I started screaming once again at the top of my voice. Alaena was getting really impatient now. All my attempts of sending her to sleep were futile now. I myself was dying of hunger. I took some mud and started munching. I saw no other way to kill this demon of hunger that was surfacing within. Two mouthfuls and I could not help crying. I had ridiculed the Idli’s in the morning. God had taught me a very important lesson. There are many in this world that don’t even have the fortune of having one square meal a day and there are the spoilt lot like me who have food in plenty but no respect for that which God had bestowed us with. But what wrong had Alaena done? She was all of 9 months. Why was she getting this harsh treatment from the almighty? I cried when I tried to give her a little mud because her cries were getting intolerable. She ate a little and dozed off to sleep. I think the psychological satisfaction of having had something was what made little Alaena stop crying. I felt guilty. But I saw no other alternative to keep her going. I wanted to get rid of this hell. I had seen enough. Around 27-28 hours had passed since I first saw sunlight in full glare. I wanted to play with my friends once again. I wanted to run around the playgrounds. I wanted to accept the gifts that my friends would have brought along for my birthday party. I wanted to take in their greetings. I wanted to show off my new birthday dress to my friends today. I wanted to bask once again in the glory of the sun. I wanted to stay alive. I gathered all my strength and screamed again. I kept on screaming. I lost consciousness.
When I woke up, I could distinctly hear the sound of hammers and cutters on metal. There was a lot of noise from these. I glanced at Stephen uncle. He was looking in my direction and smiling. That same wide smile of his flashing his dimples. He didn’t blink for a moment and kept giving me that smile. That gave me courage and I felt stronger. For the first time I smiled back at him. I could sense the feeling of hope that these sounds had created within me. I gathered all my strength and managed to scream aloud. I was crying for help. My cries were finally heard by a group of soldiers who were on the rescue act. When they pulled us out an hour later around noon on January 28, I was half conscious but jubilant nonetheless. Alaena was still breathing but with much difficulty and I could feel her move. I could not move my legs which were numb by now. A team of doctors rushed to give us medical attention and first aid. The first question I asked the army medical supervisor, Major Reddy, was, “Is an uncle named Stephen alive?” Major just patted me and told me not to think of anything else.
It took me a good six months to recover from the trauma and the physical injuries that the earthquake had inflicted on me. Alaena also recovered quite well, never forgetting to give her toothless bright smile (though now I could see a couple of teeth sprouting out of her gums). Those 28 hours had spun a special bond between us. Maybe later years down the line, she will say something. Or maybe she might already have told her parents in baby talk about what happened in her private hell on that dark day of January 26th. But I hope she forgets it. I hope we all forget it.
It was quite later when I learnt that Stephen uncle could not make it through and had died of multiple injuries right at the spot itself. There were many newspaper and media reports on the “Smiling Corpse”. He was found dead with a wide smile on his face. I could relate to that smile of his. I knew he had put on that smile just to give me moral support and strength. The thought that he was already dead when he had given me that last smile sent shivers down my spine. I felt guilty that he was not alive when I had managed to give him a smile back. I felt a great loss. He will always have the highest place in my heart for not what he taught me in that traumatic period, but for the birthday gift that he gave me that day. The best gift any friend can give. The gift of life.