‘Tidal Waves’, Melanie Rees

Illustrations © 2017 Martin Hanford

 [ Buzzing, © 2017 Martin Hanford ] Three khaki fighter planes thundered overhead drowning out the violinist’s rendition of Bitter Sweet Symphony. The song was as far from Ahesta Boro as you could get, and yet there was a certain poignancy that I couldn’t share with Coby. He stood at the end of the aisle, cleanly shaven. I liked him when he had his beard, but that wasn’t the way they did things here. Everything was neat and proper, shaved and shiny.

The white chairs with their white gleaning organza sashes suffocated the manicured lawn underneath them. I gazed at my white train spread across the greenery. There was no one to hold it up, or walk me on the long journey to the end of the aisle, as Coby said was customary in his world. He’d tried. He was a good man. A decent man.

“Macka would gladly give you away,” he’d said. “And Cheree, you know her from the tennis club, said she was more than happy to help out on the day. Organise a hen’s do.”

I’d been tempted. Who wants to be alone on their big day? But none of it could mask that I was alone. Fahim’s soul rested somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic. And Papa… if only he had suffered such a fate. A lump cloyed in my throat as I pushed the thought of his execution to the back of my mind. I had imagined holding back tears on my special day, but not like this.

I heard a sniff. Coby’s mum, April, sat with her white leather handbag perched on her lap, handkerchief dabbing at her eyes. She had been so eager to organise the wedding for us and to pay for everything. She’d asked for my input of course, but she had been so happy organising invitations, flowers, napkins and appetisers, that I let her take control.

April smiled through her tears, but I knew we were emotional for different reasons. I forced my lips to mimic hers.

Another plane zoomed past, lower than the last. I ducked. It was instinctive. The pink flowers in my hands trembled. I tried to steady them.

“Hold on,” I heard Fahim’s voice like a whisper at the back of my mind, and I gripped the flowers tighter, determination filled me.

It was what I wanted. I loved Coby, but the thought of giving him everything made my chest hurt. When there was love, there was always loss. It was how the world worked.

The buzzing of a helicopter overhead cut through my thoughts. I refused to look up. There were always things in the air here: jets, balloons, kites, helicopters. But these things that didn’t mean bombs were going to fall.

I gazed at the lawn again. Its colour was calming amid all the whiteness and sterility. It should have all been colourful: pinks, blues, turquoise, purples, scarlet. Papa should have been here looking joyful and radiant. When April had written the invitations, she’d made one for Papa and Fahim and she had come with me to cast them into the ocean.

“Your brother’s and father’s souls should be with us,” April had said.

It felt symbolic, but it couldn’t hide that none of the faces in the audience were family.

Whispering, chattering, gasping sang out from the audience.

I heard Coby cough loudly, cutting through the babble around me. He really was a decent man. Given enough time, a deeper flame could kindle inside. Not that I didn’t love him, there was just a vast ocean between us that he could never cross. He’d lost his step-dad two years ago. He understood grief, but he couldn’t understand why I struggled to sleep at night, why I became nervous every time I stepped behind a barbwire fence, why part of my heart would always feel as if it were drowning in the ocean with Fahim. Coby didn’t know fear.

More chattering rose up from the people on their white chairs with their white sashes. I turned my attention to the myriad faces who would never understand, regardless of how kind and considerate they had been.

A menagerie of modernised trinkets began beeping and singing.

My feet felt fixed to the ground. Through my white heels, I prodded my toe and felt the grass. It was the only thing that felt tangible in this cushy make believe world. Nothing felt real here. I still felt like a prisoner trying to justify who I was.

“I’m Aliah,” I whispered to myself.

“Heck!” A man’s voice cut across the song. “Can’t be.”

Coby should’ve known not to organise today when the football was on; everyone was on their phone now. From the corner of my eye, I noticed someone leave. More rose to their feet. Even in their world, football didn’t have this effect.

Chatter overtook the song. The violinist stopped playing. A swarm of cockatoos screeched above us. I gazed up. Even they were white, darting among the white clouds. Ahead of me, people were whispering to Coby and the celebrant.

“Aliah!” Coby ran to my side, grabbed my elbow and ushered me back down the grassy aisle towards the awaiting limousine. “Mum, come on!” he yelled over his shoulder. Coby opened the door and squished my dress inside as if the limousine were a clothes dryer and my dress were his work clothes. “I love you.” He kissed my forehead and darted back towards the plethora of white chairs. “Mum!”

Amid Coby’s screaming, I heard odd phrases. “…closing off the roads into town.” It took a while to register it was the car radio talking. “…reports are vague, but—” The radio cut to static.

The engine of the limousine started. The driver turned, looking at me with wide eyes.

“I can’t wait.” He turned back to face the front. His knuckles grew white as he clenched the steering wheel. “I’m not waiting.”

“Not waiting? For what? What is hap—?”

Screaming cut through my question. Screeching. There was a blur of colour and movement. It moved so fast it took several moments to register what it was. People. Running. But people didn’t move like that, in unison, with determination, like a giant tsunami, with mouths drooped open like savage dogs, eyes bloodshot and wild.

White chairs tumbled as the wave of people churned up the manicured lawn. Green turned to brown. Bones crunched. Scarlet red splattered across organza. Crazed eyes looked towards us in the vehicle. A white chair ricocheted against the front windscreen, smashing to pieces.

“I’m not waiting,” repeated the driver. The vehicle suddenly sprung forward. With Coby still out there amid the chaos.

The lump that had been cloying in my throat grew until I struggled for breath. “No!” I reached between the front seats and grabbed the handbrake. The limo squealed to a halt, skidding on the asphalt.

The driver cursed under his breath. “You stupid woman, I won’t die here.” He pried my fingers off the handbrake one by one.

“It’s just a wave. A big wave, but you hold on to the boat, Aliah. Hold on for dear life. Stay at home and we suffer like Papa. There is no choice. Stay and we die. Let go and we die.” Fahim’s words lent strength to my muscles and I clenched the handbrake harder, digging my nails into the plush leather, ignoring the driver as he clawed at my skin and begged me to release my grip.

“Coby!” I screamed through the window.

He turned in my direction and sprinted, dragging his mother by the hand.

I kicked the door open wider, finally let go of the handbrake, and shuffled across the seat. Coby dove inside, almost dragging his mother who had lost her shoes, her handbag and her breath.

 [ Rear window, © 2017 Martin Hanford ] A crazed relative banged against the rear window as the limousine sped off leaving a bloodstain down the glass.

Up ahead the crazed mob of people, if that is what they were, pushed one another to get out the way as they lunged onto the highway like white water pounding the white sandy beaches. Ahead of the ravenous throng, a suited man sprinted.

“It’s just a wave. The boat’s strong. You’re strong. Hold on. Keep going, no matter what,” Fahim’s final words resonated at last. I looked at Coby and he held my hand.

“Stop! We need him.”

“What?” The driver looked left and right, plotting his escape route.

“Over here!” I screamed to the man outside and grabbed the handbrake again.

He ran, with the wave of monsters behind him. He ducked under a tree branch and the monsters collided with the timber, before they found the sense to veer around it.

The driver opened the passenger door, and the suited man scooted inside. “Thank… you… Aliah,” he gasped.

Bodies banged against the bonnet.

“Reverse. The highway is closed anyway,” said Coby.

The limousine driver backed up, tore across the park and back onto the open road.

“I thought it was you,” I said at last to the celebrant puffing in the front seat.

I turned to Coby. The pain weighing me down had subsided; the lump in my throat was a mere pebble.

We reached an intersection. The driver pressed buttons on the screen of his navigation system.

Coby looked at his phone. “They’ve closed off the whole city, including the airport. Harbour or country?”

As if answering his questions a wave of people scrambled amongst themselves, pushing, thrusting, biting at anything and everything in their path.

The driver didn’t hesitate. He veered left, tore off at speed. Soon, the ocean gleamed in this distance above the country fields. It was strangely picturesque.

“What are they, Coby?” asked his mother, finally managing to catch her breath.

“I don’t know, Mum.” Coby held my hand.

“Where are we going, Coby? Aunty Jenny and Desiree. All of them are back there. We can’t go without them.” The pain in her eyes resonated within his. “And my handbag. All my stuff. We can’t go.”

“If we stay we’ll die, Mum. Just hold on.”

It could just have easily have been Fahim saying those words. I clasped both of Coby’s hands. His fingers wrapped around mine, pale, white and clammy. Wide eyes looked at me petrified and looking for answers. I only had one.

“I love you.” I squeezed his hands.

Up ahead, the ocean came into view. A boat swamped by people. I turned to the celebrant, and somehow he knew what I was thinking and got straight to the point.

“Aliah, do you take Coby, to have and to hold…” the rest of his words faded over the whir of the engine and the bustle of voices as we approached the harbour, but it didn’t matter.

“I will.”

© 2017 Melanie Rees

Comment on the stories in this issue on the TFF Press blog.

Home Current Back Issues Guidelines Contact About Fiction Artists Non-fiction Support Links Reviews News