A silent stillness remained in the house despite the many people bustling about. As I entered the living room, a kindly woman requested me to enter a bedroom in front of the living room and ushered me inside.
Upon entering the bedroom, I saw Abdul Shukoor lying on a bed, his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes were soaked with tears, with his only son Faisal comforting him - What I was witnessing, was enough to cause heartbreak to any human.
Two days back, Abdul Shukoor embarked on a journey from Nolhivaranfaru to nearby Hanimaadhoo with his wife, Aishath 'Aisa' Ali. The couple were traveling to Hanimaadhoo Airport to journey to neighboring India, seeking medical treatment for his wife. However, fate played a different hand. The speedboat carrying 10 passengers capsized en route, engulfing Shukoor's beloved wife of 34 years into the raging waves of the fiery ocean.
I moved closer to Shukoor and offered my heartfelt condolences. I sat on the edge of his bed and shook his hand. His eyes were bright, brimming with tears. Slowly, slowly, he began recounting the tragic incident in a shaky voice, the incident that had ripped his life apart. The unshed tears began flowing freely, his words shaking me to my very core.
The sea was calm when the 23-feet speedboat left Nolhivaranfaru harbor. The boat traveled at a normal speed towards Hanimaadhoo and reached the island in ten minutes. However, as the boat moved closer to the island, a sudden squall brought a powerful downpour of torrential rain. The boat was attempting to enter Hanimaadhoo as the dark, angry clouds surrounded them while the sea morphed into mountains of angry waves. Heavy gusts of intense wind were blowing from every direction.
Then, a rogue monster wave rose over the small speedboat.. crashing over them, propelling the boat and its passengers into the wrathful ocean.
"The sudden increase in wind speed brought intense rain clouds. The waves that followed capsized the boat. I was able to escape from the boat around a minute or so after it went under. When I resurfaced, I saw two young girls, and the captain and a crew of the boat bobbing in the water. I placed the two girls on either side of the engine of the boat, and held one", recounted Shukoor, brushing away his trickling tears.
He paused for a few minutes to gather himself, and continued.
"The terrifying waves continued to rise and fall against us. The waves rose over our heads, but we held on with all our might. We could see that there was not a single person who could help us.. After a long while, the dead started rising to the surface..", Shukoor broke down and started sobbing.
Shukoor attempted to describe his ordeal, struggling many times to sketch out the events.
Shukoor said the lifeless body of his longtime friend and colleague, Hussain Abdulla's wife was the first to surface. Minutes later, he saw Hussain Abdulla struggling in the water. He was alive. Shukoor quickly extended a rope to his friend, however, Shukoor saw before his very eyes his friend eventually losing his fight against the waves and begin to drown in vast bottomless ocean.
"I tried to pull Hussain towards me. I tried so hard. But he was unable to hold on, and I was weighed down as I holding on to the two young ladies. At that moment, I lost my hold on the rope.. and I could no longer see Hussain", narrated Shukoor.
"Right after I lost hold on Hussain, I saw...."
Shukoor could not carry on. His eyes filled with tears and succumbed to sobs of anguish, momentarily robbing him of his ability to speak. His son caressed his father's back, and kissed his hands, tears coursing down his own cheeks unchecked.
Choking down a sob, Shukoor continued.
"I saw my wife's flaccid body rise to the surface, the forceful current sweeping her away. I could not reach her - I was sure that if I attempted to climb off from where I was perched, I could not survive- nor could the girls who were with me. With a huge burst of energy, I tried to reach her, thinking that perhaps I could pull her towards me.. but I failed.. Ultimately, I made the decision to stay put", said Shukoor.
"The waves continued to crash violently against us in succession, pummeling us with a fury. Sometimes, I could feel myself losing hold. By that time, the boat was caught in the current and was being swept towards shore. After we drifted slowly nearer to the shore, we finally saw someone".
The eyes of every single person in the room were glistening with tears at this point. I could hear strangled sobs escape inside the room.
"I sent the crewman to find help. He swam to Hanimaadhoo, but it took a long time. It took a long time for him to reach the island. We received assistance from MNDF after he alerted people", said 57-year old Shukoor.
"When help arrived, I sent the girls one by one [towards help]. I first sent Asima, we put her in a ring. She was first swept away, so we pulled her back. Then she was given a rope, and she reached the dinghy safely. The second girl was taken to the dinghy in the same ring, and it was my turn next".
Shukoor estimates he was in the water for about an hour and a half. By the time he reached shore, his whole body was cramping due to overexertion, all energy having been expelled. Light headed and dizzy, Shukoor returned to shore with the knowledge that his beloved wife was no more. The waves had taken what was most beloved to him, and the heartbreak it caused him was unbearable.
Thursday's tragic incident killed 5 people, including Shukoor's wife. While his friend Hussain, his wife, daughter and 5-year old granddaughter also died in the devastating incident, the families of the victims and the whole of Nolhivaranfaru are mourning their deaths. A ten-minute ride had snatched away the happy lives of two families, sweeping away their hopes and dreams along with their loved ones. At this moment of grieving, the only thing we can do is pray for the victims and their families. After listening to Shukoor's devastating encounter, I left the room with a heavy heart, whispering a silent prayer.
May Allah (swt) grant patience to the families, and may the souls of the victims be blessed with Paradise. Ameen!