A click. Loud, and insistent. My eyes snap open from sleep. My mouth is dry and caked, the blood on my chest and back cracks as I move. I look to my left, trying to ascertain if I had imagined it, that loud sound in this tiny dark space. The space is dark now, my laptop must have gone to sleep. But my finger stays where it is, despite the temptation to swipe the trackpad. I know I can hear better in the dark. The darkness grows longer, the silence deeper, until my entire being throbs with the energy of waiting.
And as though something knows I am waiting and doesn’t want to disappoint, it comes again. Loud and metallic, striking through the silence. I jump. My leg shoots fireworks of blinding pain at my hip again and I yelp in surprise. It takes a full thirty seconds before the pain subsides and I am able to unfurl my knotted fingers. By then it has clicked again, methodical and perfectly timed. What is it? I listen for a few more minutes, and the click comes seven times.
I can hear sounds from what seems like far below me. Rescue crew? People removing mangled bodies, both alive and dead? I wonder idly how long it will take them to reach me. Wellington is a big city. It could be days. I’ll be dead by then. It both frightens and comforts me how calmly I accept this. I feel tiny, insignificant, one tiny pod of being in a world of billions of others. What do I matter, really?
Where will they start? How many high-rises are there in the CBD? The quake hit mid-morning, so every one would have been full of office workers, men in ties, water cooler chat and women who had kicked their heels off under their desks. Will they start at the bottom of the building, or the top? I think of the seven floors below me and the people crushed there. Panic begins to rise in my throat like hysteria. I squeeze my eyes closed and count, a technique my father taught me. I get to three hundred and six before I open them again.
The blood on my head has dried and cracked, the clotting mechanism finally kicking in. I swipe at the laptop and my tiny chamber fills with white light. I squint at the screen, trying to understand. The WiFi isn’t working. I hadn’t really expected it to, but I feel a pang of despair that one connection to the world is severed, one tiny way to light a flare for others to find me. But sitting on that list of connections is my iPhone. I can’t see it, and I can’t move to find it, but it sits there on the list, an available network for me to join. I click on it, my breath slowing until it stops completely.
It works, and the bars fill with black. The relief that floods my body is almost physical, as though I can feel and recognise the serotonin mixing with the cortisol in my blood stream. Somewhere near me, whether below my bed or digging into my hip, is the most breakable phone in the world, which just might manage to save my life.