The Aftermath of the Quake

By Judith Hunt
Friday December 21, 2007

You ask what it has been like for the rest of us, safely distant from the quake. ... Like death in the family. You know the feeling—a great emptiness, and somewhere inside you, a tight-coiled spring of sorrow wound beyond its limit, ready to slip its cog and suddenly let go with a whirring wail. 

Nearly a week has passed since it happened, but again last night I awoke in tears. I had been dreaming of how the seemingly endless flow of refugees through here began.  

That first young couple I fearfully watched come over the nearby hill in late afternoon of that awful day could have served as models for a Diego Rivera mural of rural Mexico: rough-sandaled bare feet, he in flour-sack pants, striped poncho, and wide-brimmed straw sombrero, she in long skirt with reboza and a black shawl shading her face and covering her hair, as if on her way to church. On the woman’s lap slept a half-grown piglet; on it she rested her small brown hand protectively. Side by side, the couple jolted along behind a tired gray burro drawing their rude single-axle cart, that creaked with each turn of its hand-hewn solid wood wheels. 

Dazed, the man and woman stared straight before them, their listless eyes focused far off along the toad, on some invisible horror they could not leave behind. 

“Their springs are more than ready to slip their cogs,” I observed to my wife as I left her by my radio and went out to them.  

“Buenas tardes.” 

“Buenas tardes,” they responded dully. 

Their burro stopped, twitched his ears, shivered the skin on his back, and flickered his tail at the flies. 

“I am a short-wave “ham” operator,” I began uncertainly. “The government asks us to report names and addresses of anyone coming from the affected areas, so outside relatives can be notified.” 

“We are from Reales...” 

A village twenty miles away. They must have traveled all day, without provisions. 

“My name is Jose Poblado, and she is my wife Annamaria. We have no relatives outside...We lived on the land of Don Fernando Reales...” 

The settlement took its name from the district’s principal landowner; Poblado must be one of Reales’ tenant farmers. 

.....“I was at work in the field when the earthquake struck, and my wife was watering the burro and pig. Our little son Jose was still asleep indoors....” Poblado gave a heavy sigh. ...“We thought we had the best house on the rancho, sheltered under the overhang of a wide flat rock—like in a cave--that shaded us in summer and protected us from winter winds. But in the quake, the rock split off and crushed our house. Now there you see only tons of broken rock; under it our beloved child is buried, with all we own—except this cart and burro. The father sighed again before he added, “The pig, our boy had made his pet...Him, we will never eat.” 

Seconding her husband’s words, the woman shook her head vehemently, shuddered, hugged the piglet closer and turned blank frightened eyes on me. 

My chest tightened, as if sorrow would stifle me. “Get down and come here,” I said then, almost brutally. 

I reached out to them dumbly, pulled them into my arms. Pig and all, I hugged them close. 

“Cry!” I whispered hoarsely. 

At my command, we all three burst into tears. 

We wept for a long time, while the piglet slipped down to root in our dusty yard. 

As their sobs gradually abated with my own, the stricken father and mother still weakly clung to me. 

“Julia, Julia!” In desperation, I called to my wife. 

Julia had watched, and had warm food ready for us. 

The man and woman devoured the meal swiftly, silently, not once raising their eyes—as if ashamed of their hunger. 

When they were done, my wife and I led them to our bedroom. 

There, even as we were laying aside their outer clothing, they fell asleep in our arms.  

“Poor dears! Like exhausted children. Worn out by grief,” Julia said softly as we laid them side by side on our pillows and covered them.