It was a balmy night in the desert city of Doha, Qatar. The winds were hollowing the sand storm had come in and made the night sky glow orange under a full moon and the bright lights of the metropolis. He packed a bag for an overnight stay across town. There was just one stop to make; their favorite Thai food restaurant. Hot curries and delicious dumplings awaited him. He got his takeaway and headed to her apartment. It was going to be a magical evening of great food and a movie or two. He ascended the stairs to the 5th floor with anticipation of seeing her after being away for weeks working in another country.

As he opened the door to her apartment, there were candles lit on the dining room table; the dim light was comforting and romantic. He placed his clothes bag on the table and gave her a huge hug. They were smiling ear-to-ear and couldn’t be happier to see each other. The warm desert breeze wafted in through the open balcony door with the sounds of the hustle and bustle of the traffic below audible throughout the apartment. They decided to go to the roof to eat their late-night supper. They set a make-shift picnic, and the wine poured, and they began to chat and eat and were enjoying the faint glow of the stars barely visible through the dust clouds. It was that kind of time where you are in the middle of thousands of people, but you feel like you are the only two on the planet.

Good food. Good wine. Good company. As they sat imbibing on the blissful evening, he looked over and saw something strange. It looked like black smoke. He didn’t think much of it because there was a high-rise under construction across the street that can get dirty. However, when she turned around to see the smoke, which was now thicker, she froze. Staring off into the distance, ignoring the bright lights, all she could see was the blackness of the smoke rising past the building. It was then that she snapped; “It’s my apartment!” she feverishly exclaimed. She bolted for the open stairwell door and ran down the 3-stories to her floor. He, being slightly confused as to what was going on, was soon racing after her. 

Once they got to the hallway, they could see smoke coming from inside her apartment. She was 20 feet down the hall ahead of him, and she threw the door open as he approached. Smoke engulfed her. He screamed for her not to go in as he knew how dangerous it could be to run inside. He was a trained firefighter and knew the consequences of running into a burning building. He panicked but kept his wits about him and ran to the door as well; however, he stayed on the threshold and yelled her name. The smoke was quite thick at this point, but he could see some movement. It was her, heading for the balcony to try and catch a breath of fresh air. He knew that it takes very little inhalation of smoke to knock you out and then tragedy soon follows. With one giant gulp of fresh air from the hallway, he ran inside and grabbed her. She was panicked and on the verge of collapse. He dragged her into the hallway to the arms of the neighbors who took her away from the scene. She sat on the stairs to calm down and breathe fresh air. He wanted to stay with her, but he knew where the fire was and, despite his better judgment, went back inside to stop the flames from spreading. The fire was confined to the dining room table. That was the same table where the romantic candles had once brought joy and love. The table was now set ablaze, along with the table and all of his clothes.

Since the only fire extinguisher was on the other side of the flames, there was only one thing to do; flip the table over to snuff out the fire. Grabbing the table by the unburnt legs, hoisting it up, he slammed it down on its top, smothering the fire. The remaining embers were then doused with water, thus eliminating the threat (marble floors and concrete walls helped this from becoming a tragedy for the whole building). It was then that he could go to his girl and be there for comfort. She was shaking, in a daze, coughing, and panicked, but he stayed with her to comfort her and let her know everything was going to be all right. The custodian watched the apartment while they both rested on the stairs. Both stunned, but in the back of their minds, happy to be alive.

Once the smoke cleared out, they went back inside to assess the damage. The smell was terrible, but they had to make sure it was safe and that nothing was still smoldering. The table got flipped back over; the top scorched and the bag of clothes almost fully-burnt. There goes his favorite clothes he thought, but that sentiment was fleeting, as he knew that was the least of their worries. The three wall-mounted air conditions that were running at the time had sucked up the hot smoke and had melted down the wall until they could take no more and stopped. There was soot everywhere. They began a modest cleanup but would have to deal with it in the morning.

There was only one thing left to do, go to the roof and finish a lot of wine and try and keep some more food down. The reality of the situation could have been way worse if she had stayed in that apartment any longer without being hauled out. They went over what had happened; it was the candles that got blown over by a gust of wind coming from the open balcony and lit the bag of clothes on fire. Ironically, he suggested putting the candles out when they went to the roof, but she said they should be fine staying lit, not anticipating the wind factor. But hindsight is 20/20. Feeling guilty, she had brought up the charred remains of his bag to see if there was anything salvageable. Almost everything was in ruins; however, as they dug through the burnt clothes, there was a glimmer of hope. It was his favorite t-shirt, the one he always wore and the one she liked the best. The shirt was saved! This glimmer of hope, after all of the chaos, and they smiled and hugged. Perhaps they were going to be all right.

That t-shirt still hangs in my closet over a decade later. Yes, I was the guy, and ‘she’ was my girlfriend. There is quite a bonding experience when you go through such a scary situation like a fire. It makes you more aware of your surroundings and makes you fully realize what matters most to you. We got married the next year and have a wonderful daughter now. There’s an old saying that; “Love is like a friendship caught on fire.” Well, in this case, the fire did bring this quote into reality.

October 22, 2020 20:06

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