For months now he had wanted to hold her, bury his nose in her silky hair, whisper nothings to her delicate neck, but not like this. John’s fingers moved dust-covered hair from her face, her eyelashes meeting over closed eyes, her body limp in his arms. The rumbling of the aftershocks evident every few minutes as the ground shook beneath them. He had moved her to the road, away from the wooden office structure perched on the top of the dam.
Ramesh was running, talking frantically into a walkie talkie which John noticed an hour before, attached to a utility belt, as they had together investigated the turbine room. No sign of Aditya who had moved the car at the first warning, away from the crest. John watched the ground, as shingle and small stones jumped and bobbed around him, shimmying along in the same direction for three or four seconds before resting. Riya was breathing but unconscious, drying blood glued itself to her temple.
“Ramesh! Get a fucking move on with that kit!”
“It’s here!” the engineer appeared again sprinting the few yards from the office, box in hand, the walkie talkie babbling all the time. He dropped the box and a litre bottle of water on the ground, touched John’s shoulder and spoke back,
“Adi, the ambulance is on its way for Riya; John’s with her. Where the hell are you?”
“Gimme your jacket, quick!” ordered John, not taking his eyes from her face, but holding his right arm up to leave Ramesh in no doubt as to what was expected of him.
Manoeuvring Riya’s head from the crook of his left elbow, John carefully arranged the makeshift pillow with his right hand, before opening the first aid box. He used wipes to gently assess her temple wound, pouring fresh water from the bottle to clean further down her cheeks. He found saline, fresh cotton wool and was relieved the wound was small which he covered with a basic dressing. He took a swig from the bottle as the next rumble began; he watched the water level shudder, circles attempting to escape but finding instead the circumference and bouncing back.
Ramesh’s voice travelled up from somewhere near but out of sight. “John! Adi is also hurt – come!”
He was torn. How could he leave Riya exposed to falling rocks from the hillside? He searched the immediate landscape for somewhere more safe to lie her but just as he lifted her off the ground, he caught sight of Aditya, his arm around Ramesh’ shoulders and bearing weight on only one leg. “Come to this piece of flat land!” John called back over his shoulder as he walked his previous cargo and the others followed. Around a slight bend in the road the hill flattened out and there was less risk from falling debris. In the distance a siren offered an increasing hope of medical attention and John paused, exhausted not with the weight of the beautiful girl in his arms, but with the anguish that she may be more hurt inside than could be seen. He wanted to make her better, he wanted to look into her eyes, wanted to see her smile.
As the ambulance drew closer and the lights flashed their arrival, the ground vibrated more than before, making them all fall to their hands and knees. Covering Riya’s face with his body, John prayed for it to stop. It did giving them long enough to receive immediate roadside attention before being placed inside the vehicle for the return journey to the nearest hospital. As they sat in silence, all moving in unison with the vehicle’s twists and turns along the road, they each stared at their sister, PA, friend; the men each engrossed in their thoughts. The paramedic attached various patches and lines to monitors and Riya’s body became the charge of the professionals.
John rested his elbows on his knees and allowed his head to drop so no-one could see his face. He fought the sting of tears threatening their appearance behind his eyelids and swallowed hard, squeezing his eyes more tightly shut while the motion of the ambulance and the anguished squeal of the siren dulled as he visualised Riya’s voice speaking to him in her velvet tones only an hour before when they had made their way down the steps inside the dam’s inner structure.
It was no good, he couldn’t stop them. He cursed himself as they forced their way out, much like the water through the dam’s seep holes. His silent tears collected this time on his lips, then fell to the floor, just as he felt his hand being touched. He moved his head a little and his intake of breath was audible as he saw Riya’s fingers reach for his own. He looked at her face, covered in dust, blood and now tears were creating clean channels through the dust on her perfect skin. Finally, she had opened those beautiful eyes and chosen him to be their first picture. She smiled at John and his tears continued through relief. This girl was something and John knew instantly what he had to do.
(Image – google images)
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