I was sitting in a cafe typing on my laptop when I felt a little jerk. Someone probably accidentally kicked my chair, I thought, as I continued with my work. Then I felt another jerk, which at best made me raise an eyebrow.
An old lady in front of me then turned to the young man beside him and asked him, “Is this an earthquake?” I probably have not experienced enough earthquakes to be able to differentiate between an earthquake, from a mere rumbling caused by heavy trucks trampling and digging out the asphalt out of the roads. I remember the last time I experienced a minor earthquake, everyone in the computer room with me hardly peeled their eyes off the screens and resumed with their work as if nothing had happened. But when an old lady, who must have experienced plentiful of those platonic vibrations, must summon considerable amount of courage and energy to turn to the young man beside her to confirm her premonitions, something must have gone wrong.
The next moment, the whole cafe started shaking. This time, I was pretty sure no one accidentally kicked the building. For a good ten seconds, I sat on my chair and felt the vibration, yet not knowing what to do, like the rest of the Japanese customers who started chattering among themselves, perhaps about the sense of foreboding about the premonition of the old lady coming true. I stood up and walked out of the cafe without my belongings.
The scene out there was something I can never forget. The street lamps were shaking like a goal post after someone rammed a ball into it, again and again. The roads were moving sideways, and I felt as if I was on a ship hit by strong currents. People started pouring out of the buildings and one young lady sat on the ground. Cars stopped moving on the roads. The steel construction rods of the building under renovation were clattering and someone beside me started mumbling, yabai.. yabai… yabai, which means this is terrible, terrible, terrible.
For the first time, I was at a loss of what to do, what I should do, or what I could do. I just stood and watched the scenes flow by. Somehow it reminded me of the movie “Inception”, of how the roads could fold up like blocks, but this time, I could literally see the roads move sideways.
After a good five minutes, the earthquake settled down and I went back into the cafe, decided I had had enough, grabbed my stuff and left. I went for my part-time job at an international cram school, where the staff were all watching the news. It then dawned upon me that the earthquake was more serious than I had thought. At magnitude 8.8 on the seismograph, it is the biggest earthquake ever occurred in Japan, and tsunami warnings flashed on the screens, one after another. Even the news reporters were wearing helmets in the studios, a scene that was rather comical, if not for the severity and reality of the event they were reporting.
The aftershocks came every five minutes and each time we had to contemplate whether to evacuate the building. Then came the second earthquake, which was strong enough for us to come to an immediate consensus to leave the building. After some time, we returned to the building just to find out that phone lines were all cut off and all trains had stopped functioning. After my part-time job at the cram school, I had another job shift at the Singapore restaurant.
With all train lines stopped and phone lines cut off, I was only left with two options- to wait for the trains to start operating again, or to walk. With the trains showing no signs of operating at all, I chose the latter and embarked on the long journey to the restaurant. It was rare sight to see throngs of people walking on the streets. The subway commuters had all emerged to the surface, since the trains had stopped operating. Everyone on the streets were trying to send mails or call through their phones, but to no avail. There were random maps of the vicinity along the roads and people would crowd around it to figure out their way. Others had printed maps, or maps on their iPhones. There were even traffic polices activated to control the traffic as taxis, buses and cars were all full and crowding the roads, plus the pedestrians.
In the end, it took me 2 1/2 hours to walk the 9km between the two places. When I turned up at the restaurant, my boss and the other staff were taken aback as they had expected me not to come, since trains had stopped operating and there was no means of communication. Customers who came asked about our well-beings, which brought a warm glow to my heart. Sometimes, natural disasters like these break the ice among strangers and bond us together as human beings- victims of such disasters. It is through happenings like this that make us realize how vulnerable we all are, and so we should show more concern for one another.
The boss decided to close the shop about one hour earlier today, and as I headed back home, little did I know what was waiting for me. The trains had started operating about one hour before, and everyone was impatient to get onto the trains. And when people get impatient and irritable, the ugly side of even the most polite beings on Earth is brought to the surface. People started shouting as they tried to squeeze in and out of the trains. One man even started berating the station staff for god-knows what reason. As I got onto the train, for the first time, I felt pain riding a train. I was literally squeezed mercilessly from all sides and everyone just wanted to get onto the damned train. I was glad I only had to endure the suffocating squeeze for 20 minutes before I was released out of the compressor.
As I left the train, I was shocked at the amount of people queuing up for the trains. I wonder if they would ever get home at this rate. Some people even placed mats on the grounds, presumably decided that they would spend the night inside the station. I reached home safe and sound, apart from my sore legs from walking 9km and pains in the chest from the crazy human squash on the train.
For now, we just need to pray for the hundreds of people who had died in Miyagi Prefecture from the Earthquake and the tsunamis, and probably more deaths and injuries to come in the days that follow.