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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Friday Morning Fire

Before I went to bed that night, I made sure that my cellphone would wake me up on time. Little did I know that, indeed, I would wake up with a jolt the following morning, but not because of my phone.

I moved to my parents' room at dawn because my sisters, who were getting ready for school, were noisy. I went back to sleep. An hour or so later, as I recall, I heard crackling sounds and people shouting. I was slightly irked but was too sleepy to do anything about it. Maybe the neighbors are fighting again, I thought. I explained the crackling sounds as rain or a hail storm (when you're asleep, you believe in certain things...). I don't know how much longer I slept, but Ate Rosselle suddenly burst into my parents' room and screamed my name. She told me there was a fire.

I sprang out of bed in an instant. I ran down the stairs because it was human instinct to run away from danger. I was wearing my floral pajamas with ruffles. Somehow, I still had the sense to cover myself up. Luckily, an old UC Berkeley sweatshirt was left on the dining table, and I wore it as I rushed outside.

Outside, I saw that our neighbors were already evacuating. I went to the front yard and looked up to the roof of our house. There was a cloud of smoke climbing higher and higher into the air, the source of which we inferred to have to been at the back of our house. We were informed that it was the other row of houses behind our row that was on fire.

As I watched the ruckus that had formed in our driveway, I realized that I also had to take out valuables from our house. I was constantly taught in school, during those fire drills which we liked because they delayed classes, that if there were a fire, we should leave our things and just move out because our lives were the top priority. This time, I rushed back into the house and fumbled for a moment. I walked back and forth, frantically deciding on which of our belongings were the most valuable. I had finally finished Walden the night before and thought, has Thoreau's message of fronting only the essentials gotten over me? Do really think that my life and the clothes on my back were all I needed to save? Well, my mind eventually took control of the situation, and I immediately grabbed hold of my schoolbag (which contained my orgranizer, notebooks, iPod, etc.), other notebooks and my Film 110 photographs. I went back and got my diary/journal, my wallet, my readings, my school records and a box containing the only 3 medals I had received in my life and pre-war photographs of my grandfather. I rushed upstairs and took out my whole drawer of mementos (which included my old diary, a VHS tape of 2 Mork & Mindy and 2 Happy Days episodes, the commemorative Philippine Centennial Swatch watch, my unfinished novel from 6th grade...) and a box of my toys (my Lego Studios, my Silly Putty, my X-Ray vision glasses...).

I paused for a moment to regain my strength out by the front yard. I was thirsty, so they gave me water to drink. I stood for a while longer until we realized that my father was still inside. I rushed back upstairs to look for him. I found him dumping my mother's jewelry onto a blanket that he had laid out on the bed. He told me to follow suit, so I ran to our room, grabbed the bedspread of my sister's bed and laid it out on the floor. There I dumped what I felt were things that money could not buy--old family photographs.

After I had assured myself that I had taken out everything that was of utmost importance to me, I rushed back upstairs to watch the fire. I approached the window closest to the burning house and felt the heat penetrate the glass. I saw, a mere 4 meters away from me, the source of the crackling sound that had bugged me while I slept soundly in my parents' room minutes ago. I managed to make mental notes of everything that I observed that morning and knew immediately that the image of those orange flames would remain vivid in my memory.

I sat out by the front yard, knowing that there was nothing else for me to do but pray. I looked around me and saw our neighbors whose house was right behind those flames that I saw earlier. The grandmother prayed the rosary (reminding me that I should do the same), the mother cried and the daughter (my old playmate) did too. I realized that I had not really seen her face to face in ages, perhaps a decade. And here we were once again, in the same driveway where we used to play during the summers of our childhood, now encroached by firetrucks, drawn out of our own indoor worlds because of same alarming incident.

When the firemen arrived, they rushed into our neighbors' house, flooding their ground floor. Better water-damaged than fire-damaged. I rushed back up and watched how they tried to kill the fire. They walked over the roof right in front of me and my father, prompting us to leave the room. I thought that if they saw us there, they might think that they had to save us when there were more urgent things to do. I learned later that a firewoman got hurt in the operation.

Mediamen arrived immediately, and I realized how quick these people are at looking for stories. I saw the firemen's faces, serious but obviously used to this kind of thing. Some of them were even smoking! Maybe it was just me, but I felt then that a fireman smoking in the middle of an emergency was like fraternizing with the enemy. At that time, the alleged culprit was an air conditioner, though I still don't know the real cause of the incident.

In the end, our house was not damaged. We were saved by my father's quick, calm thinking (the first thing he did was to call the fire department), and the firewall behind our house. That wall, which served as the perennial view from our parents' room, where I wanted to paint a vine with one last leaf just like Mr. Behrman did for Johnsy. That wall saved us.

Looking back, I realize that the experience taught me a lot about myself. Grabbing my schoolbag first showed that my studies were my priority right now. I recall seeing boxes of clothes being taken out by our neighbors. It didn't even cross my mind at that time to take out clothes.

I remember, when everything started to settle down, sitting in my parents' room. I listened to the sounds. Amidst the spraying water from the firetruck's hose and the bellowing of the firemen, I heard a bird happily chirping away. I looked over the window and saw it perching on one of the air conditioner railings.

9 comments:

Mannballs said...

wow, how exciting but scary.
good thing nothing happened to you guys. :)

i would have saved my clothes first though haha

Ana said...

Haha...I understand perfectly because your closet must be filled with collector's pieces from Marcala Couture.

Mannballs said...

but of course!

oh yeah, i would save our various film reels & awards pala...

but our fans will probably mob us and carry our items off to safety in a wild yet organized mosh pit

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