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Stripped




Stripped

 

The wind had powered through every opening, stripping the tower block to the bare bones of concrete. Every single thing that had made the building home now lay strewn across the barren mountainside and beyond, underneath the pale blue sky.

"How did you find me?"

We sat on the trunk of a toppled palm tree and looked at the sea. It used to be a good hundred metres further away. Having swallowed the beach and the trees, shops, and paths alongside it overnight, it appeared satiated. For now.

Xiuying was stroking her lapdog. The little furry creature panted in the growing heat of the tropical summer day, uninterested in the mayhem around it.

I rested my chin on my clasped hands.

"I looked for the spot where I last saw you."

The place was gone now; only twisted remains of a street lamp that used to stand nearby, now half submerged in water, helped to locate what used to be a lawn in the city beach park. It was there that, back in the quieter days, she looked up, pointed at the gleaming new tower blocks overlooking the sea, and whispered to me she would want to live there one day.

Together.

"But it was years ago..."

It was. Back then any regular typhoon was capable of pummelling the seashore hard enough to break windows, tear palm fronds to shreds and sweep away enough sand from underneath concrete slabs for them to break and collapse – but not much more than that. Back then we could walk through an abandoned seaside resort that had been subjected to just such a treatment and marvel at the ferocity of elements. Back then we knew little of what was to come. She still wore her hair short, and I had more hair. I was not ready to start something serious – she was.

"These things you just don't forget."

Cries rose somewhere behind us and would not subside. It wasn't the first time since the sudden blast of wind had ripped through the sleeping town and left at dawn, with a trail of destruction in its wake. They would come at irregular intervals from different directions across the area behind us, with varying duration, intensity, and pitch, mixed with shouts and yells of first responders, all confused, lost, helpless.

"Maybe they found somebody..." said Xiuying and hugged her dog tighter till it squealed.

I looked at her profile, strikingly perfect, like all those years ago. Then I put my arm around her and patted the dog on the head. I'd hated it at first sight. But then she told me.

"Your husband must be going crazy." I cleared my throat.

Last night she couldn't sleep, worried about her husband, away on a business trip to Shanghai, with all his loud, smoking, overcompensating business partners she never trusted. Filled with suspicions, she got a headache. The wind outside only made it worse. Her dog came up to her bed, restless. Normally she would wait till well into the morning, but upset as she was, it was enough of an excuse to leave the suffocating loneliness of the apartment on the 29th floor. She was about to step off the elevator on the ground floor when it happened.

Xiuying cast a quick glance at me and shrugged.

"Perhaps, if he had somehow heard what happened here."

The sudden brutal wind, of the unprecedented kind that only recently had started making news, ripped everything, living or not, from all apartments on all floors, out into the raging open, leaving only an empty shell of a building, cracked and ever-so-slightly tilting. She heard the deafening rumble and she felt the whole edifice shudder and she backed into the pitch-black elevator and stayed there and hugged her shivering dog and tried hard not to scream while the world howled.

When finally it was over and she emerged, trembling, outside just as the dawn was breaking, all her night time worries were dead.

"I remember you told me" Xiuying said, looking at the swollen waters covering the spot where we had seen each other for the last time, "that you didn't believe it made sense to start anything because there was no future."

I nodded, my eyes fixed on the clouds gathering on the horizon.

"Have you started anything?" she asked.

I shook my head, and then told her about living from one job to the next, in rented apartments, single and free, with only enough possessions to fit in one backpack and one travel bag, occasionally visiting places that were important to me in the past – important for reminding me of all the futures that used to seem possible. Used to, before the climate broke down.

"When you said 'no future'," she went on and then looked at me, "did you mean..."

I stared at her for a moment, then turned round and gestured towards the wasteland of destruction behind us, underneath the menacingly pale blue sky.

Xiuying bit her lip.

"We really should go and..." she said.

I shrugged.

"There is nothing we can do. Nobody can."

We sat there in silence for a minute or two. And then she got up and left.

 
Dawid Juraszek 


 
Dawid Juraszek is a lecturer in literature and culture of English-speaking countries at a university in Guangzhou, China. His academic background is in English, translation studies, educational leadership, international relations, and environmental management. A published novelist, his fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in a variety of outlets in his native Poland, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

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