Axver (axver) wrote,

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Last sunset

Let me tell you a story.

Christmas Eve, 1953. The Tangiwai disaster. Somehow, Grandpa managed to escape the second carriage alive as the lahar tore it to shreds. He found himself in the raging torrent of the river on a dark night in the isolated central North Island. The cocktail of sulphur, ash, dirt, coal, engine oil, and other debris blinded him. He reached for something, anything to grasp onto, and caught hold of something soft that was floating by. It seemed small and he had no idea what it was. Perhaps a pillow from the train - there was no way to be sure. He just clung to it for dear life and struggled against the lahar.

Somehow, he made it to the edge of the river and got out of the ferocious torrent. He was about to abandon the "pillow" when he thought he heard it wimper. Was it a small child, perhaps 2 to 3 years old? He had no way to know. He was badly injured, he was blinded, and even if he could see, it was the middle of a wet, dark night. He simply clutched whatever it was he held and with just one hand climbed the steep bank. He made it to the top - who knows how; he didn't. But he made it with his "pillow". By the time he got to the top, people had arrived on the scene of the disaster and had set up their cars so that their headlights illuminated the scene. This just made things worse, because any attempt to open his eyes just left him dazzled, bewildered, and even more blind. He still had no idea what he was holding. One of the rescuers saw him, and with an exclamation, noticed what Grandpa was holding - it must have been a child. The rescuer scooped up the child and simply ran for help. Meanwhile, another person gave Grandpa a drink, he thought it was water and drank quickly only to discover it was brandy, and was led away to receive help and medical attention for himself.

What happened to the child? We don't know; he was never able to find out. What happened to Grandpa? He got fifty-four years, one month, one week, and two days he was never meant to have. My father, my aunt, my uncle, my two cousins, and I all got lives we were never meant to have.

Last night, in memory of Grandpa, I drank some wine my father made and then made my way outside into the sunset. I took my camera. Grandpa was a photographer; the best in the family. It was quiet outside, peaceful and calm. The occasional car passed. Faint city sounds in the distance. I turned on Dream Theater's A Change Of Seasons and walked down my street in the twilight. From a small park at the end of my street, I watched the sun sink in the sky and his last day fade away in a brilliant dark blue sky with a bank of clouds on the western horizon. As final sunset approached, I made my way to a vantage point on a footbridge over the motorway and followed the sun in the sky. It was beautiful; rich and bright. I photographed it, again and again; I didn't want to let it go, I didn't want it to disappear. As A Change Of Seasons reached its conclusion, the sun finally descended below the horizon and left just a faint glow. I just kept staring, and finally turned away. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I whispered my last words to Grandpa at the sky and walked home. My footsteps never felt so heavy. I woke up to a cloudy grey morning today. It seems fitting.

I love you, Grandpa. Have a good one. Forever.
Tags: grandpa, tangiwai disaster

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