Excerpt: 'Love Always, Petra' by Petra Nemcova

Every so often, we would start to sing "Sisters, Sisters" from the movie. Lucky for us, no one else was on the beach, because we were the worst singers. We took a brisk walk and then went back to the bungalow. We were leaving in two hours for Koh Lanta, our final Thai destination. Simon went into the bathroom, and I started to pack. I was wearing a bathing suit and standing with my right side toward the window.

What did I hear first?

I think it was the screams. Hideous shrieks filled the air. Out of the corner of my eye I saw people running. I put my head up and looked out. Men, women, and children were dashing helter-skelter, some jumping into the pool—there was no concept of running in one direction. Next came steady ear-splitting, crack-cracking thunderclaps of hideous noise as bungalows, buildings, everything crumbled before the onslaught of flooding waters. One minute I was packing a suitcase, the next second I was fighting for my life.

That's how fast it was.

10:35 a.m.

Released from under the thick layer of accumulated trash, I was back in the rushing current. I had to find something permanent to hold on to. Ahead of me, I saw a palm tree sticking out of the water.

Okay, I have to catch it. I have to catch it, I said to myself, or maybe aloud.

No use. I swept by the tree so quickly I couldn't even touch it. No time for despair, another tree was in my path.

Again, try again. Get your arms out!

As the debris-choked water rushed me past the tree, I grabbed at a branch, curled my fingers around it, and held on with every bit of strength I had. It was enough. The waters rushed on. I stayed and began to pull myself closer to the tree. The water was below my chest, and I could feel another branch beneath my feet. I tried to stand on it. It was too painful. I couldn't do it. I hung on to the upper branch trying not to get pulled away by the current and at the same time, trying different positions to relieve my agony. By the intensity of the pain, I knew bones were broken. I maneuvered my back toward the tree trunk in order to brace myself against it and let my legs float out in front. I managed to hold this position, and it did ease the pain. The water, which had caused all this horror, was now helping by cushioning my body.

It didn't last. A couple of hours later the floodwaters started to recede; my legs were no longer being supported. As they lowered down, the pain became more intense. I had to keep moving my body to find the most comfortable position, and at the same time, I had to make sure my legs didn't get trapped by the debris. I lay down on the branch with my legs stretched out. Every movement brought excruciating pain. The air was full of horrible sounds, crashing, smashing, violent sounds. I was terrified that they meant another wave was coming. I heard the tree cracking, and for a moment I thought that the weight of the trash surrounding me would cause the tree to collapse and take me under the water again.

Dear God, I prayed, please, dear God, don't let another wave come.

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