February 28, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

By Ingrid Espinosa

27th May 2022


This story was part of our spring sci-fi short story competition.

Javi set the alarm for 4:15AM on his phone, even though he knew he wouldn’t need it.  

He made a pact to meet Ella again at Fat Lips Surf Shop on December 16, exactly a month after they had first met.  

He had paddled out on that fateful day, despite the surf forecast predicting a flat ocean. He wanted to make the most of the last surf season of the year. The surf forecasts with their detailed maps weren’t optimistic, but he knew that the predictions weren’t always right. This time he was going to bet against the odds. 

So far, the forecast was right – no surf. He picked a spot anyway and was content to sunbathe. That was, until he heard her calling. 

She was as tan as could be, a regular wahine.  She invited him to join her and form their little two-person line-up.  

Her bright brown eyes spotted waves effortlessly, an especially useful skill as the waves were excruciatingly few. They enjoyed just sitting in the ocean, talking. He had only recently got into the sport, and she’d taught him little tricks. She shaded her face with her hands and squinted into the distance.  

“This one is good!” she exclaimed suddenly, pointing at a distant wave topped with frothy bubbles. She turned and beckoned, “let’s go!” Later, she sat lazily and whistled at the sky. “That’s how to coax out the wind.” 

Before they knew it, the sun went from white to orange to pink, and they were paddling back to shore in semi-darkness. 

They wanted to see each other again, but there was a problem. She didn’t have her phone, and his was out of battery. So they improvised. 

They decided to meet again in a month’s time, at the shop just across this spot. By now they knew each other’s names and half of each other’s life stories but refused to exchange social media handles. They had found each other once by chance, fate, or whatever you want to call it; they were sure they’d find each other again the same way. In case he got lost, she’d whistle for the wind to bring him back. 

And now here he was, hours before his flight. He had even allotted precious vacation leave in case of cancellations. Never mind, he thought. The forecast said the storm had weakened, and storms like this happened all the time. He planned contingencies for everything but he had utmost faith that Ella would be there. In just a few days, they would meet again. 

*** 

Ella heaved her rucksack onto the backseat of her Beetle, rain pounding on the roof. There was sand all over her car; she hadn’t cleaned it since her last surf session. As a competitive surfer, she rode waves all over the country and abroad. She braved six-foot monsters and could do tricks on two-foot gliders. She enjoyed surfing alone, but her last session was different. It was beautifully unexpected. 

Ella ran to the driver’s side, soaking wet. 

She twisted the key into ignition, and the radio started.  

the areas previously under Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal No. 3 are now moved to Signal No. 4. All residents must evacuate. All flights under Cebu Pacific and AirAsia are cancelled as of 8:05 AM. Passengers may contact respective ticket offices… 

Ella hit the gas and shoved onto the main road. She put her windshield wipers to the maximum and her lights on in the daylight just enough to see the car in front of her. She honked as a warning as she sped through the intersection.  

Ella mentally ran through the items in her bag, just in case – clothes, identification, medicine, food… She was almost sure she had everything. And yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something had escaped her. 

*** 

Epilogue 

On 16 December 2021, Typhoon Rai (Odette in the Philippines) made landfall on the island of Siargao. Rapidly increasing its windspeed from 120 km/h to 260 km/h in one day, it intensified further into a Category 5 super typhoon just before landing.  

Across the country, at least 332,000 people were evacuated and 410 people died. Damages were estimated at 794 million USD, the third costliest typhoon in the country. Cities were flattened, with several communities entirely cut off. Roads were impassable, an airport terminal was destroyed, and electric lines were down for weeks. 

Despite this, community leaders and organizations worked in concert to deliver aid. They continue doing so today. 

Many families have since been reunited. With sparse battery power and mobile data, focal persons shared ‘Safe’ lists passed along on social media. 

Friends, old and new, congregate around water pumps, and mobile signal spots.  

Local landmarks are barely recognizable, but those who care know exactly what once stood in each spot.  

At Fat Lips Surf Shop, a whistle is heard.