We were twenty people, seven men, eight women, five children, and a dog too to be precise. It was the break of the dawn the next day. We were surrounded by water on all four sides. Kids were sleeping on the laps of their mothers. No more noise of the kids playing around. They were tired and so were we. A pin-drop silence. Nobody wanted to talk about the previous night. We just wanted to relax for some time.
'Do you think, they will come today?' voice of a lady sitting next to me broke my chain of thoughts.
'I hope so' I said and took a deep breath.
'It wasn't easy yesterday for us too. We tried our best but …,' she stopped midway. I held her hand so that she can continue to speak what's in her heart. 'But in the end, I have to let him go' she said.
A tear rolled down from her eye. She wiped it off. She gently tapped on an eight-year-old daughter's forehead. A mild smile appeared on her face after seeing her daughter sleeping soundly.
'Mother's love' I said.
'She will cry once she is awake and I am confused about what should I feed her. Last night we had a packet of glucose biscuits. Now, we have nothing to eat. How are we going to survive the entire day?'
'We will surely manage something. Imagine if the other four kids also wake up and cry for food!' I wondered. She ignored my statement about the hunger of the other four children.
At that moment she was thinking only about her child. 'What if, today also, we get the same glucose biscuit?' she said.
'We will have to take it. Beggars cannot be choosers.'
We received those biscuits yesterday night around ten. Everything was distributed equally amongst us irrespective of the gender and age group. I got my share of 5 biscuits. I was so hungry that I galloped it in few minutes and now, today morning, I am hungry again. I wondered things would have been different if I had saved one or two biscuits until we get the next packet. Stupid me!
The black sky was changing into dark grey as the sun was rising on the horizon. Birds were seen flying freely in the sky searching food. We all were at one place staring at the birds in the sky.
I thought, "What an irony, they are free today and we are caged."
It wasn't dark now but we still cannot see the sun in the sky due to dark clouds hovering above us. Things seemed pretty clear now compared to the night vision. Everything was submerged. I went closer to the safety boundary to have a closer look if I could see anything beyond the waterline. I returned to where I was previously sitting. I was feeling low and my hopes were drowning too.
It is 12 hours on the rooftop since we are stranded on a high rise building surrounded by water on all four sides.
Just then the baby sleeping next to me woke up. She rubbed her eyes and looked around to find her mother. Her mother was walking around. I held her hand and started walking towards her mother. The moment, baby spotted her mother; she left my hand and ran towards her and hugged her tightly.
'She was awake and searching for you. So I thought to bring her to you before she starts crying' said I.
She looked at her daughter. 'Yes, she has a habit of daily waking up to me. If I am not around, she starts crying'
After some time other kids too were awake and once again the silence was filled with the commotion of children running, playing, and crying around. Though they were only five in the count their voices were overpowering all the elders. If one child starts crying others start too. Similarly, if one kid is hungry and demands food and water, others follow too. The same happened here. One kid started to demand food. Others too did the same. Kids were all of the different age groups from three years to ten years old. Parents were panicking now as they had nothing to feed them.
I was standing in the corner and noticing the struggle of parents. They were trying to convince them to wait for some time and we will get food. None of the children agreed with their parents. In those loud cries, I saw her holding her daughter's hand as she walked behind the water tank installed on the terrace of that high rise building. She was hiding from everyone's sight, I decided to follow her. She tried to make her girl quiet then once her daughter stopped crying, she gave her one biscuit which she kept hidden within her scarf.
'All biscuits were distributed yesterday night and nothing extra was left, then how she can have that biscuit with her?' I wondered.
I noticed she was stepping out so I hid behind the wall of the water tank. Her daughter was no longer crying now. Other children got busy playing or listening to stories and were not crying. I went towards her as if nothing happened. 'She seems quiet now'
'Yes, others too' she replied struggling to bring a smile on her face. I stopped myself to bring up the topic of biscuit since I knew it is a mother's love for her child.
It was 15 hours on the rooftop now
She then asked, 'Do you think they will give us something to eat?'
I raised my shoulders indicating I don't know.
'They should know we have small children with us and they all are hungry. At least they should send some food. How can we continue without food and water the entire day?'
I took out one distilled water bottle and handed it to her. I still had two more with me. Children can drink more and more water to avoid starving. That's the only way possible now until we receive food packets. Just then dark clouds gathered once again with loud thundering and lightning in the sky. We all ran to a safe place under the shade. Thankfully, the rooftop had a one-fourth area covered with a shade. We all ran in there. The sky looked scary now. With the loud thundering and lightning, all kids got frightened and started to cry.
I realized it's time to use this rainwater for our benefit rather than dying with hunger and thirst. I stepped out, opened my umbrella, and placed it on the ground upside down. So that rainwater gets collected and we all can use it for drinking purposes. It's clean water that can be used rather than letting it fall-out from the rooftop and mix with the surrounding dirty and unhygienic water. Once it is filled in umbrella I started filling it in all the empty bottles. Other few people joined me too.
After a few hours when it stopped raining, we all stepped out to see if there was an increase in the water level surrounding us. Yes, there was. A loud sound of the helicopter made us look up above the sky. They were announcing about the heavy to very heavy rainfall in the next twenty-four hours. They requested us to stay safe and alert.
It was 17 hours on the rooftop now
Children were panicking and started to cry because of hunger. I saw her; she again took her daughter behind the water tank. This time she gave her two biscuits and her daughter ate it happily. As they were stepping out, I stood there in front of her. 'Where those biscuits come from?' I asked.
'It's nothing to do with you' she replied and started to walk away.
I held her hand and demanded an answer, 'It is a relevant question when other four children are crying out of hunger, and you have biscuits which can be shared with other children too'
By now everybody heard us and gathered around to understand the situation. Few of them overheard us talking about extra biscuits. They too joined me demanding an answer. They all gathered around her and her daughter in a circular. Anger, frustration, and all emotions were mixed now as they were stepping closer. One of the ladies was so angry that she was about to snatch the remaining biscuits from her and feed her two children. I stopped her.
'Just say it. We want to know if you have any extra biscuits which can be shared with other children' I requested. 'They all are angry. Understand the situation and answer'
She was crying now and her daughter too. 'It's mine' she replied softly. Everyone was listening to her carefully. When she continued, 'It's mine. I didn't eat my share of biscuits yesterday and saved it for my daughter so that I can give her one by one whenever she ask till we are delivered with other food packets'
The air was filled with silence. Anger was now changed into empathy. She was crying profusely. I hugged her knowing that she was starving over 17 hours for the sake of her daughter. Her daughter asked for a biscuit once again. She unwraps her scarf and had only two biscuits left in. She looked around at other children too. They were staring at those biscuits. She divided it amongst all five.
It was 20 hours at the rooftop now
I sat next to her. 'I am sorry for what happened a few hours ago'
'It's ok. It was my fault too' she replied. 'I should have thought of other children. We all are in the same situation' she smiled.
I hugged her. With the loud noise of the helicopter, we all looked in the sky once again.
'They are throwing food packets' I said loudly.
We all scattered here and there to catch maximum food packets. Hunger makes us do crazy things. We all were hungry. The packets were thrown down at us from the helicopter. The wind pressure of helicopter blades made packets to fall in the surrounding water. We were fifteen adults so there is a probability of each catching single packet. But the wind flow made it difficult. Maximum packets fell on the surrounding water surface, two of the individuals among us, misjudged the water current, jumped into the water to catch those packets. Heavy water currents carried them far away. It was then we realized the intensity of the situation where we all are stuck and a small miscalculation can risk our lives.
It was just two minutes when the helicopter flew away from us. We
were now thirteen adults with five children and a dog. Two of them jumped from the rooftop in an attempt to catch food packets and got carried away. Once again there was a pin drop silence. We noticed we had a total of eight food packets with us to be divided among eighteen and a dog. The owner of the dog was one of two individuals who drowned. We opened all packets and divided it into eighteen portions and started eating. Nobody thought of the dog tied in the corner, looking at everybody asking for food.
I stood up and shared my food portion with the dog.
'You don't have to do this' she said as she came and sat next to me.
'Why not?' I asked.
'His owner should look after him' she said.
'His owner died and there's no one now' I said as I looked at the dog that was eating rapidly. 'It's not wrong. As you saved food for your daughter, I shared mine with the dog' I smiled.
She had nothing to counter now. 'Do you think they will get us out from here?'
'I hope they do it quickly' I replied. 'We all should be at a safe place before any mishap takes place. I pray it doesn't happen anytime now'
She looked at him confusingly, 'This is also a safe place' she said.
'It is. No doubt. But 80% of the building is submerged in water for over twenty hours now. We don't even know how much more it can stand!'
'Why can't we think of moving to another safer place on our own?'
'We can't. Till the time we are here, we are safe. There is water on four sides and no one can swim across those powerful currents. Even the best of swimmers can drown in this current. We have seen it a few minutes back. We all have to stay together and stay alert'
'I agree with you' she said.
'They know about our whereabouts and maybe they are planning to move us. Just hope it happens soon'
She brought her daughter near to her and hugged her tightly. 'Yesterday night when the water level was rising high, we three left our home together and thought that we will be able to make it to a safer place at high altitude. Heavy rain droplets were hitting our faces hard; we continued to walk making our ways in those heavy winds. There was a sudden rise in the water level and half of our body was submerged in water. He was holding my hand and our daughter too in another hand' she was narrating her ordeal. In a situation like this, we all have to support each other. Supporting someone emotionally helps them to release their stress and anxiety. I held her hand.
She continued, 'A huge wave came and with its impact, he got misbalanced. I immediately held him but that made me too to misbalance and fall. I found a platform to hold and balance myself again. Seeing me balancing again, he handed our daughter to me. I immediately grabbed her in my arms and made her stand on the platform holding a rod. I extended my hand towards him to pull him back to safety. He tried his best to hold my hand firmly but the wave currents were too strong. The more I was trying to hold his hand, the more I was moving far away from our daughter standing on that platform.' Her voice was shaky now. Eyes filled with water. I held her hand more tightly assuring her I am there. I am listening.
'He wanted one of us should stay with our daughter, so he decided to leave my hand and the water flow took him away from me' by now she was sobbing. I hugged her and consoled her.
'We will move out from here to a safer place' I said firmly. Few of them standing near to us, joined in as we held each other's hand. We all said it loudly together, 'We will move out from here to a safer place' A sudden wave of motivation was filled within us as we hugged each other.
It was 23 hours at the rooftop now
Once again clouds thundered and lightning was seen in the sky. Making our surroundings look scarier. With every rainfall, there was a rise in the water level. It looked scarier, we can see huge waves almost hitting the walls of the rooftop and returning. We all rushed under the shade and made kids stand in the center. In that loud wave noise and thundering, one of us heard the sound of the helicopter coming in. Few of us stepped out to locate the helicopter. We waved our hands asking for help. We knew our voice cannot reach them still we all were screaming at the top of our voices.
Finally, it arrived.
A huge helicopter, with a capacity to carry twenty-five individuals at a single time, was hovering over our heads for our rescue. We were happy and scared too at the same time. Waves were hitting the rooftop wall frequently. We quickly formed a queue to climb the ladder that was hanging up there. I suddenly recalled the dog standing last in the queue. I went back and held him in my arms. It was then when everyone protested carrying the dog to a safer place.
'I cannot leave him here. You all climb up and I will be the last one climbing the ladder but I will not leave the dog here to die. No.' I said firmly.
Others agreed to this since I will be climbing up the rope last. It was my turn now to climb up the ladder. It was difficult to climb carrying a dog in one hand. The waves were now swallowing the entire building and the rooftop started filling with water. At any time another huge wave will hit the ladder making me misbalance and fall on the rooftop again. I was dangling there with a dog in one hand and slowly taking each step. Winds were making the ladder swing hard. I looked up as the pilot gestured me to hurry up. He was warning me about the huge wave that will hit the building and the ladder too. I might get washed away with the dog. They wanted to shut the door and rise above before it's too late. Everyone in that helicopter watched me as I stood helplessly on that ladder. I now had three options in front of me:
'I was risking everyone's life so I should let go dog and climb up the ladder'
'I have to put more efforts and climb up the ladder which wasn’t impossible but time-consuming'
'I should get down on the rooftop along with the dog and let the helicopter go and save others'