If there wasn’t any time, then it wasn’t for want of waiting. Waiting first for his alarm clock, the bell that never sounded because the power was cut. They hadn’t thought of that in their disaster planning had they? That a first alert in that early light would bring the panic of over sleep, the confusion of a Monday morning. The careful planning; money, loo roll, clean underwear; all this would be as nothing against Sunday-football-hangover-meets-Monday; the numbness and the dry eyes and the instructions not to use the lifts in the still unfamiliar apartment block.
The sea was calm; no white tops signalled through the windows. There was the routine beginning of yet another Californian sunrise that he’d have photographed and messaged her, despite the sirens and other people’s panic, had his phone not been 5% flat and dying. More pictures and text to add to the stream reaching back to England, the familiar and the strange nesting together, making the bed of a conversation they would have in the early hours of the evening as their days overlapped for an hour; as his day ended and hers began.
Each of the apartment units had a recommended path into the hills. An Emergency Plan; here the locals that told of danger, guarded against anything external or strange; goths and geeks; scorpions and mountain cats; made no distinction between the danger’s extremes; sunburn and mass extinction. Fearing the worst thing with no examination of experience.
He pulled bottled water from his bag, the under-the-bed-bag, in case of earthquake and he remembered then that he was a marshal; had volunteered to headcount at the assembly point. Waited for a second neighbour who went back to check who remained. Nothing; nothing came. The radio told of tremors downtown, here, twenty miles out, nothing. Even the breeze failed to stir the trees, grass cracked under the strain of the early and now unwatered heat.
A half mile walk to the official bus for the evacuation, walking at a stranger’s pace; neither his own usual rush or saunter. He tried to remember the score from the football, struggled to remember who the opposition had been. Who had been out last night? What other desperate, homesick ex-pats? He remembered the text he’d sent her at half time, and a photo of a humming bird at one of the tacky, sugar-solution fuelled, silk flowers in the pots outside; defiantly beautiful all the same. Her response. Their conversation, typed, not spoken, as she avoided work on the other side of the world.
The bus was late, had smelled of stale bodies and rancid food, the last vehicle from the depot. Waited for the driver as he checked them on board, as he struggled with his name, his otherness, his accent. All for nothing; a hangover accelerating nightmare through a July morning.
The school, the emergency shelter in the hills was straight from a story book, a movie image of the American west. They took a roll call of the essentially skilled and discharged him and the others to more sitting, further listening to the radio, holding out for bad news or an all clear. He wrote code in his head and forgot the structures, observed the evacuees as they wished to be away from here and finally, propped against the wall, he dozed.
He woke and acknowledged the specific pain of headache, against the general ache of the day. Wondered whether he’d had the foresight to pack pain relief in the bad-under-the-bed-now-pillow. His searching found, at the bottom of the bag, compressed by days and sleep, his blue sweatshirt that she’d worn last, in Heathrow; the logo softened with washing, the finish far from new.
The all clear wasn’t so long coming in the end.