Stacie McCall Whitaker - Stone Coast, Maine

My Grandmother Tells Me About the Earthquake in 1950

First, it was just the ants;

like bubbles of water, like blood

that oozes out of a wound, they

emerged from their holes carrying grains of rice;

we thought it was because

of the impatient slanting rains that must have

percolated, flooded their bedrooms dining rooms living rooms,

but soon, even though it wasn’t the season of

fleeing birds, the birds left their nests, angry crows flew from

one tree to another, as if one of their own

was killed. But they just cawed like frightened people:

didn’t try to claw our cheeks, pierce our eyes, as if

they were trying to tell us the secret

knowledge of the ants, alert us as they always did

about uninvited guests. One evening,

 

the wild ducks, the

sparrows, the kingfishers, woodpeckers left noisily; empty nests with eggs,

nude beehives hung from large branches dripping

golden honey in the sun, forming puddles below with no ants

to drown in its sticky sweetness. It was

 

then we knew, something was coming,

though we didn’t expect it would be the river,

because we’d come to this village fleeing the furies of another river

that attacked paddy fields, houses; that swept away

brothers sisters mothers lovers concubines. On the day

 

it came—August 15, 1950—we were planning to gather at the

school playground to sing the anthem, distribute sweets; but I fell

down while tying a bun, and I thought a dacoit had entered, pushed me,

to take away my gold jewelry. I couldn’t stand up, and the rattling walls

told me to crawl out, screaming for your grandfather; the courtyard was slimy

with thousands of earthworms germinating from the soft soil, while

water from the hot spring that had sprouted

on our courtyard burnt my cheeks; one of my legs

stuck in a deep crack. When the trees shook their heads,

we didn’t know about the newborn river that had sprouted

from the chest of a nearby mountain;

we didn’t know it was one million times

stronger than a bomb called Fat Man;

we didn’t know that the creator of

Fat Man and Little Boy had looked at the test explosion

and recited a chant from the Geeta:

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

Even without you, every warrior in the enemy camp will cease to be.”

But the ants and the birds

and the howling dogs and foxes knew,

 

so

they left,

so they howled,

barked.

About the Author

Aruni Kashyap is an Assamese writer from India. He is the author of the novel The House With a Thousand Stories (Viking/Penguin, June 2013), set against a series of widespread extra-judicial killings conducted by the Indian government during the late nineties to curb an armed insurgency. He has also translated from Assamese and introduced celebrated Indian writer Indira Goswami’s last work of fiction, The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar, for Zubaan Books (January, 2013) and is editing an anthology of short stories called How to Tell A Story About an Insurgency (HarperCollins, 2018) by writers from Assam set against the Assam Conflict. He won the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship for Creative Writing to attend the University of Edinburgh in 2009. Starting in 2018, he will work as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, Athens.