright they had. Their eyes were bugging out and they were flapping against the wire, trying to get out. Animals feel the quake coming before we humans do. This time, too. Seconds before we heard the rumbling in the ground, all the dogs in the neighborhood started howling; you could tell they were terrified. Poor things!

 

Out here in our little patio with our arms around each other was where we were when it came. Everything swayed, top to bottom and bottom to top, and it seemed it was never going to stop. There was dust covering everything and the roar and the screams were enough to burst your eardrums. When it stopped and we realized we were still alive, we saw that the whole house had collapsed, that there was nothing left of the roof…barely pieces of walls. But what was saddest of all, three of our hens were crushed by the adobe blocks that fell on the coop. We were lucky. Except for the scare, and a scratch here and there, we came out of it safe and sound. We’re going to the church now and offer a prayer to the Lord for saving our lives, and then this afternoon we’ll get to work. After every earthquake, there’s so much to do!