My first English short story. I wrote this story in 2005 and first published on a UK based short story publishing website. Later that web service was closed down. Subsequently I included it in my open story book "The Quake and Other Stories". This story was triggered by the photo of an old lady sitting helplessly before the debris of her home after hurricane Katrina, which I saw in the online edition of, probably, Washington Post. Setting of the story is 1960s. (Photos from commons.wikimedia)
While sitting in the bed fearfully, he could imagine the power of wind outside. He closed his eyes and prayed. Meanwhile howling of the wind kept on increasing every second. At last it heard to him like a thousand trains running together. Suddenly their home shook violently. Very loud cracking and popping sounds heard from everywhere. The emergency lamp fell down and went out. In a second's time heavy shower flowed on him as if there was no roof for their home. A shivering Ben felt like something pulled him up along with the bed. He desperately tried to catch Elizabeth who was sleeping a hand’s length away.
Short story: P. Anil Prasad
As usual Elizabeth began to scold Ben in the morning. Every day she would find a reason for that. But surprisingly Ben was very happy to hear it, because it was the only occasion she appeared to be energetic during those days.
Ben came out of their house to the front yard and looked at the sky. It was getting darker. ‘For last two days no family in this area might have switched off their radios and TVs’ – he thought. Repeated climate advisories for that area were all reminders of an approaching danger.
In the beginning of their story Ben was a coal mine worker and Elizabeth was his supervisor’s daughter. Apart from his works in the coal mine, Ben used to help his supervisor’s family in farming as well. During those regular visits Ben and Elizabeth became friends first and then fell in love.
Being very orthodox, Elizabeth’s family was against their affair and therefore they had to flee from their town and they got married at a distant place a few days later. When all the savings of Ben exhausted, day to day life became extremely difficult for them. After a couple of months Ben somehow managed to get a job in a cargo shipping company. Since he got periodical transfers to ships operated from different locations, they lived in many places and finally, after his retirement from the shipping company, they returned to his village and settled down at his ancestral home. Unfortunately they had no children.
By the time they returned to Ben's village it had become almost like a small town populated mostly by ordinary people. His place had a peculiarity. Around one by third area of it was covered by a lake. The terrine of their town was below the water level and during hurricanes, which was quite usual every year, it caused dangerous floods.
“you stupid sailor, without wasting time go and get some grocery” – Elizabeth further raised her voice. Hearing that, Ben slowly walked to the narrow street in front of their home.
He had to cross the high way to reach the market place. That part of highway was built over the bund between the lake and their residential area. There was heavy traffic towards north in the highway. He knew the reason. People were fleeing the place, because from the climate advisories they expected the worst flood would happen. Therefore, without waiting for an evacuation order from the local authorities, people started to leave the place voluntarily.
Ben used to buy grocery from the store of his old acquaintance Thomas, a small store called Thomas and Sons. When he reached the shop Thomas and his youngest son Roger were busily covering the glass panels in front of their shop with wooden planks to protect it from wild winds.
“hi morning! what’s up?”
“didn’t you hear that? - the evacuation instructions have come”
“I guessed, you may be going to your eldest son’s place as usual”
He bought grocery and vegetables more than usual, because he did not know when the things would return to normality in the event of hurricane and floods would happen as being predicted in climate advisories.
When Ben returned home Elizabeth was sitting in an old wooden armchair in the living room. She was physically not well for the past few years.
“did you hear the evacuation advisory?” Ben asked her while entering home.
“so what?, do you want to go somewhere?”
“it would be better…Thomas plans to go to his son…everybody started to move”
“then you may go with Thomas…or if you have children in the city go to them. I don’t have children and going nowhere”
Ben went inside without making further comments. Elizabeth followed him. From their early days of married life onward Ben used to help her in cooking. In return she was always very keen in preparing his favourite dishes. He knew she loved him very much though she did not express it well.
Through out the remaining day Ben kept on listening to the radio advisories. At night, when they were sitting in the living room after the dinner, the last warning for evacuation was broadcasted. Elizabeth was also listening to it in a casual way.
“do you fear it?” she asked him
“we’ve been undermining the evacuation instructions for the last few years and fortunately nothing worse had happened. But this time I am not that much confident. Especially both of us are not in good health”
“don’t be childish Ben, I always want to see you as the old brave mines man” – she laughed. He heard her with much surprise. Because such comments and even laughing from her were quite unusual. But he was not in mood to laugh with her. Then silence spread between them. After sometime both of them went to bed.
Fearful howling of the wind woke Ben up early in the morning around two am. Then the wind was pounding on their doors and windows. Their wooden home was vibrating deadly as if it would detach from the ground at any time. Ben reached for the switch of the bedroom lamp, but the power had already gone. He got out of his bed and switched on the emergency lamp. He anxiously looked at Elizabeth. She was sleeping peacefully after taking her midnight medication.