The cellphone made a weird noise, it wasn’t a call nor a message sound. Half asleep, I thought about how odd it was, and saw my husband trying to wake up. I fell back asleep; it was probably nothing important since it was Saturday morning.

A few seconds later, Joaquim touched me and with an unnerving voice said ‘Beatriz, wake up quickly, something terrible is going on!’. I soon realised it was related to that weird noise. While rubbing my eyes, I could only ask, ‘What is happening?’

‘We’ve just received an emergency alert message. Look.’ I immediately started to read it aloud: ‘Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawai’i. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.’ My head was spinning, maybe I got something wrong, my English wasn’t the best at that time. ‘Is there a missile coming to Hawai’i? What does a drill mean? I guess this is a test alert, right?’, my voice cracked. Joaquim blinked and for few seconds kept his eyes closed. When he opened them up, I could see that he was trying to process all the information. He gently explained ‘Drill means training. But the message clear states that it isn’t a drill. I don’t know what to think, but I guess there is a missile coming in our direction.’

I completely froze, while my head ran miles away. The chances of being real wasn’t unrealistic considering that Trump, the US President, had had conflicts with the North Korea leader Kim Jong-un. Besides, Hawai’i has always been a strategic place due to its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Although living in Hawai’i for a few years had proved to be indeed a paradise, it’s political and isolate position has shown some of the drawbacks. I’ve never thought I’d have to think about this kind of threats, I was originally from Brazil and we have never been involved in nuclear or missile businesses.

I suddenly realised what we needed, the obvious option: ‘Shelter! Do you know where we can find one nearby? Should we ask our landlords?’ Joaquim knew there was one about 30 minutes from our home, at the University of Hawai’i - ‘There is no time for that though. I don’t think a missile can take more than a few minutes to arrive at its target spot. I’ll text our landlords, since they are locals, they may know about other shelters or what to do in these situations.’ As soon as Joaquim sent the text over, we got a reply from them. They were so lost and desperate as we were. They told us there wasn’t other shelter nearby.

‘Let’s change clothes to be ready for whatever happens,’ Joaquim said while standing up and going to the wardrobe to look for some clothes. I couldn’t move, still trying to find out if it was real or not.

‘I think I will wear my fancy dress, the one that I loved. At least, I’ll die happy.’ Joaquim laughed at it, but soon said, ‘I hope your joking around with me! You should wear snickers and something comfortable if we need to run, hide, or survive for some time.’

To tell the truth, I’m not sure if I was joking or not, I guess my subconscious mind needed to find something to release the pressure of the real event. I did what he advised me and while changing clothing, Joaquim started to look on the internet to find more information about it. Anything. Something. We couldn’t believe it was true. Besides, the emergency sirens weren’t going off. It had been 10 minutes after the alert came in, we we’re running out of time. We paused, looked at each other and we hugged. The longest and most embracing hug, the one you can get lost forever.

While embracing, and almost crying I said, ‘So, that is it? I’ve never thought this was the way I would die, in my 30s by a missile in Hawai’i. Putting in perspective, however, I couldn’t be happier. So far in my life I have done everything I dreamed of, I’m with the person that I love in one of the most incredible places after so many years in a long-distance relationship. I guess I don’t regret my choices. I’m exactly where I wanted to be.’ Joaquim let go the embrace, touched my face and looked deeply into my eyes, ‘I couldn’t be happier either! I love you and I’m glad you are here. Whatever happens we are together!’ Of course, I was sobbing at this point. I know it sounds cliched or some stupid romance plot, however that was exactly what I felt: gratitude! I have never guessed this would be my reaction in such a life-threatening situation.

Then, I started to think about everyone I loved, and how much I missed them. ‘Should we call our families to say goodbye?’ After saying it out loud, I realised how terrible it would be for them knowing we were going to die and unable to do anything. What would I prefer: having a goodbye or not?

‘Beatriz, I don’t know if this is a good idea. Imagine how they will respond to that. Besides, we are still not sure if there is a missile inbound to here. If this isn’t true, our family will suffer without reason. Let’s wait for a few more minutes. I’ll check on Twitter, since the platform deals with instant messaging.’

Yes, he was right and soon started to refresh his Twitter page to see information about missile and Hawai’i. I double checked the news however there was nothing. Interesting to think how we were still looking for evidence and certainty, maybe because of our background as scientists? Or maybe because we just didn’t want to believe that was true? Suddenly, Joaquim soften his expression, ‘Ha, I found a tweet from a congresswoman saying that the alert was a mistake. There is no missile!’

‘Really? Could we believe her?’

‘Apparently! She says that she had a confirmation from officials and they are trying to inform the residents.’ I exhaled deeply, it was like I had arrived at the top of a mountain with a piano in my back and I finally dropped it off. We were so happy, like having another chance in life.

After a few minutes later, around 30 minutes after the first alert, we got another alert message ‘There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.’

We smiled to each other and we kissed. We found out later it was a miscommunication during a training at the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency and the responsible manager resigned. To be honest, I don’t know what really happened that day, whether I believed in the explanation they gave us or not. Nonetheless, I certainly know now the meaning of “a drill”.

contemporary fiction 2021/07/05

Based on a true story.