Today’s post won’t be about photography, it won’t even be any fun or funny. I want to write about something that happened to us a few days ago, simply because writing has always been a good way for me to process things – never did care much for talking, since I can’t express myself properly that way.
A few days ago, somewhere around 04:30 in the morning, I woke up from a loud crash. My first thought was somewhere along the lines of “what the hell was that”. I then heard people shouting outside, so that changed my thoughts to something along the lines of “what the hell are they doing now”. However, after listening for a few seconds I realized that the people were yelling something specific, as opposed to the random shouts of drunken idiots I had first assumed it to be, “Fire, there’s a fire!”. It’s amazing how quickly you can be wide awake when the body wants you to be.
At first I wasn’t all that worried; there were no visible flames and I couldn’t even see any smoke. I went to have a look from the balcony and saw lots of people gathered in front of the building, I saw someone jump out from a window on the ground floor and I saw a lot of smoke rising up towards us. That made me realize that this was real and not the kind of fire alarm you get at your work, you know the kind where, at first, you just stay in your seat but then you realize that it’s an excellent opportunity for an extra break.
I started thinking what we should bring with us, clothes, wallet, phone and camera bag where some of the things that came to mind. Then I opened the door and saw the stairwell completely filled with smoke. All thoughts about bringing stuff disappeared in an instant and the only thing occupying my mind was to get our daughter out safely. We live on the third floor, or second, depending on whether you start counting on one or zero, so jumping from the balcony was out of the question with the little one. The ground is closer at the back of the building but when I checked from the bedroom window the night was bright from the flames on that side.
At this point I wasn’t thinking very clearly but I was thinking very quickly. I pulled Alyzza from her bed – at first she was grumpy but she noticed that something was wrong and let me put on her dress while my wife got her some pants. When I picked her up she clung to me with all her strength and I could tell she was scared. I threw a towel over her head, grabbed my shoes in one hand and opened the door again. After just a few steps the smoke was so thick that I couldn’t see my hand in front of me and it hurt my throat as I had to draw for breath. I heard my wife call out behind me that she couldn’t breath but I urged her on, not daring to stop myself. At least the smoke was mostly white and grey, instead of black.
The lights were still working so the smoke was lit up, creating a bright haze that we made our way through. I had to go by feel though, since it was impossible to see anything at all – had I not know they way, I probably couldn’t have made my way out. When I got down to the ground floor the lights were out and it was pitch black, it couldn’t have been any darker if I had closed my eyes. I vaguely remember thinking that at least that meant no flames, but it also made me worried that the smoke would be more dangerous here. As I felt my way forward I noticed a lot of debris on the floor and then I heard a pop as I set my foot down; I had stepped on a florescent light that had fallen from the ceiling. My body must have been running on adrenaline because I didn’t feel a thing, though I knew I had probably cut my foot – my shoes really weren’t helping much in my hand.
It was somewhere there, in the black, in the smoke, that I realized just how much the little life I was holding relied on me, on us, her parents, to take care of her and keep her safe. I had no thoughts about my own safety, every thought was of her; get her out, keep her safe. Feeling her arms as she desperately clung to me with all her strength, her tiny body pressed tightly against my chest, helped to spur me on without slowing down. Just a few years ago I would never have thought that I could ever love anyone or anything as much as I love her.
I knew I was getting close now but I turned too early and bumped my head against a wall, a few steps later I reached the actual corner and could see faint light in the shape of a door through the haze. I ran outside and, after I had cleared the smoke, turned around and called out for my wife. I saw a man run in through the door and a few seconds later he came out with my wife, who was limping from a fall in the stairs but otherwise ok.
A few minutes later we had found a safe place to sit down and could watch the fire trucks and police arrive. A very friendly woman from the building across ours brought us blankets and water and even a stuffed dog for Alyzza. Her little body was shaking in my arms but after a while she had calmed down enough to point at the fire trucks and hug her new dog. She also said that it was scary, which I’m inclined to agree with.
Right now we live in my wife’s friend’s flat since they’re on holiday. We’ve been to have a look at our flat and luckily there’s no physical damage on anything, since it turned out that the fire started in the basement storage rooms. However, you can still feel that you’re breathing smoke when you’re up there, so it remains to be seen how much of our things needs to be replaced. Our insurance should cover most of the costs but I’m definitely not looking forward to fighting with them in order to get them to pay up.
We’re all still processing things, even the little one; there are times when she asks for her things or says she wants to go home and that makes me incredibly sad. She’s getting some extra attention; we try to play with her more and keep her distracted but I hope we’ll be strong enough to give her what she actually needs instead of just what she wants for the moment. Hopefully we can also return home as soon as possible, even if there will still be a lot of work to be done. Next week the muppet is going back to daycare after a long summer break. I think that will be good both for her and for us. For now I’m just thankful that we’re all safe.
I’ll end this post with a couple of snaps of the little one, safe and happy, just the way I hope I can always see her.
PS. The camera bag smells like it’s been through a barbecue but everything inside it is ok.