Monday morning checked my e-mail as soon as I was awake.
My sister asking me to get in touch at once. Was I okay? The earthquake sounded horrific.
What earthquake? I typed.
We don’t have earthquakes here.
And then I saw the headlines. Thousands killed by a huge tsunami in Thailand, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives and elsewhere. 38 people killed in Malaysia. Most of them in Penang. Reality struck home. Though not at first the scale of the disaster.
We hadn't heard about it because we hadn't switched on TV and or gone out the day before. It was Boxing Day for heaven's sake - things are not supposed to happen on Boxing Day.
Since then the TV has been on most of the day. BBC news and then CNN and then bck to the BBC again. The same reports ... the same images ... over and over. And at night when I try to sleep, they replay behind my eyes - the surging waves smashing everything; the folks trying to cling to a bridge support before being washed away; the waves rising to become a torrent in a second storey hotel room; the bodies of children lain side by side looking as if still sleeping, while their mothers touch their faces for a final time; the bloated corpses scattered on a Thai beach; wailing Indian women at the funeral pyres, the empty streets of Bandar Acheh.
Feel the weight of grief for the victims, their grieving families, for economies smashed and livelihoods lost.
But what hits home most is the footage of Batu Ferringhi where I've spent happy Christmases in the past. Most of the victims were families taking a Sunday stroll or having a picnic by the sea. Some saw the waves approaching and stayed on the beach to watch them. One man lost five of his children when they became curious about all the dead fish killed by the first smaller wave, and then the second wave, as high as a coconut tree rolled in ...
If we’d had the money to go away for a break over Christmas, if poor Abu hadn't had to work so hard … there’s a good chance that we would have been on Batu Ferringhi beach when the waves struck. Abu said, knowing you, you would have been out there on the beach wanting to get a closer look when the waves came in.
Well, there but for the grace of God …
Soo Choon was in Penang and planning to go for a picnic with her family near Boon Siew's villa on Batu Ferringhi - one of the areas of the beach which was hardest hit. At 12.15, on her way there, she was involved in a minor accident with a motorcyclist which held her up for a couple of hours. Had she been on the beach with picnic cloth and food spread out on the sands, would she and her family have managed their escape?
There's a howling sense of disbelief in me and impotent rage against an indifferent universe in which the lives of tens of thousands are lost within a few tragic moments.
The ground shifts beneath my feet. A sense of safety lost.
And I will never trust the sea again.