I'm on this shore again. The sky is spectacular: grey threatening clouds everywhere, but directly above me a large patch of brilliant blue and several skeins of sun-kissed white cirrus. The creek in front of me leads out to a long sandbar, beyond which is the sea. Several young men are playing a spirited game of cricket, the batsmen having the better of it if the regular thump of bat on ball and the screams of "Run!" tell the truth. Beyond them, dozens of boats in many colours are pulled up on the beach; fishermen sit among them tending their nets, or just chatting.
At my feet and for a few dozen feet ahead, the sand looks like it did when I was last here, as if it really has not been touched since then. In over eight months? Hardly likely. Yet it does seem that way. Doesn't it look freshly turned over, lumpy, aren't those the treadmarks of a heavy vehicle? Maybe even an ... earthmover?
The last time I was here, I watched an earthmover trying to lift the body of a woman free of a tangle of nets and weeds she was caught in. It had dug a grave for her, and she had to be lowered in there. But it was a difficult business. Eventually, the machine managed to lay the lady to rest. Thus was one more victim of the monster wave of December buried.
And I'm drawn back to this spot, behind Pandala Salai in Nagore, like a moth to a flame. The remarkable photographer Joel Sternfeld once did an entire book of photographs of scenes of great disaster; and it's on this trip back here that I begin to understand why. I know this is the spot where that poor woman was buried, back in December. I remember the scene in deep-etched detail, down to the man who ran up and used his cellphone to take a photograph of the body and his friends crowded around to see it, as if it wasn't enough to see the body itself in tragic flesh.
And I'm back here and those details race before me, seem to rise out of this lumpy sand itself.
It must be the fate of the visitor, the Sternfelds if you like, to remember that detail. Because people who live here, for better or worse and probably better, seem to have forgotten and moved on. You live beside that inadvertent grave day in and day out, how long are you going to stop and remember? Yet you come back after months, and you will stop and remember.
The memories of that day here, and of other tragedy elsewhere on this coast, flood through me as I stand there. Then I take a walk, but am drawn back to this spot again. By this time the cricket game has ended and the men stream past me, looking at me curiously but furiously dissecting the match. And one man -- I don't know if he's a cricketer -- strolls past me to the bushes just beyond the lumpy spot. He strolls there, unzips, does what he must and strolls back.
I want to shout, there's a woman some feet below you, do you know? But maybe I'm the only one here who remembers, and maybe it's best if it stays that way.
September 09, 2005
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I remember that day-everything that happened.
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