Even at my age I’ve realised there are things I won’t ever know the answer to. Questions like: ‘Is there a God?’ Or ‘why are litchis so tough to open?’ And even: ‘How did that key get in my swimming costume?’ (With the related questions: ‘What does the key open?’ And ‘why didn’t I notice it till I took the costume off?’).
But no one expects me to know the answers to those questions anyway (except for the last one I guess). However, there are some things I should know that I just don’t. Like the question my new room mate yelled at me the other day.
“SAAAM! Sam! What’s the number for the fire department?” Kim asked in a panic. Suddenly the ashy aroma wafting around the flat became a cause for a concern and not ‘just another neighbourhood braai’. My mind was completely, utterly, Sahara desert, blank. “What? Why?” I yelled back. Kim replied: “A woman’s car is on fire! In the garage! She’s screaming for help!”
A woman’s… what? Where? How? Our garage? “Sam, what’s the number?” Kim asked again. “Uh… uh…” I stuttered, till someone suggested dialling 10111.
Kim and I ran out of the flat to the stairs leading to the garage, peered over the edge while one of our frazzled neighbours ran in and out, grabbing stuff from her rapidly combusting car. The smoky smell was pungent, almost physical and I ran in to see what was happening while another neighbour ran (more sensibly) to get a fire extinguisher.
Scene in the garage: a car (right behind my car, I might add) with the engine still running had black, acrid smoke gushing from the engine. The car’s owner (Ms A) yelled: “I don’t know what to do! I’m scared it’s going to blow up!” Another neighbour tried to open a fire extinguisher; no success. Someone else grabbed another extinguisher which we once again tried ineffectually to open. Ms A ran in once more; nothing she could do; the garage filled with charcoal smoke; getting difficult to breathe. “There’s no point! Come let’s get out of here before it explodes!” yelled Neighbour #2.
Kim and I knocked urgently on all the doors in the flat complex, trying to organise a mass evacuation just in case the car exploded, damaging the underground garage and flat complex’s stability. Neighbours poured into the street like ants while smoke crept under the garage doors, onto the street and floated greyly up, disappearing into the blue. Meanwhile I dashed back into my flat. I grabbed my handbag; laptop; SLR camera and, thus laden, made my way to the street with the rest of my neighbours.
I realised, while two fire trucks, a police car, an ambulance and an emergency vehicle whizzed into our little road, that the things I’d grabbed in the fire were a laptop and a camera. No family photo albums, no pets, no jewellery. Was I soulless, valueless, materialistic: grabbing valuables instead of things of value? Or had the times just changed?
As these thoughts swirled in my frantic mind; the firemen put out the fire and pumped the heavy, sooty smoke out of the garage. The fire’s origins were a mystery. And as to the car blowing up? Well, a fireman laughed and said to me, “No man, cars only explode in the movies.”
So now I know what I’d grab in case of a fire. As a young adult living alone in the city, I’d seized my future livelihood. Without a laptop I can’t write. Without a camera I can’t take photos. I don’t have kids, pets, or antiques. Just a laptop and a camera.
That’s what I grabbed. Was I wrong? What would you grab in case of a fire?