It’s Sunday afternoon, Easter Sunday. We’ve finished watching “The Right Stuff” and have just started to watch “Three Kings”. The sun is shining outside, there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The window starts to rattle. It’s been rattling most of the afternoon. It isn’t particularly tight in its frame, and the slightest gust makes it rattle. Except, it normally rattles once/twice and then settles. Now it is is rattling constantly.
Earthquake! – says maria. Can you feel it?
This is a point of contention between us. I have never felt an earthquake since moving to Mexico, she tells me there have been 3/4. I come back with “it was just a lorry outside”, that is what made the hangers move in the wardrobe.
Yes – I say.
And I can. Forget the rattle of the window, you can see the floor rolling. No, seriously the floor rolls. It undulates. You know how you see those films of earthquakes where they show you solid concrete rippling – it does.
We’re going out – she says.
I don’t argue, I don’t panic. I do think of picking up the laptop. I think of grabbing the camera. I stop myself. I’ve been in one of these situations before, not an earthquake, a fire. That time I did the same, just got up and walked out. Picked up nothing, didn’t run, didn’t panic, just left the building. All those years of practice at school for fire drill set me in good stead. Earthquake drill is pretty much the same – except in school they like to get you to climb under your desk for ten seconds – get out the building, get as far away as possible from the building.
We head towards the front door. The ground is rolling and I feel sick, seasick. I don’t (or never have) suffered from seasickness (and yes, I have spent time on ships/boats/dinghies) but this time I feel it. Nothing really matches up with anything. By that I mean, the floor is moving, you are moving, you can see the walls moving, the floor moving, but it makes no sense to your brain. I felt sick in the pit of my stomach.
maria grabbed the front door keys, the front door is locked, three locks. I’ve got no shoes on, she’s got no shoes on, at least we are not in our pyjamas! This is unusual for a Sunday afternoon but we were planning on Skyping later in the day, so clothes on. maria gets the three locks done and then fails to open the door. It is only a second, but in that second the thought flashes through my mind that the door is stuck. It isn’t. We leave the flat.
Opposite us the door opens at the same time and the neighbour steps out. The three of us make it down the stairs to the ground, the people from the downstairs flat are already out. The earthquake is still going on. I’ve heard that earthquakes seem to last for ages, but this one is lasting for ages. We move as far away as possible from the building – which means we are now leaning against a wall. The wall is also vibrating, except it isn’t a vibration, it’s an undulating ripple. Stupidly, this wall is the main wall of the house next door. In trying to get away from our flat, we have pushed ourselves up to another building. But we don’t have keys to get out the gate and into the street.
maria pushes herself off the wall and stands, looking out into the street. You can see everything rippling. It’s weird. Like everything is being refocused through a camera lens, from blurry to focused and then back out.
The kids – she says.
And then she sets off back up the stairs for the phone. The earthquake is still going on – or is it? It is hard to tell. If you’ve ever been at sea or ice/roller skated for some time, you know how your legs are still wobbly when you walk normally on land? It’s a bit like that. I’m still wobbly and I can’t tell if it is still the earthquake or it is me. I don’t say anything to maria, there is no point. We’d just argue and she’d be stood on the stairs which would be daft. The neighbour starts to question what she is doing, but she moves so quickly (maria) that she is in the house and back out, dialing, within seconds.
The earthquake finishes. I don’t know what to do now. I’ve heard of aftershocks and, honestly, I’m scared. Really scared. Earthquakes in Haiti, earthquakes in Chile, all in the last couple of months have made me aware. Now, obviously the building I’m about to enter hasn’t fallen down but…But it makes no sense that it is still standing. There were ripples running through the walls seconds ago. This isn’t a cotton blanket that you have just flicked, this is a solid, concrete wall. How does it not crack? How does it not have some structural weakness? It makes no sense.
The kids are fine. Everyone is fine. It was a 6.9 earthquake that lasted nearly a minute. The good news is that is was a rolling earthquake, not a “jump around, jump around, jump up and jump down” type earthquake. Back in the flat Twitter is going crazy. Everyone felt it, everyone is fine. maria switches from phoning her kids to phoning her mum.
You heard the window? ‘Cos you’re useless at knowing there’s an earthquake, use that as a guide – she says.
Four minutes later the window rattles again and the door starts to wobble. It’s an aftershock. I’m actually feeling sicker. Really sick in my stomach. I think it is because I am thinking. Up until now I’ve always known that there could be an earthquake, just didn’t treat it seriously. Now it is serious.
I’m wildly checking internet sites. CNN tell me that people in Los Angeles had their chandeliers shaken. The New York Times tells me that the shock could be felt in Los Angeles. I’m sort of getting annoyed. Who cares about Los Angeles? It was here. Here in Baja. !50km southeast of Tijuana. And then the next aftershock hits. This one is a beast. 5.4 on the Richter scale. For the seven seconds it lasts I am really scared. This one seems to last forever, much longer than the real thing because now, now I’ve done the thinking. Now I know that it can go wrong. Now I am looking forward to collapsed buildings, digging people out of wreckage, missing the result of tomorrow’s footy match (Sheffield United v Newcastle), hell, missing the result of Chivas v America tonight…and not caring. Except. Except. It’s over. Over before maria (who always knows when there is an earthquake) notices. She’s still on the phone with her mum! I tell her.
We’ll sleep in our clothes tonight – she says.
I put on a pair of shoes. I’ve been walking around in socks all this time. I check my phone, it’s fully charged, and put it in my pocket. I get my wallet and put that in my pocket as well. I check that the front door is unlocked. I open a beer. I feel a bit sick, I need something to settle my stomach.
No longer an earthquake virgin.