Friday, June 09, 2006

Bij brand de lift niet gebruiken

The corridor that leads to the door of my apartment is one of the most airtight spaces in the world. You could fart there, come back a week later and still smell it. (The illustration is purely hypothetical. It is not based on actual events and definitely does not reflect the author's sense of hygiene in any way) So when a burning smell wafted through the spaces around my door, I assumed it was a culinary experiment that went wrong in one of the 8 apartments that open into the common corridor. I can't remember if I saw the smoke before I heard the fire engines, but I knew for sure that there was something awfully wrong. I stepped into the corridor and I couldn't see a thing, partly because it was full of dark smoke and partly because they had cut off the electricity mains. Like a good scout, who had earned his fireman badge, I mentally revised the lessons. Held a wet towel to my nose, and walked out without panic. I even remembered the sticker on the lift that said "Bij brand de lift niet gebruiken" (In case of a fire, don't use the lift).One of the things of living out of a suitcase is that I don't own something as basic as a torchlight. I had to use a lighter to find the fire exit, but the smoke was now so thick that the fire wouldn't burn. While I was taking the stairs down I realised the fire was in an apartment in one of the lower floors, because I could see the smoke getting thicker as I went down. As all the houses in the building are duplexes, the 5 floors I had to climb down seemed more like 8 or 9. It's ironic that the descent seemed to take forever and yet I can't remember anything except for the fleeting thought I had at around the 3rd floor "I should have taken the iPod." After I got out of the building I felt silly about my misplaced priorities. I didn't think of my passport or my wallet or my mobile or the laptop or any of the other things that would have been useful if my house were to indeed burn down. I thought of my stupid iPod. I blamed the lack of oxygen in the brain for that weird thought. Anyway I came out and my neighbours asked me "What took you so long?" From outside I could actually see what had happened. One of the apartments in the 4th floor was badly gutted. I learnt later that 4 people were injured. Lots of expert opinions were being thrown around. (It takes a fire to finally get acquainted with your neighbours.) After a while, when people realised everything was in control, they even amused themselves with comments full of the typical flemish cynicism. Some even complained about missing the Henin-Clijsters match in the French open. At around 8 I finally got back inside. Did the incident give me some new perspectives on life? No, I was just happy that my iPod was safe.
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