I tried to stand still, but I was still moving. I had never noticed before how many wires there are above the streets and criss-crossing over the roads. They were swaying in the wind.
Only there was no wind.
Everything was rattling. Lampposts were bending. The street was rippling, filling with waves running from the distance towards me, and then past. But I was kilometres from the sea. Still, I could feel waves beneath the concrete, beneath everything. Everything rode the waves: the McDonald’s, the 7-Eleven, the pachinko parlour, the funeral parlour.
The whole city was getting rocked by an underground ocean. The expression “On solid ground” came to me. On solid ground? What does that mean? Land separate from the sea? Only right now, land and sea were just two different labels for the same thing.
An old tramp with wild white hair and a grey beard held onto a wall to keep from falling. A toddler, aged 60. But then I was rocking from side to side. I had my legs apart and feet pointed out, the way you are supposed to stand on a surf board. Or commuter train. Or the Big One.
Aunt Tanaka came running from behind her shop, shaking her mobile phone at me and shrugging.
The traffic had stopped, cars at a standstill where they were. A white mini-van halted beside me. An old lady looked through the windscreen, unsure what she was seeing. Was it safer behind the wheel, or on foot? She didn’t know. I didn’t know either. She sat where she was and looked over at me.
I shrugged my shoulders. She shrugged her shoulders.
Others got out of their cars and stood beside them. Now there was no traffic noise. Instead, I was alive to the sounds of the city’s new tap dance. Shaking from the ground up. Every window frame, concrete slab, metal sign, lamppost and parking sign was trying to break free of the ground.
The rattling continued. How long had the earth been shaking? 30 seconds? A minute? Ten? I had no idea. Rattling and shaking to the rhythm of the waves. It was like summer by the banks of Lake Teganuma, with the deafening sounds of cicadas and bull frogs. But this was March, in Kashiwa, below the Joban train line between Ueno and Fukushima.
Then I noticed the traffic lights were out.
A man in a white coat with a white surgical mask over his face came out of a chemist’s in front of me. He looked up at the swaying wires and cables overhead. Then he ducked back inside.
But the old tramp was shuffling to the edge of the pavement and scooting himself along the white steel pedestrian fences, trying to walk out into the street. He didn’t care about the cables dancing above his head. Once he got out into the street he made his way through the stopped cars. They were riding up and down in place, like surfers at Onjuku Beach, waiting for the big wave to come that would send them flying back to shore. Where was the ocean? Couldn’t be far from here.
Then it stopped.
All the noise of the city stopped. Every man-made thing was silent. The man in the white coat and mask came out of his shop again.
“It’s stopped,” Mr. Blackmore said.
At this moment we were all one. All of us. Aunt Tanaka. The tramp in the street, the old woman in the car, the masked man. Mr. Blackmore. Me.
“Is Emi safe?” Mr. Blackmore pleaded with me.
I couldn’t answer. I got my phone out to call Uncle Kentaro, but I could get no dial tone, just a recorded woman’s voice saying all lines were busy. Could Uncle Kentaro feel this earthquake? What about Emi?
I checked Twitter. The quake was the only news. I started to write a few tweets. I didn’t expect to get any answers.
The tramp had made it to the crossroads. He was right in the middle now. He put his right hand up above his head, palm open, facing out. With his other hand he beckoned to the old woman in the car. It was her turn to move. I looked around and read the clock by the Sumitomo-Mitsui bank.
That was the time money, yakuza, priests, cowboy hats, and my future became clear. Only one thought mattered: Is Emi safe?
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.