Sunday, August 4, 2013

Did the Himalayas Collapse?

Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods are disasters of nature. The United States undergoes her share of natural destruction. People help physically as well as with donations in the U.S. and as well as in the other parts of the world. The United Nations and the Red Cross rush to help people in disaster.
In my story today, an earthquake shakes up a town at the foothills of the Himalayas; two children live through the earthquake at school.
In the United States, children undergo fire drills at school to learn how to be safe in case of an emergency. I leave it up to the adults to give such lessons to their children.
This story is for first-second-third grade children. The explanation of a couple of hard words is included in the story.


Did the Himalayas Collapse?

One sunny and cold day, school bags on their shoulders, seven year old Amar and Ayesha ambled towards their school.
Amar noticed a torn brown cardboard box on the cobble-stoned street. Cool, a soccer-box! Can I kick it over the snowy mountain peak? He put down the school bag, picked up one foot; one, two and threekick. The whole street shook. Amar lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. Ayesha sprawled on the soccer box.
Did I shake the earth? Amar shrugged, got up, and dusted his clothes.
“Get off my soccer-box Ayesha. This time I’m gonna make it fly over the Himalayas..”
Ayesha tucked the loose strands of hair behind her ears, and tidied her clothes.
“Amar, stop goofing. No one can kick that hard.”
Ayesha’s Amma screamed, “Ayesha, Amar, come back. It’s an earthquake!”
Ayesha shouted back, “Amma. We’ve got school.”
Amma called again, louder this time, “Back home, RIGHT NOW.”
The children ran back to Ayesha’s home, and waited on the front porch. They felt no tremors for a long time. They argued with their mothers and and decided to run to their school. They ran through the long hallway, into the classroom and onto their seats.
"Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. It’s a part of the Himalayan mountain range in Asia.” Mr. Tola, their second grade teacher pointed to a map.
Amar and Ayesha exchanged glances and smiled. We live at the foothills of the Himalayas and see the tallest peak everyday!
Ayesha raised her hand.
Mr. Tola asked: “Yes, Ayesha?”
Ayesha stood up, viewed the entire class, and took a deep breath, “Mount Everest came up when there was a great earthquake.”
"That’s right. Millions of years ago, just before Mount Everest came up, the earth shook, land cracked, things dropped in the cracks and from deep inside, the earth moved up, creating a new land mass. And when that earthquake ---"
A thunderous sound echoed through the classroom. The overhead ceiling light flickered and soon went out. Mr. Tola’s booming voice resonated, "It’s an earthquake. We can’t get out fast enough. Everybody, cover your heads with your hands; under your desks, under my table, move, everyone, MOVE IT, RIGHT NOW."
Amar’s stomach jumped into his throat. He screamed and grabbed Ayesha’s arm and slid under the teacher’s huge, wooden table with Mr. Tola. The other children scrambled under their old sturdy wooden desks. A couple of terrified children froze on the spot, and stared at nothing.
Ayesha shouted, “Guys, GET DOWN! It’s an earthquake!”
The terrified children ran to take cover.
Amar pulled Ayesha’s long scarf, “Did the Himalayas collapse?”
The loud crashing of the windowpanes drowned the sounds of the fluttering pages of books. Charts and pictures flew off the walls. With a noisy rumble, the roof buckled on the room furniture and pinned the children under their desks. One more tremble brought in a huge evergreen from the playground, crashing with a deafening noise. Great clouds of dust sent children coughing between their shrieks. Amar & Ayesha tried escaping from under the table. Mr.Tola held them down. Tears rolling, the two kids held on to the table-legs.
When the aftershocks stopped, loud sirens of a fire-truck echoed through the remnants of their school.
Amar and Ayesha wriggled out from under the table.
"Are you okay Amar?” Ayesha mumbled from behind the scarf that kept the dust and smoke from going in her mouth and nose.
“I think so.” What’s wet under my sock? Amar bent down to see his scraped ankle bleeding into his sock. Uh, oh. He swung his foot around. But it doesn't hurt. Amar squinted and searched for his missing shoe. Smoke-- What caught fire?
He wiped his eyes with his shirt-tail and licked his sleeves to get rid of the taste of smoke and dust. He eyed the torn shirt; Mummy’s not gonna like this.
His heart sank when he saw a bookshelf ablaze in the next room. Within seconds, it left a smoldering mound of ash on the cement floor. The fire died down.
Mouth agape, Ayesha and Amar stared at the devastation, a mangled mass of scattered piles of bricks, stones, pictures, books and pencils, book bags, and lunch boxes everywhere.
They heard a loud moan midst the crying children.
“Where’s Mr. Tola?”
The table that saved them from the falling debris had trapped Mr. Tola. Amar tried to budge the two legs that tilted the table on Mr. Tola.
“Here, everybody, I see some kids and their teacher. Amar, are you okay?" 
Amar looked up at the concerned face of his neighbor.
“I’m okay, but Mr. Tola…”
“Amar and Ayesha, and everyone who can walk, get out. We’ll take care of your teacher and the other kids.”
Disheveled Amar and Ayesha stepped out into to an open with other scruffy children.
People scrambled right and left to reach the school. They jumped over the water-stream left by a broken water pipe and walked around the two electric poles that bent over tons of rocks and bricks. Layers of dust and mud covered everything.
Amar and Ayesha kept quiet as they listened to people’s earthquake discussions.
“The earthquake spared our homes but the school and beyond... it was bad.”
Another man asked, “Did they use poor material when building this school?”
A young man replied, “I work for a seismologist in the city lab. The epicenter is closer to school than our homes.
“What’s an epicenter? What is a seismologist?”
“Epicenter is a point directly above the origin of the earthquake. And a seismologist is a scientist who works with earthquakes.” The young man continued, “the earthquake measured almost 7.0 on the Richter scale, strong enough to damage a poorly built building.”
Ayesha muttered, “Yeah, strong enough to demolish our school.”
Two men laid Mr. Tola on an even spot and rushed back to help the other teachers and children.
“But why did the earthquake happen?” Amar asked aloud.
Mr. Tola cleared his throat; he sat up, “Kids, I’m glad you’re safe.” 
“But why did the earthquake occur?” Amar repeated.
Again, Mr. Tola cleared his throat, "Well, an earthquake is natural phenomenon, like the sunshine, wind, rain, and snow.”
The kids nodded, their anxious eyes focused on the teacher.
“The earth is made of constantly moving flat rocks, called the Tectonic plates. They move smoothly and slowly, going past one another, going over and under, rubbing, and creating friction. They pull away, bump into one another, and boom, you have an earthquake!”
Ayesha made an angry face, “It broke down our school!”
Amar widened his eyes, “My grandpa says that we’ll always have earthquakes!”
Mr. Tola nodded, “Because our area is on an earthquake fault line.
Amar clenched his teeth, “Who drew that faulty line? I’m gonna to erase it.”
Mr. Tola patted Amar’s back and smiled, “My child, you can’t erase it. It’s a weak, imaginary line deep down in the earth where an earthquake is most likely to occur.”
Eyeing the Himalayas, Ayesha asked, “Mr. Tola, will we have another earthquake?”
“Ayesha, I hope not.”
The two kids saw that most of the children went home on bicycles and motorcycles, with friends and relatives. A few waited for their parents.
Dad picked up Amar, and gave him a bear hug.
Ayesha’s face broke into a smile as she darted to meet her mother.
Mr. Tola looked up at the clearing sky, at the rubble of his school and then at his hands. Tomorrow, we start to re-build our school. 

The End

© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

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