[Trigger Warning] The following reading contains events of death.
**This is entirely a work of fiction and no distress was intended for any family/person affected by a natural disaster.
“Please Ma!” Arya pleaded. “I made it to my final semester. The least I deserve is a vacation with my friends.”
“To Goa, Arya?” Mrs Karun said still intensely rolling rotis. “In your dreams. I heard from Mrs Ahuja that her neighbour’s daughter, Shalini, was caught smoking weed on her mom’s balcony right after her trip to Goa. God forbid! Maybe she even got herself into drugs.”
“Trust me, Ma. It’s just a 3-day trip. We will roam a few beaches and then I will be back to you.”
Sensing that this was still not enough to melt his stringent mother’s will, he turned towards his father.
“You tell her dad. She got married to you at my age but now she can’t trust me to go on a vacation on my own.”
Mr Karun gently put down his newspaper. Arya’s friends back at school always teased how scary his father looked and since he was his father’s son, he would soon turn into such a scary man. Yes, his father was big and his moustache was bigger but Arya knew that his father loved him more than anyone else around him. Mr Karun never really could stop himself from giving what Arya wanted and this vacation didn’t have a reason to be an exception.
“Let him go Latha. He is old enough to know good from the bad. You should try to trust your son instead of some Mrs Ambuja.”
“Fine. I want you father and son to take responsibility if something happens.” She said pointing her belan towards them.
Arya smiled at his father and quickly gave his mother a thank-you kiss. Finally, he was on the wall of fame of people whose trip made it out of the group chat.
The next few days were all Arya planning and packing stuff. He was like a boy before his first picnic or maybe that’s exactly what he was. But then to his disappointment came a call.
“Raju broke his hand, that idiot.” A voice spoke on the telephone.
“What? How?” Arya’s voice spelt disappointment.
“Yes. It seems that he took his dad’s Splendor for a ride and came back with an arm-cast. He won’t be coming.”
They both sighed. All nine of them extensively planned the trip a semester ago and now one of them failed to make it. Everyone, by now, had a mental image of what they would do after reaching Goa but now that one from that image was missing their morale took a hit. And then fear stuck- should they go? Maybe just hang out at the local tea corner and have some Pepsi? But then wouldn’t it be an insult to their sweat and determination to quit after reaching this far, they thought and the plan was back on.
Maybe they shouldn’t have gone or, they should have waited until Raju got back his bone in a piece. Arya dreamed of becoming a pilot and was pursuing Aviation. He wanted to travel the world and maybe he thought that this trip was his “step-one”. It was 2004 and Arya’s favourite movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was no longer a movie star but a governor. Maybe even that might have had a tiny bit of influence over this decision. There were at least a hundred different scenarios that could’ve played to prevent Arya from taking the trip. But when all is said and done, fate took him to what would be his happiest and most memorable photograph.
The circled date on the calendar came and the gang boarded the train to the land of all their recent fantasies. They sang, joked, ate, and mostly they talked- about their dreams, life and girls. Arya dreamed of becoming a pilot, Arjun- a doctor, Balu- a lawyer, and the others- an engineer, except Karan. Karan was a photographer. Everyone could count on him to take lots of pictures to show off back home. Balu then started calling their train- the “Dream Train”. It was little to do with their professional goals but mostly because not one among them had a girlfriend.
At moments they thought that wherever they go whatever they did, the fun they were having couldn’t be peaked. But then they arrived- Goa. The collars were raised and sleeves folded. One would think they won the World Cup for India.
It was Christmas when they arrived. Goa was brighter than usual. There were celebrations on every street and corner. And Arjun had bought them into one such radiant celebration at a beach. Well, Arya was too tired from the journey and only ever wanted to rest his eyes since. But it soon turned futile for his body to tell him to rest for the adrenaline and ecstasy he was feeling making memories of his life kept him awake all night. Karan was sure to capture every moment which could grow up to be nostalgia. One photo among the stash was unanimously declared the best. The sun was setting low and their silhouettes around the campfire told the world one word- youth. Arya somehow knew that photograph was now their happiness but one day it was going to make someone cry.
After a night filled with chuckles and snorts rose the sun. A few of them were passed out on the sand. But not Arya. He was gazing at the rising sun thinking over and over, “What would I do if I missed this?”
But soon an unusual silence broke his trance. The people around him were still talking; laughing. He could see a few kids playing from his peripheral. Even then, something felt off.
It took him a few seconds to notice but there was no sound of birds. The waves were quieter. The shore seemed further. “Did I move away,” he thought.
It was too late when the realization finally hit Arya. A huge mountain suddenly appeared before the sun he was gazing at. Not anyone was different from Arya. While everyone was contemplating the situation, silence covered the beach for one solid moment until someone let out a deafening screech, “Aah! Tsunami!”
Contrary to the life-long pacts made between the friends just hours prior, not a single thought of Arya’s went towards explaining the situation to his friends who had just waken from the wailing around them. His fight-or-flight kicked in, but who could he fight? A walking mountain? God? So, he ran. Each time he looked back the mountain appeared much bigger and each time he ran faster. His mind was throwing all kinds of questions at him.
“Is this how it ends?”
“What would dad do?”
“What would he tell Ma?”
“How should I live? Where do I run?”
He ran and kept running until he could see no one. He would think he was out of the chaos if not for the ear-splitting roar he kept hearing behind him. And when he turned to look back, he saw- darkness, just a foot ahead ready to swallow him. Chills ran down his spine as he thought, “Maybe I should’ve listened and stayed.”
On 26th December 2004, a series of massive tsunamis made their way inland and took the surrounding coasts of the Indian Ocean mostly by surprise. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters recorded in history killing an estimated 227,898 people in 14 countries and leaving countless families in pain and shock.
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