Fire at the Neighbours, Run Run Run

Posted August 23rd, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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It was late Saturday night, we were having dessert after a barbecue dinner at my home. We had a small party – my cousin sister, husband and their 4 year old daughter, cousin brother, wife and their 4 year old daughter and Seejo’s 22 year old cousin brother were visiting us that evening. It had started raining, we were sitting there listening to the pitter patter of raindrops and reminiscing about the getting wet during the monsoon in India . Caught in the spirit of the occasion, Cousin Sister opened the living room door and peeked out. “ Your neighbour’s kids are getting wet in the rain ”, she reported. “ Isn’t that nice, American parents generally tend to be more protective ”, I remarked as I joined her outside.

We watched the three kids as they ran down the steps and moved on to the street. You know at 10pm, they probably are not out to get wet , was Sis-in-law’s opinion. Hmm now that she mentioned it, there was something wrong with the scene. I thought I’ll try at being neighbourly, so enquired if something was wrong. It was as though the floodgates opened, the kids (who we were never more than on Hello and Goodbye terms) ran towards us looking frightened. Soon, their mother appeared at the door wearing nothing but her bra and some flimsy pyjamas. “Fire”, “Fire” she screamed and ran out of the house into the rain.

This galvanized Cousin Sister into action, “Fire Fire”, she echoed. Cousin Brother moved into high speed efficiency mode, he ran down the stairs and started his minivan and and started bundling the kids into the van. First the 4 year old who were shocked by the proceedings and had started whimpering. Next were the neighbour-kids the elder girl holding on to the younger brother and the middle one clutching their dog. Then he turned towards Sis- in-Law, she half entered the car and then suddenly squealed, “ There is a dog in this car ”. Cousin brother took one look at the tiny pug and glared at her. Faced with an irate husband, whimpering kids on one side and a dog on the other, she made a difficult decision and gingerly stepped into the car (in the front seat) and rallied the kids to be brave. Cousin Brother got into the driver’s seat and drove the car off away from the house. And all this within less than 5 minutes. The fire safety drill guys would be proud of him.

Neighbour lady was pacing up and down the road in front of the house and describing the fire in great detail to her husband , who was working the late shift that day. “ Did you call the cops ”, I asked her. She was too busy sobbing to her husband to respond to me. Finally I took the phone from her and dialed 911 ( I confess, I was a bit thrilled when I did that ). The cops were quite quick to transfer as to the Fire department and very efficient in nothing down the address of the house.

I looked around to see where Seejo was and I couldn’t find him. I rushed back into the house screaming his name, but he was nowhere to be found. I was on the verge of getting frantic, when I saw him coming down the stairs with armful of documents. “Green card papers”, was his response to my barrage of questions, as he ran down to the basement. I followed him openmouthed—the house may be on fire and the first thing he wants to save are the green card papers. Of course, he looks at me as though I was an imbecile and this was the most obvious thing to do and runs out of the house. Its pouring out there, so he rushes back into the basement to save the papers from getting wet, throws the folder in the backseat , climbs into the drivers seat and takes off with the precious green card papers. I make a half-hearted attempt to run behind him but bro-in-law is reciting a list of what he needs to get from the house before it is completely burnt. Camera, he decides and then turns into the house to capture his camera.

In the meantime, 22 year old cousin has managed to find a fire extinguisher, that we keep in the basement. He has always wanted to be a hero so off he marches into the neighbour’s house armed with a bright red fire extinguisher. I follow him halfway urging him to check if the fire extinguisher even works, it is more than three years old. As I reach the house, I see that the entire living room is full of smoke, the origins of the smoke seem somewhere in the kitched. Cousin Hero sprays a test spray outside the house, there is a fine mist of white powder. Completely convinced that he can save the house, he charges inside. At the same time, there is a loud wail behind me. Neighbour lady saw the mist from the road and thought the smoke was coming out of the house. My house my kids she screams and flaps her arm about. I tried to console her that the house is not on fire and Cousin Hero was just testing the fire extinguisher. By this time she was hysterical and I was irritated. I asked her if she might like some clothes, the rain was hammering down and all she had on was a flimsy bra. She looked at me, as though I was speaking Malayalam, I repeated the question carefully in English. She still had the same look, I am smart, I knew there was no use insisting. After spouting some inane stuff like “ Things will be allright , what matters is that people are safe ”, I tried to see what Cousin Hero is upto.

Bro in law apparently had decided that an umbrella is more worth saving than his camera, and so followed Cousin Hero in regal style with a massive umbrella. Cousin Hero and Bro- in law had identified the source of the smoke. The electric toaster was switched on and some one had accidentally, left the oven mitten on the toaster. It had become completely charred and was slowly melting the plastic toaster. Cousin Hero flung the glove out of the house in great style, stomped on it a few times for effect and then proceeded to spray the entire house with the fire extinguisher spray. Thanks to his efforts, the entire kitchen was soon covered in a thin film of fine white powder.

I checked the house to see that nothing else was on fire and then grabbed a sleeping bag from the living room and went out with it to wrap it around the soaked neighbour lady. She is still on the phone with her husband and is screaming away. I tell her that it was all smoke , no fire and the only thing that was damaged was the toaster oven and a mitt. She refuses to believe me, why would I switch the toaster on at 10 pm, I was just ready to get into bed . The firemen arrive just then. Bro, Bro in law and Seejo also turn up along with the cops after finding far away parking spots for the car. I am impressed that Seejo left the green card papers away from his sight but decide prudently, that it was not the time to ask that question. Like I said, I am smart!. The firemen inspect the house and pronounce it safe. “ Who used the fire extinguisher ”,, asks one of them. Hero acknowledged that it was him— The cop looked at him, and drawled in an amused manner, “ Good work, tomorrow go get a new fire extinguisher—you certainly emptied this one ”.

By this time the cops left, sis and sis in law had determined that our house was not going to burn down after all and gathered all the kids back in my living room. Sitting as far away from the dog as possible, they were trying to reassure that their house would not burn down. The boy was feeling guilty when he realized he had crept down to the kitchen for a snack and switched the toaster on. The elder girl sat there murmuring words of encouragement to the dog.

I convinced the neighbor lady that there really was no fire. “ Really ”?, she asked. Really I replied. Didn’t the firemen just say so?. I showed her the charred oven mitt and asked her if she wants to talk to her kids”. She suddenly remembered she had kids, and ran to my place to collect them. The kids were sitting abnormally quiet….feeling scared and awkward at the same time. When their mother turned up, they turned their attention on her. It is all ok, kids, the mom said. Mom, “can we ask you something?” piped the boy. “Why are you wearing a sleeping bag?”.

It was an interesting Fire Drill….and there can be a smoke without fire. I just saw that!

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