The following is a first hand account:
I was lying on my wooden bed staring up at the tin roof of our unfinished house and intermittently checking my social media stats when suddenly I heard shouting. It wasn’t necessarily cause for alarm to hear shouting at 10:00 at night because we live next to a bar and our neighbors have a reputation for domestic disturbances. Something in the shouting however caused my wife and I to take notice. There was an urgency in the shouting that indicated more than just a personal calamity.
“Incendio!! Incendio!!” (Fire in Spanish)
“There’s a fire!” shouted my wife. “Put your clothes on! Oh God!”
Confusedly I jumped out of bed and ran to the living room in my underwear. I then ran back into my room and grabbed the first pair of jeans I saw.
“Agua! Mas agua!!” shouted the bustling hordes outside our house.
Again I collided with my wife as we crossed paths in the hallway.
“Get water!” she nervously exclaimed.
She was almost in tears. I should explain that there is no running water in our neighborhood. When the people shouted for water they were requesting to fill buckets with whatever rain or river water that had already been collected. While my wife began unlocking the door I grabbed handfuls of 1.5 liter bottles of water and began dumping them in the large plastic trash bin we use to hold water. As the door opened we at once saw smoke and people running back and forth carrying empty buckets. My wife’s asthma immediately began acting up and she coughed uncontrollably.
“Mira! Aqui hay agua!” she shouted to let the confused workers know they could fill their buckets with water.
From the sound of the devouring flame and the bright flashes of light, reason should have told us that our actions were an exercise in futility. Nevertheless we were understandably taken in by the confident actions of the workers combined with a secret hope that we could prevent the fire from advancing to our house. These hopes were dashed to pieces as we suddenly saw half a dozen workers flee in all directions from an explosion of flames twice the height of the house next to ours rise into the sky.
“We have to get out!” my wife shouted frantically. “Just grab your documents and run!”
She was in tears. All of these transitions happened in a short space of time. We went from bored, to franticly confused, to supportive and back to frantic in about five minutes. It’s not easy to decide what few things you can take and what to abandon to the fire. We finally escaped with of backpack full of our passports, our iPads, my wife’s MacBook, some money and a couple bottles of water. As we ran to a neighboring block to let a friend know what was going on, we had to reconcile the fact that were going to lose everything but at least we had our lives. I tried to call my other neighbor whose house was in front of mine to let him know what was going on. His car wasn’t in front of his house so I figured he wasn’t home. I figured wrong.
“Cristobal! There’s a fire!”
“I know,” he responded. “I’m at the house right now!”
It turned out that he was in the house sleeping the entire time. His car was at the shop being worked on and that’s why I didn’t see it in front of his house like usual. Another friend called and woke him up when he spotted the smoke. I began to help Cristobal take things out of his house before the fire reached him. His house was made of wood and would go up like a matchbox. When I reached him he was in a state of indecision as another neighbor was telling him not to take out his belongings because the fire wouldn’t reach his house. I impatiently pushed passed the neighbor.
“Come on,” I said. “Don’t listen to him! Start with the most important stuff. Your documents, money, irreplaceables.”
As we began carrying out his belongings more friends arrived and grabbed the larger furniture, couches etc. At first they struggled to get around the door but then our friend Rufino who had his own experience with fire kicked the door down and glided past. A pile of belongings was dragged out of the house to a safe distance. While some continued to bring out belongings others were told to stand watch. My friend Emilio looked out over the crowd.
“Keep watch!” he warned. “The thieves are starting to gather.”
Around this time the fire fighters arrived but they didn’t jump into action right away. Instead they were instructing the crowds which I found odd under the circumstances. I later found out that they neglected to bring water. Once the water was finally brought they were able to put the fire out with surprising speed.
“How could they have shown up at a fire without water?” I asked.
“They sell the water.” I was told. “They take advantage of the lack of water to make money on the side. Then when a fire suddenly breaks out, they have no water. It happens all the time.”
The fire was finally put out before it could spread to our house. This in fact became the talk of the neighborhood. Because of the relatively unusual way our house was built it stopped the fire from spreading and saved the other houses including Cristobal’s house. The house here are built too close together and even the cinder block houses have wooden roofs with beams that jut out on the sides apparently to make it easier for fires to spread. Our house was built with stone walls rising up and covering the wooden roof. The neighbors made fun of my house when it was being built. They said it looks like a prison. However as I watch the reconstruction of some of the demolished houses I’m noticing some of them copying our architectural style.
Anyways the purpose of this article is to show how life sometimes imitates art. I wrote about a similar event in my fictional novel Metaphysical Man The Don Quijote Of The Digital Age and now it’s actually come to pass. The following is an excerpt from my book. Compare for yourself the fictional events with our recent disaster and tell me if I’m right:
“Metaphysical Man places his hand on Chaz’s shoulder. He feels an unusually strong bond with the young man.
“What is it about this guy?” he asks himself. “I’ve never felt like this about anyone before. In no sense of the word would I describe him as a modern man. Yet something about the way he pushes ahead despite overwhelming obstacles makes me feel respect for him. But respect isn’t even the accurate word to fully describe this feeling. Respect is something one feels for a colleague or even a worthy opponent. No. There’s something else… That’s it! It’s pride. For some reason I’m proud of Chaz.”
These thoughts flash through MM’s mind leading to his conclusion. Suddenly a singular question remains in his mind.
“Who am I to be proud of this young man?”
“Look,” declares Metaphysical Man. “At least things can’t get any worse. Right?”
Chaz laughs wearily.
The very next day as Double M gets back from running an errand he sees smoke bellowing out of the roof and windows of the house. Fearing the worst he begins sprinting towards the fire. The house is surrounded by neighbors from across the street who apparently showed up for no other reason than to watch a house burn down. Chaz and Josie had rescued as many of their belongings as they could. They even managed to drag one of the couches outside before the fire could consume it.
“What happened? Where are the fire fighters?” the superhero frantically asks.
It is Josie that responds.
“They’re not coming.” She adds bitterly, “We called them over an hour ago when the fire first started down the block. They don’t like working in our neighborhood so they look for excuses not to come. I’m sure we’ll hear that the roads were blocked or something like that.”
“As you can see,” adds Chaz, “when disasters like this take place we can’t rest our hope on the authorities to put out the fire, otherwise we’d lose everything.”
Metaphysical Man observes the pile of belongings dragged out of the house to a safe distance. He then glances down the street and notes similar mounds of belongings in front of the other houses. Between running to dump buckets of water on the approaching flames and rescuing as many belongings as possible everyone in the line of danger is active.
“What are we going to do?”
Seemingly in response to the question a wall of flames twice the height of the house rises into the sky. What remained of the house burns as if it were made of dry newspapers dipped in gasoline.
About a month later we find Chaz just getting home from his day job. He steps over the charred remains of his old house and unlocks the front door to the unfinished cinder block house. The walls are un-plastered and unpainted both inside and out. The dirt floor has been covered with a thin layer of adhesive linoleum. The cheapest of tin roofs separate the inhabitants from the elements. Chaz and Kris, who as Metaphysical Man finds out are also electricians, do a rush job giving the house power.
“With this many electricians,” reasons MM. “One would expect this alternate land to have the most state of the art electrical grid in the entire alternate world.”
They of course have no running water. As a temporary solution they connect the toilet to the septic well that belonged to the bathroom of the old house. The solution is temporary because the septic well is almost full. Chaz and Josie didn’t want to waste money on having it emptied when they were planning on sealing it off and having another septic well dug for the new house. This, like all of their other plans was put on hold as a result of the fire.”
Excerpt From: Chasterson, William. “Metaphysical Man The Don Quijote Of The Digital Age.” iBooks.
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