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     Volume 4 Issue 30 | January 21, 2005 |

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Ana Moudud

Sometimes I wonder how on earth I survived through my senior high. It wasn't like any ordinary high school experience, not to mention, any ordinary lengths I went as far as admission in scientific journalism school is concerned. Sure enough I studied till my guts flew out onto my notes when it came to the finals but to compensate, just like the rest of my "privileged English" high school crew, witnessed quite a few less educated people spilling out the contents of their guts as we crashed the clubs till dawn. All throughout my last senior years I remained in this particularly "mature" group who were decent examples of fully responsible adults but it wasn't until my credited research study abroad that I fully grasped the notion of the term "maturity" beyond the norms that some pre-graduate students ever have to go through. Apart from these unbeatable "study then knock the bouncers off with fakes if necessary" (their internal motifs) high school professionals, there was this one undeniable exception. This exception is to include Marcella -- my step niece-turned-best-twelve-year-old-friend."

To begin with Marcella is a 21st century version of Amanda Thripp with the addition of red pig tails plus wide tortoise framed glasses that hang on the edge of her peachy toned nose. (I could have sworn she'd instantly land the role had she bothered to enroll herself for audition in LA.) Marcella is from Missouri but speaks fluent Italian (her grandfather was Italian and had introduced her to actually think feel and communicate in Italian without giving a damn whatsoever about the other, less charismatic language known as English).

Last May, after a random visit to Missouri her mom managed to actually blackmail me into taking Marcella with me to Kobe during my moderate to intense research on earthquake detection strategies (the moderate derives from the spontaneous outbursts of THE wildest parties in all of Kobe, not to mention the whole country). After repeatedly (brain) filtering this inevitable responsibility for handling this twelve year old step niece who I barely even knew for more than six months, I just thought .... WHAT COULD BE WORSE. Maybe I just didn't feel comfortable with the idea of showing up at one of the nation's "big time" earthquake coordinating expert's liquor laden, spliff blazing "wildcard" occasions (not that I'm hooked into nauseating drugs and alcohol) with a twelve year old Harriet, the spy wannabes tugging at my skirt as though it were some kite asking "Agnese che cosa e il significato della sismologia? (what is the use of seismology) in front of all the head seismologists. Now, looking back I realise a whole lot could have been worse if it weren't for Marcella and her mother's refusal to take her along to an "insisted" romantic break to Bermuda.

As soon as we arrived at the research student hostel, I paid the cab-driver 1,800 yen and looked around, noticing the humidity of a warm day manipulating the aluminum speckled cement to melt between the layers of maroon bricks. The research would take place in the highly equipped laboratory known as "the centre of advanced earthquake technology" just about two blocks east from the hostel.

After I met with all three of my senior supervisors inside the hostel I decided to go directly to the glistening azure glassed laboratory. I was this close to walking out of the revolving hostel door when I realised ... that Marcella had vanished. How could I have blatantly lost her? I reassured myself that while I was busy speaking to the supervisors a while ago she might have just gone to the bathroom or something. But there was no bathroom on the ground floor nor did Marcella have the card to enter our room. The next thing I knew I was scurrying across the hostel lobby and out onto the streets of Kata-michii in search of an Amanda Thripp among thousands of herds of squinty eyed business and shopping orientated locals. I gave up after fifteen minutes and ended up just walking towards the laboratory to carry on my research (as well as call the police for Marcella's identification). Without breaking the code I entered the squeaky polished building and headed towards the reception. There was a small fragile looking woman no more than thirty with silver glasses and a white uniform who peered at me through her high tech lenses. "Can I be of some help to you?" she asked in Japanese.

"Could you give me the manual to have access to the scansion room?" She ran through her computer screen to check my name off and bleakly pointed to a pile of purple leaflets across the corridor.

As I strolled across the ridiculously squeaky white floor (Lord knows what endangered animal wax they use on those) I could feel my legs becoming a throbbing weight problem. Damn that 14 hour jet flight with nothing to do but read the newspapers and drink peach schnapps with salted crackers. I opened one of the purple leaflets studying the small printed information of the scansion room facilities. I tried hard to ignore this vulnerable pounding sensation that one long-flight passenger might experience for a while after landing but all my assumptions transformed as I spotted a chalky white substance crumbling and falling like fake dusty snow from the ceiling high above. I could see all these white uniformed professors and administrators gazing up at the ceiling in astonishment, whispering and then one of them stood out mumbling something quite loudly in Japanese "Jishinnoshirushi!" The next thing I knew the two corner walls behind my back started to peel itself like an orange before breaking like eggshells onto the floor. "What the hell is going on?" I asked the Japanese lab coat know it alls.

"Daishinsai" a bleached hair administrator replied as though expecting me to know all my calculus equations. Immense heat and dust started to gush at my eyes which provoked my eyesight into a state of haziness as I tried to run towards the emergency exit. TRIED TO RUN. But the absurd gravitational pull from the depths of the deteriorating floor was so intense that it could bury a horse (beneath the gateway to hell). It was as if something invisible like a gargantuan snake was zig zagging across the floor when I found my left ankle sinking into the cracking earth.

"For God's sake someone get me out!!" I yelled, unable to reach out to the frantically running, professional flock of cowards. I looked back at my knees as they scoured and succumbed into the unpiteous dilapidating concrete, slashed with raw blood that managed to trickle out onto the tiles. "Someone get me out!!!" I yelled as loud as was humanely possible. There I was shivering with the idea that I was to die like a fool without knowing that whatever that was happening before my blurred vision could have been avoided had there initially been more universal communication between our research team and the actual lab co-workers.

After several piercing minutes which seemed like several hours, an old lab technician professor or whatever staggered towards me from about 20 ft away and extended his hand but failed as shields of glass came avenging onto him. Broken glass, wounded tissue and splattered lost soul.

Fearing that my ankle would completely rip off had I moved any further from the smashed layers of concrete, even my contemplations on life became blurry as I forced myself to come to terms with the similar fate this helpless old man had just encountered.

Everything went black. I could feel it coming on now. This was about to be my last black stare at the cruel selfish world, a world in which every man is there but only for himself. The end of life is trailing along towards the first chapter of death......

Flourescent lights to strobe in spirals before a clinically white background as this figure of a higher being or perhaps a higher authority squeezed my wrist with jerky yet warm fingers. "Agnese, non posso credere che siate vivi!" the angel exclaimed. A white uniformed doctor emerged from the swarming crowd of gushing squinty faces all bordering my white cocooned body. "We've just increased the dosage of Morphine into your bloodstream which should take approximately twenty minutes for it to fully substantiate." I was split into questioning whether this was a dream of death or a sensation of life but it was the big speckled glasses stained from tears that answered everything. All the supervisors of the research team came up towards me, individually apologising in however way they could for not being there to warn me and that a few others had passed away or were badly injured from the unexpected event. A tall bearded oriental figure stepped into the front after baffling about with the medical staff. "Your dotta, errrr frend, cum to my buukshop. She say she look for English truncelatur I sey not her, only Japanese. I sho her to bilding wey she can buy. I see smoke windo falling. She tol me dat 1,000 yen I go wit her. You not hostel in daishinsai. We go to tunul unda kattamichi steshun. I brek daw and she see quatas and tiket to Psyco. She say it you."

I felt numbness perpetuate to every joint I obtained at that moment knowing that it would take months before coming off the morphine as well as learning about the half explained explanations. Sometimes without predicting, our innermost discrepancies begin to unfold.

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