Sometimes time doesn’t abide. My friends back in New York City had their Spring Break a week later than my school did. After a grueling start to the spring semester of 2011, I felt like I was missing out. I envied them all when they went to Cancun without me. The famous white and blue beaches… Screw them, man! Instead, I was dragged to Miyako, Japan by my friend, Yoshi, who wanted to visit his parents. It was absolutely not the ideal place for a vacation. I met this introverted yet hysterical guy in art class, and he ended up being my closest friend in college. My parents were relieved because Japan was better than Mexico with all the people who go missing down there.
Our trip to Miyako was from Monday to Friday. As we flew over the Pacific Ocean, I saw the black water. I couldn’t shake off the images of white and blue beaches. We arrived in Miyako on Monday morning. The cold was something I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t prepared for anything really, and if I wasn’t careful, I’d get lost in this world. I didn’t know how to speak Japanese. I could understand a little, but I couldn’t hold a conversation. Yoshi was the only person I could talk to. His apartment, which was a block away from the beach, was cramped with miniature-looking furniture. His parents weren’t really accommodating people, always giving me a suspicious look. Maybe it’s because I’m Lebanese.
We didn’t do anything on Monday because the jet lag knocked us both out. I was interrogated by Yoshi’s parents about who I was: an only child, an art student, a retail worker at Macy’s. Yoshi interpreted and I don’t think they were impressed with who I was. They had stern looks on their faces. Maybe they thought Yoshi would invite over an accomplished Japanese scientist.
On Tuesday, Yoshi and I walked around. That’s all we did, and sometimes, I felt like my life was wasting away if it wasn’t on a warm beach. I’ve seen all that Manhattan had to offer. Why would ten-story concrete buildings impress me? It all looked so dull and gray, and the weather was dull with all its cloudiness, like it was always going to snow, but the snow never fell. That would’ve been something, because at the very least, I like snow.
By Wednesday, I was becoming depressed by the loneliness and uninspiring sights. I grind my teeth whenever Yoshi pointed up at a building, smiling, as if it were a landmark. The food was delicious however; the sushi being the most authentic Japanese I’ve ever eaten. We had gone to a mall on that day, and I lost Yoshi in the crowd. I was missing for a good 15 minutes, but Yoshi found me. It was a nerving experience because we were on the other side of town and I didn’t know how to get back to the apartment. This was when the tension started to build between us. I couldn’t stop moping around like a child after that. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I needed someone to vent to.
On Thursday, Yoshi decided to meet up with two of his childhood friends, and he ended up dragging me along with him. It was an alienating experience at the buffet where we eat. All night, they spoke Japanese, and Yoshi didn’t even try to involve me in their conversation. I just sat there silent for an hour, even after we had finished eating. Fed up, I retreated to a bar next door. The alcohol comforted me enough to talk gibberish to Japanese students next to me. And then Yoshi walked in with his friends, finally caring. “You always go missing,” he yelled, upset, embarrassing me in front of his friends.
It was Friday afternoon and I couldn’t wait to leave for home. My bags had been already packed the night before departure. I woke up all alone in Yoshi’s empty apartment. He probably didn’t wake me up because of the fight we had last night. His parents were out at work. The emptiness of his apartment triggered something in my brain, and I remembered being empty-handed in bringing something back to my parents. Where we were wasn’t a tourist spot, and I hadn’t been successful in finding anything to bring back home. I decided to go out and do a little last minute shopping by myself. I was hesitant at first because I was afraid I’d go missing again. I left a note.
Then I thought against it and crumpled it up. Maybe I wanted Yoshi to wonder where I’d gone missing to get back at him.
The first thing I noticed upon exiting Yoshi’s building was the fishy smell of the ocean nearby. The ocean wasn’t an impressive sight, but any ocean nearby excites me. I walked away from the beach, a few blocks to the commercial avenue. There were a crowd of people and the traffic was noisy, but it all looked tame compared to city life back home. I went in and out different shops that reminded me of Canal Street in Manhattan. Among the unimpressive souvenirs I came across, I picked up two small Japanese dolls that looked like me. They were short, fat ninjas. Cliché, but my parents will like these. I kept them in a plastic bag which I hung around my wrist.
After an hour, I checked my inaccurate watch and was excited at how close it was to departure. I decided to return to Yoshi’s apartment. He’s probably there now, wondering where I have gone. “Missing again,” he’d say. I traced my steps back, as if on automatic, but I didn’t end up at his building. I ended up at a school. I thought I saw the same Japanese girls I saw at the bar last night. Probably not. They all look alike. Adrenaline came from my kidneys and I began to panic. What if I wasn’t going to make it back in time for the flight? I’d have to stay here forever. My parents would think I’m missing.
Then I thought to just follow the street north parallel to the shore. I was walking south before, and Yoshi’s building was only a block away from the beach.
When I was close to the water, I stopped and looked around at the world before me. Something felt wrong. The world trembled, slightly at first, then violently. People screamed and cried in tongues I didn’t recognize. The ground shook up and down, left and right. The building in front of me appeared as though it was going to collapse on top of me. Cracks appeared on the ground and ripped open, small at first, then large enough to devour a white sedan with someone in it. That someone will probably be missing forever. Windows all around shattered to the ground and I ended up falling and cutting both my hands. The souvenirs I had spilled out of the bag. Before they were gone, I rescued them.
A boom and a roar nearby. Probably an explosion. Followed by a crashing sound.
The earthquake lasted for a few minutes, but it felt like an hour. And then, the world stood still. So did I, shocked. I still heard low rumbling. I didn’t know what that sound was; probably the Earth shaking in the distance. It wasn’t as loud as the panic that ensued.
I slowly got to my feet, slightly disorientated, and surveyed the damage around me. It became another world in just a matter of minutes. The damage made this place appear apocalyptic. Rubble gathered all around the streets and sidewalks. The entire face of a building was torn down, revealing the insides. One street looked like a disfigured corpse after a car crash, wounds wide open revealing what’s underneath the surface. A building dangerously nearby collapsed. The rush of air that had been pushed by all that matter was strong enough to blow its own dust from down the street all the way to my face. People all around me seemed to be getting somewhere. I wasn’t.
Finding Yoshi’s building was my priority, but I passed by a shop where the lights had died and there was a woman trapped under a bookcase. Empathy made me rush to her aid. I pushed the glass door open, walked over fallen books, and, with all my might, tried to lift the bookcase to no avail. She was crying; blood gushing out of her mouth. She was gasping for air, unable to breath. Just when I was about to give up and leave her, two other men appeared from the back and did a better job at helping her. I felt stupid. I left. I didn’t know what came over me, but then I had this desire to loot. So many items spilled out from the windows onto the streets. I could bring these back home to my parents. But then, I thought, the plastic around my wrist had all that I needed.
The sight of the shore was within range and I witnessed something strange. It was as if the earthquake shifted Japan’s elevation upward, because the water along the beach had disappeared. I had no idea what was going on, but the view I had gotten used to for the past five days had changed. There were others looking out towards the ocean. The water receded about a half mile in. You could’ve almost seen the steep descent of the shoreline, but from where I stood, I couldn’t see the bottom. This was an awesome, yet bone-chilling sight to behold.
A loud siren pierced through my ears like one of those air raid sirens that everyone is scared of because it means that something is coming… something dangerous. A foreign voice spoke in a calm, robotic voice, with absolutely no sense of urgency. I didn’t understand it at first. People started retreating in a panic. In the distance, I saw the ocean stir violently. It didn’t look like much. The distance made those waves look like nothing. I listened to the voice again, this time carefully, and among those words was one I knew: “tsunami.”
As context was given to me, I could now make out the height and speed of the waves in the distance. They were coming.
So I ran.
As I sprinted away from the water, towards the street, the rumbling got louder and louder. As I finally reached the street, I turned around, and saw a wall of water that was about 100 feet high, rolling through the spot where I had been. I had no choice but to enter the building closest to me. If I didn’t, I was going to get swept into the streets and killed by all the eventual debris that would cut and slice through my entire body. It was around this time when the souvenirs that were meant for my parents back home went missing. I didn’t stop and look back for them. My only priority was bringing back home the only thing that mattered: myself.
The building I impulsively entered was a four-story building made of wood. A very heavy sense of dread burdened me as if this was it; this entire building was going to be my coffin. I was all alone again; the occupants had left. It was a nice house with mahogany wood, antique-looking furniture, and plants that gave the house life. It was also a scene that was going to disappear as quick as I glanced at it. As the rumbling got louder and louder, I found a staircase and ran all the way to the top floor. There was a dark hallway with a window facing east, and I could see the wall of the black water almost rising over the house. I picked out a room on the west which was a game room with a round table and a gaming system. I hid pathetically in the southwest corner as if I was hiding from Death.
A loud crash knocked the house off its foundation. Everything in the room was thrown about, including myself. I heard water swirl all around the house, which felt like it was floating and spinning around. My sense of direction was lost. There was this deafening noise of destruction, including the loud crunching of wood and glass shattering below me. It was here where I knew I was going to die.
The house crashed hard into something, an impact that fractured the entire structure and broke my tranquility. I screamed. I sobbed. A few seconds later, the wall that was supposed to be to my north started to disintegrate into a thousand pieces. The culprit: a concrete structure, probably a bridge or another building. As it eventually became my turn to crash into the concrete, I remember thinking about the state of my body once this was all over.
“There will be nothing to send back home to my parents,” I thought. “They’ll probably never find my body… I’ll always be missing.”