This all happened in our old house. I think it was near Christmas because the whole family was down. The fire alarm in the hallway right by the front door went off. We filed out to the front of the house like a chain gang; easing our way down the narrow hallway. By the time I reached porch I could already smell the smoke and feel the heat.
Outside the street was deserted. The house next door was on fire. Large flames wrapped around the windows and doorway. My family was just mulling around, shuffling their feet. Most had turned their faces down and away from me. No one was doing anything and I began to panic. I shouted at my mum, "aren't you going to call the fire brigade?". She looked back at me wide eyed - "I don't know their number!". I didn't know what the hell she was talking about. "It's nine-nine-nine you idiot!" I couldn't believe her.
I took my mobile phone out of my pocket and dialled the emergency number. Someone picked up on the other end almost instantly.
"Hello. I need a fire engine. The house next door is on fire." I said nervously.
"Certainly. What is your address?" I could feel my mouth closing up. I felt like I was shrinking and I couldn't get any air out. When I did finally express myself it was extremely quiet. I whispered our address but I was sure the woman on the other end had not heard me correctly. Her voice also diminished to the point where I could not hear her.
"Yes. Yes. Thank you," she whispered.
I hung up and stared back at my family. They continued to shuffle around the tarmac with their heads down. "Fuck It", I thought. I'm not going to stand around and watch all my shit get burnt down. There was a small brick firewall in between the two roofs and the fire hadn't reached our building yet. I could at least save my laptop. It would only take two seconds to run up the stairs and back down. Then at least I could save my dissertation work and a number of other things. Providing the smoke hadn't reached my room maybe I could even save my cello.
I looked over to my Mum. She was still staring at me wide eyed. I told her I was going to go and get my laptop before the fire reached our house. She began to get hysterical. She told me that she wasn't just going to let me go running into that fire and kill myself. She said I wasn't a fucking super hero and that family is the most important thing - all those material things don't matter.
I tried to push past her and get into the house but she struggled to hold me back with all her force. I relented. My heart wasn't in it.
So I went and sat down on the pavement and gazed up at the burning house with the rest of my family. Looking down our road to the right I could see the cars and trucks go past on the main road. Several ambulances rushed past with their sirens off. I was still worried that the person on the phone had not heard me correctly. A police car, also with it's sirens off, turned sharply onto our road and accelerated down it. I jumped off the curb and waved my hands at it, trying to signal it over. The car just drove right past me. The policeman in the car had waved me off with a look as if to say they were very busy and didn't have the time to help.
I sat back down on the pavement and looked toward the main road again. Ambulances, cars and trucks continued to pass in what seemed like a repeating pattern. None of them had the sirens on and there was no sound of the fire engine. After another few minutes another car swerved onto the road. This time it was small car with ambulance or medic markings on it. Again I jumped out into the road and waved my arms. I placed myself right in the middle of the road so whoever it was would have a hard time driving right past.
The car pulled over and someone got out. It was a tall man in medic gear with a brown moustache. He walked over toward me and I began pointing toward the fire, asking if he could help and if he had any contact with the fire brigade. He calmly looked me over and sighed. He told me that it might not seem like it but him and his guys were doing a lot of work behind the scenes to keep everything turning over. He said that there wasn't anything immediate he could do to help and that he was very sorry but he had to be getting on his way.
Again I was dumbstruck and I fell silent in protest. The tall man got back into his car and pulled away.
I felt exhausted. I gave in. It was just the house anyway. I sat tight with the rest of my family and watched it burn.