Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Standing amongst giants

The skies turned dark, as if suddenly, since the day progressed so slowly that I hadn't noticed it change, but it went dark, and just like any other similar gloomy day, I pushed my stack of papers aside and took a break from it all just for a little while. The weather has been unpredictable of late, and everyone knows it. Perhaps it is this reason that our society is coexisting with chaos, rape, murder and robberies on the rise and yet authorities seemingly not being able to do anything about it.

I closed my eyes for a while and took a deep, cool breath of air.

Suddenly, lightning struck as I heard a big bang, followed closely by what sounded like glass shattering, followed by pieces of tiles flying downwards as I looked out the window. I froze for a while. No, it can't be that bad now, can it? The power was cut off immediately on the 2 floors, the emergency backup kicking in for the computers as each one beeped intermittently for attention. I walked upstairs to assess the damage.

As I walked into my room I was shrouded in a clear, hazy mist. It smelled distinctively like something was burning. Could it really be? I thought to myself. My roof is on fire, I thought. But it can't be that bad now can it? It was drizzling lightly outside, so I decided to step outside and have a look.

I stood outside in the rain, in my neatly pressed shirt and pinstriped pants that was gradually being drenched in rain as I peered upwards. I saw a waft of smoke emerging right above where my room is. The neighbor at this point started screaming 'Api!' while vigorously pointing at my roof. I felt the rough concrete at my feet, every granule of it as if I started becoming hypersensitive from the adrenaline that started pumping through my veins.

I ran up the stairs, and up the cursed narrow, spiral staircase that slows down movement as I started packing up the things I needed to save. Two notebooks went into the notebook bag as I grabbed other things sequentially from my desk. My Handycam, my cables, my monitor, my camera equipment all went downstairs to safety, every now and then checking to see if the burning has come to a stage where it will collapse.

Sometimes I would just lie in bed, thinking about this house that I designed. What could be the worst case scenario, are there any loose ends left untied? Of course there were many, the windows are badly constructed so it leaked like a waterfall when it rained at a certain angle, plus minor things here and there. I would think, what if there was a fire, what would I save? I'd run evacuation scenarios, I'd think about which segments would collapse first.

So I knew I had time to save my equipment. Then I went up with an expired fire extinguisher I took from my old workshop. The license under the company that it had been registered to had expired 2 years ago, meaning it hasn't been checked in 2 years, but the gauge indicated that the pressure was still fine, that's why I brought it back. I lugged it up the stairs from my office, as my mom now quite worried about the roof collapsing, kept bugging me to get out of the house. At one point my maid screamed 'Elby, get out of the house the roof is falling!', and I ran downstairs. I wasn't sure what that sound was, it was a sizzling and crackling sound. Anyway I put on a full faced helmet just to make sure, as I went back upstairs. Smoke started coming out of the cracks of the plaster ceiling. I figured that the fire is probably enclosed between the roof tiles and the plaster, which is semi-fire retardant.

At this point the fire station had already been informed and were on their way. Although the person on the phone took so long to take down my details I eventually told him, 'If I am going to stay on the line with you any longer I'm going to get burned to death. Bye!'

Eventually I broke the seal off the fire extinguisher and started spraying upwards. The whole place filled up with dry sodium powder. It felt like a warzone, as I covered my mouth with another shirt I picked up and made a temporary mask. The place was all dusty by now, as I kept checking upwards to see if I could identify any smoke, but in reality I couldn't. The crackling sound stopped at this point, all I could hear was my breathing in the helmet, hands dry from the fire extinguisher powder, sweat trickling down the back of my spine. By then the fire engines arrived.

The firemen were all giants, as I stood amongst them over a foot shorter as they checked for burning inside the plaster ceiling. One of them was nice enough to make small talk and commented that it was good I had fire extinguishers in the house.

But after that they were gone, and the gathering of onlookers across the road from my house dispersed, leaving my messy, dusty room. Cleaning up is going to be a real pain, but in the end I felt that nothing was lost, I got to be a fireman for a day.