It's hard to come back here, even for a short time.
In some ways, life goes on as normal. The air is cold and crisp in a way unique to the south; the kind of biting chill that brings with it a day worthy of early spring. It's not like the cold in the north island, the kind that consumes you.
I watch kids walk past me on their way to school, commuters drive past. Of course, they are bound by road cones and cracks in the road, swerving to avoid them.
They all seem to know where the damage is, anyway.
These are the ones who chose to stay, to ride it out. I chose to leave, and the guilt consumes me.
I hate coming within a hundred feet of the city. In the suburbs -- some suburbs -- it might never have happened, but here... here, entire blocks are cordoned off from public use. Buildings that once had beautiful turrets now have those turrets resting before them on the footpath, as if in supplication.
It's hard for me to come within a hundred feet of city. Where we sit now, we're less than five.
The taste of dust in my lungs is just my brain playing tricks on me, superimposing my memories onto the here and now. I can't really hear the screams, the crying, the monotonous shock. It's my fiancée's hand in mine; it's not a stranger waiting to die.
They know, and they understand. It's a disaster of enormous magnitude; emergency services are stretched to breaking point. They've had to make some heartbreaking decisions. Who they have a chance to save. Who isn't viable.
Those in the latter group, they understand. They understand, but they're scared.
So I sit with them.
Most are crying. Some are beyond that. One asks me to pass on a message, but his message lasts longer than his body can cope.
I won't walk home today covered in someone else's blood.
But five feet from the city, it's hard to remember that.