Seeing Fire

Human lives are uncertain. We love to follow routines - while complaining about them - and any disruptions to the regular schedule of things cause a dampening of our spirits. We don't like uncertainties and currently, we abhor mistakes. Mistakes are always attributed to our downfall, but making silly mistakes are in our nature. One such silly mistake led to me experiencing one of those 'once in a lifetime' moments. It was past 10pm on a lockdown night (a curfew had started from 8pm) when I went to take a shower before bed. It's strange that we always imagine that uncertainty and danger will come when we will be prepared. But for me, danger came when I was halfway into my shower. It's not a glamourous setting to hastily rinse off and scramble out to see what was going on, what were those shouts for, why were the police here besides their usual patrols? The answer came from the reflections on windows. The tall building opposite had caught on fire and was quickly spreading to all sides with debris flying in every direction. Personally, I would like to say I reacted instantaneously, but I think I stood there just watching those dancing flames for a minute before my voice worked and I shouted for my family - who were trying to understand what was going on and calling the neighbours - to evacuate the building. I'm not sure if I should say I was calm and didn't panic when I collected our passports, wallets and masks; or that my body had simply shut down the emotional side and the realist had taken the reins. We rushed out along with the inhabitants of the other buildings of the surrounding area who were being evacuated. It was surreal seeing so many people in close contact when the NEWS and government guidelines have been bombarding us about maintaining social distancing - but I guess the fear of a virus becomes a moot point when compared to the dangers of a fire. I saw and heard a lot in the 3 hours it took the civil department to rescue and secure the area: grieving families with elderly and children who had been lucky enough to live on the as-of-then unaffected parts and had been able to escape trying to find places to stay; panicked families from the surrounding buildings fervently praying that there homes were not destroyed; children crying or staring aghast uncomprehending; people of determination being helped by their families and others in reaching safety; people carrying a single suitcase that held their entire set of belongings trying to hold on to hope that they would not lose the few things that they had; people talking to concerned friends and family about the incident; people trying to go closer to the site to see the extent of the damage; people taking pictures; people from other buildings farther away coming out on the streets to gawk; people speculating the cause of the fire and the effects; people standing and staring silently; people from nearby restaurants delivering food to wherever they were asked. I saw and heard the fire engulf the entire left side of the building all while easily resisting the efforts of the civil department; debris flying and setting aflame the rooftops of three nearby buildings; smoke enveloping and blurring the light of the fire; the light searing through the darkness to make its presence known; the cars blasting like the boom of thunder before a maelstrom. I saw and heard the police cordoning off the area; helicopters rescuing people from the top floors; fire alarms blaring all around and providing a symphony of destruction. I saw and heard when the fire was controlled; when the reason was suspected to be a carelessly disposed of cigarette in the garbage shute; when people nearby recounted how they had survived this ordeal; when people were allowed to go back to their own homes; when people were more interested in taking a peek at the destruction than going home; when the carcasses of those gutted cars and that building stared back. The fire was controlled efficiently with minimum collateral damages and we went back home and we slept and we woke up the next day to continue with our daily activities with some talk about the fire. But personally, the most jarring incident occurred about a week later. I seem to have a propensity for being in the bathroom whenever such things happen. The odour of burning rubber invaded my senses followed by the blaring alarm and I rushed about determining its cause, calling security, calling the neighbours. I was already getting our essentials ready when Dad came back to inform us that it was simply a case of people forgetting things in the oven for too long - that things were under control. I don't think I could get back under control well into the night laying awake with my senses alert for anything out of the ordinary. I don't think I could ever be calm with the smell of burning or the sound of a fire-alarm. The realist in me will keep me moving but I don't know if I will ever have this part under control.

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