The elevator cage rose with a mild jolt and sped upward.
I entered the large office of the American aid mission. It was midday and the bright Manila sun filtered through the large windows.
“Hello, Mr. Nandy,” said Joanna at the front desk.
“Hello, Joanna,” I replied, “I have some work to do in the library. But, first, I need to talk briefly with my friend, Richard Wright.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Wright is running a seminar in Baguio today. He will back tomorrow afternoon. You can see him tomorrow, I suppose.”
Baguio was another town in the Philippines, in the mountains.
I went to get a cup of coffee before settling down in the library. As I turned on the machine, something unusual happened.
The stream of hot coffee, instead of entering the cup, landed on my hand. Before I could react to my burning hand, the machine itself toppled and started falling from its stand. As I stepped back, surprised, cups and plates started falling from the shelves and crashing on the floor. In a moment all the chair and tables in the room started wildly zigzagging across the room. The floor shook violently, bringing down two large cabinets.
I ran to the threshold and held its frame, for I had heard thresholds provide some safety. It seemed a dubious advice, for the entire floor was undulating wildly and the threshold frame seemed a puny toy about to be crumpled.
It took all my effort to hold on to the door while waves after waves shook the entire tall building left to right and, it seemed, up and down. Huge shelves were coming down, one by one, and even the large desks slid in different directions. The noise of heavy objects falling from shelves, desks and cupboards filled my ears, while screams of people from every corner of the floor rose above the din.
After what seemed an eternity the earthquake stopped. There were two or three mild aftershocks. Then the building stood still.
People stood with bated breath. Some had evidently been crying in panic. The librarian, a large man who was earlier a marine officer, stood nearest to me and had a large wet patch on his trousers. He had clearly soiled his pants. Joanna, the receptionist, appeared deathly pale and seemed to have fainted.
We were lucky. The building – I doubted it was constructed to withstand such a strong tremor – still stood. I walked down the stairs all the seventeen floors and emerged on the sunny, busy street I had left an hour earlier.