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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2 minutes of Silence at Tay Street Café

2 minutes of Silence at Tay Street Café

A server with a blond ponytail walks over to shush two women who continue chatting past 12:51. ‘Oh, does it start now?’ a 20-something with alabaster hair and dirt black roots asks. Yes, now. No music, no chatter, no sounds from the espresso machine. Two minutes of silence at the time the magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck Christchurch last year: February 22nd, 2011. 185 people died. Thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed. Aftershocks continue.
Christchurch, April 2011

 I stop tapping my keyboard and look around the café’s back room, which is drafty and reminds me of a garage, with its large, louvered front door and ceiling resembling aluminum siding. Ahead to the left, a table of 70-somethings hold court. Two men, their bald heads feathered with wisps of gray hair, sit across from each other, arms folded, while two women sit beside them. One woman sports butterscotch-colored, close-cropped hair. She wears a navy and white striped top and white sandals. She’s thin. The other woman has short white hair, a red, black and white striped top and gray pants whose contents fill the entire bottom of her open-ribbed plastic chair. A scruffy 30-something guy with a beard and board shorts sits a couple tables to my left. He appears to be texting on his cell phone while everyone else truly pauses and looks ahead, or at their companions. In front of Scruffy Guy is a table of three 30 or 40-something year-old men dressed in business casual. They look at each other. Look around. 

One minute gone. One minute to think, to disengage from phones and computers. The café’s front room is full of diners in mid-repast or mid-drink – knives, forks and cups rest on tables and plates. No one eats, drinks or talks.

Black-clad servers, all women, stand in the middle of the room and stare outside. I don’t know what they’re looking at. A large arrangement of pohutukawa flowers stands on the counter. The red spiky blossoms contrast the white wall behind them. Green leaves and brown branches stick out beyond the flowers. I wonder where they got pohutukawa, since they’re out of season.

 I think of our friends, Jenny and Don and Annie and Mick, living high above Governor’s Bay near Christchurch. Their homes have been shaken over and over but still stand. What’s it like to dwell above a trembling earth? Inside my head, I mumble a silent prayer for those who died in the quake’s rubble and their loved ones.

Two minutes. Silence. Over. Music and chatter resume. The espresso machine squeals back to life. It’s 12:53.

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