Aftershocks, El Salvador

            It came on suddenly, a quiver that destabilized her. She crouched onto the floor and reached for her water, sure it was another episode of syncope, though she had eaten oats for breakfast and had experienced none of the same symptoms she had the previous Wednesday, just before she fell, when she had had only a banana. She breathed in. Slowly, a steady stream of air infiltrated her lungs, enlarging her chest one alveoli at a time. She looked down. She touched her belly. A slight bulge billowed beneath her fingertips.

            Again, the ground shook.

            This time, there was no mistaking that it was the room that was collapsing, not her body. Louder now, more violent, an invisible force ripped the building like thunder ricocheting a summer night. Walls trembled. Floorboards cracked. Computer screens broke, the wires that had once connected them to keyboards now frayed into a web of orphans without mice, disconnected from printers, scanners. It had been useless to think about saving her laptop, let alone her document.

          Beneath the table, she crouched deeper, huddling further into herself. She waited.


            Even after the vibrations had slowed to mere shivers, she continued to see and hear objects fall all around her. Everything was out of place. She didn’t know how to anchor herself. As if confirming that her old world had fallen, a mouse from the biology lab across the hall scuttled through the mess of metal hardware, it too confused by the sudden disruption of place. She heard it squeak as it moved on top of broken keyboards, over cracked computer screens. It articulated itself with purpose, knowing what it was looking for as it dug the pupusa she had wrapped up for her lunch out of the pile of rubble.

            “Chivo,” Cecelia grumbled, resigned. “Ya no hay nada.”

            Since she didn’t feel hungry, she didn’t worry about how she would feed herself that day. She was no longer concerned with keeping her sugar stable. She was certain that her baby would survive; its walls, in her uterus, were still strong. She knew she would maintain it. What she didn’t know was how she would get out of the room, out of the university, to her car, which was surely crumbled or flattened by now. She didn’t know how she would move through the city; if it was dangerous for a woman to walk alone, pregnant, on a regular day, what would it be like today? Had the earthquake been as violent as it seemed?

            “Quizas un bici…” she thought. Maybe she could find one that worked, beneath a tree or a park bench. Maybe she could ride home, to Las Colinas. She wondered if she could go fast enough to keep herself safe. As she crawled through the room, making her way towards the broken down exit, she was careful not to get caught or trampled by falling debris. There were no people, though she knew that wasn’t very strange, as very few would be at the university already on a Saturday morning, before the first day of classes.  She crawled over boards and through floors until her hands were matted with dust. Whatever barrier her jeans had provided between her knees and her surroundings had disintegrated into the ruins around her. When she emerged through a triangular opening that she was sure had never before served as a door or window, the first thing she did was look up, towards the sky. There were no trees above. Just clouds.

            As she pulled herself up, she again felt the sense of disorientation that she had sensed when the computer lab first crashed. Although she was Salvadoran to the core, having lived in the city since she was two except for a brief period in Belize, when things became too dangerous for her father to stay where they had always been, she could not situate herself. She didn’t know where she was.