“It’s so quiet,” I say and wince at how loud my voice is.
Colin nods and Max is walking too far head to acknowledge that I’ve said anything.
“What do you think has happened?”
I know that I am talking just to break the silence but I have to. You see it is so alien. When was the last time I heard nothing? In my everyday life there is always something going on, something humming or buzzing. In the background there are voices or cars. Even when I go to my grandmother’s place there are cars on the small road, punctuating the sound of the electricity. Maybe I have a radio on or perhaps the TV, but something is always there. Now there is nothing.
I mean, it isn’t just the electricity and gadgets that are missing, but the people. Even the birds are silent. Except for the large black flies, there is nothing in the sky. And I can’t stand the stillness. The flies are fat and lazily moving around, but they are horrible. Maybe it is just me, but I hate flies. They spread disease and they eat off… Well, I’d prefer not to think about where they had got their last meal from. Unbidden, the image from the airport flashes across my mind. People, stacked like wood. I shiver.
“You okay?” Colin whispers.
I nod. I rub my arms but my coldness has nothing to do with the weather. If anything it is unseasonably warm, the autumn is being held back by an Indian summer. For a while we follow Max, lost in our own thoughts I am thinking, again, of the boy. The child in the same row as mine on the plane. I really hope that he is fine, but I have a nasty feeling that he is either in trouble or he no longer worries about any of it. The fact that while we were running through the airport we hadn’t heard him suggests that he is no longer there. Unless he had been taken to a hangar.
I stop. Should I say something? I look back. The smoke is thick and you can no longer see the airport. It is even possible that a fire has started there. No, there is no going back, not until that smoke clears. I cough in a reaction to the memory of the smoke clinging to my lungs and making it hard to breathe. My throat still feels as if it is on fire.
“Take a sip of water,” Colin says. “But not too much. I’m not sure when we will find another.”
I nod and do as he asks.
“I think it is man-made.”
Startled, I look up. I have just been walking, looking at the ground, not thinking about anything.
“I think we made this,” he says.
“What makes you say that?” I ask.
“Its speed. Usually there is a build-up.”
“Even the flu epidemic that we get every year builds. This is just… sudden. One minute everything is fine and the next…” He opens his hands and gestures around him.
In front of us Max has come to a standstill. The roads have opened up and there in front is the hospital. It is large and, as all institutional buildings, looks like a carbuncle. I don’t know what I expected but what I’m seeing is very different to the orderly chaos I imagined.
I don’t know, maybe it is all the movies I’ve seen, but I expected crowds of people, all helping each other and moving around in some form of pattern. Instead, it is a nightmare. Or rather the aftermath of a nightmare. It is obvious that at some point the hospital became overwhelmed and they made an outside triage area. But all that remains are broken and tumbled over beds and bodies.
“Oh god…” I whisper. I have stopped and can’t stop staring. Some part of me realises that there are tears falling but I don’t wipe them away. What is the point?