It's the voice of a mother. Quivering. Please help, please... He's in there. Hurry, hurry, hurry... The voice tapers off, hope fighting hopelessness, a splintering shield against the onset of naked desperation.
A mound of broken concrete and metal, piled several stories high. Metal pikes bent, broken, and misshapen in all directions. Men in hard hats walking above the rubble, lifting pieces of the building that once was.
I left him, she says, even though he begged to come along. A two year old child, how could I take him? I always leave him with the neighbors. Why didn't I take him with me, she cries. Why didn't I?
She rebukes herself for not having done otherwise, for having made a decision that made sense on so many other days but not today. It's a mother's lament, for not seeing what she could not have seen, for failing to shield her child against the unknown.
They found his body along with the neighbors'. Twenty-eight pounds of flesh. She had felt it grow from nothing into a mass with a heartbeat. And finally, after months of waiting, of tending to her body that housed something more precious, she had held this living being that smelled of sweet flesh and warmed her heart. He had moved his arms and legs, blinked, suckled. She helped him grow, day after day, night after night, with her ears, eyes, and nose careened in his direction for his every need and want.
What happened to all the sounds that used to come out of his soft mouth, the spurts of hot breath that she felt out of his nose, the beating of his little heart? Where did they go?
All she has now is this broken body. No arms that bend around her neck, no mouth that forms into a laugh, no legs that race to greet her. It is once again just a mass of flesh that will be reduced back to nothingness.
We are spectators to this mother's devastation. She is thousands of miles away, and we do not speak the same official language. But it is she who teaches me the meaning of loss, of what is precious, of the ever present risk.