Sunday, November 29, 2009

Our block was on fire!!!

But we're fine... No worries.

Mrs Liew was in her early forties. She was a happy housewife. Although she sometimes looked back at her past with a sadness in her eyes. The love of her youth had left overseas, and she did not follow him after he asked. Her Mum told her that nothing good would come from this infatuation. Nothing came out of it at all, he married another woman. She wasn't angry at him anymore, anger had left place to a melancholy in her heart. And when she heard the voice of her son or daughter, then all the sadness was gone and her heart fuelled up again with her love for them.
Her two children, we growing and were on their way to make good studies and build a good future for themselves. Andy, 12 years old, wanted to become an airline pilot, and Sandy 16 had already started fulfilling her dream: she was taking acting lessons besides school. Although her parents did not fully approve, they looked at this phase with a tender smile. She'd get out of this mood and take a real job, administration or sales. Her marks at real school were still good and she took on her own time the acting lessons.
Mr Liew was seldom at home. He drove a taxi, meaning that 12 to 15 hours per day were spent behind the wheel, Sundays and public holidays included. Like Singaporean men are taught, he got married to the first woman accepting him, and he was carrying our his duty in life: to bring money home. When he was behind the wheel on the way to Changi, to Clementi, to Jurong west, to Orchard Towers or where ever, all his thoughts were on his driving so he did not see how dearly he was missed at home. Or maybe he chose not to see it. After National Service he worked in a bank as a clerk. He dreamed of becoming high ranked in a financial institution and was slowly taking the steps to it. Then his wedding came, the kids etc. He needed more money urgently, and he helped himself once in the safe. Then a second time. He was caught fast, so he didn't go to prison. But he had to pay everything back and still had to get money home for his family. No employer would take him on of course, so he hit the road in a yellow cab. His past life wearing a tie everyday, being able to take holidays once a year, and having time to spend with his family were all gone. His wife was very supportive all this while, and it made him feel more remorseful. He unconsciously avoided her as much as he could.
Finally, Denis. Mrs. Liew's youngest brother. He was lost in life and after the army he had nowhere to go, no job, and no motivation whatsoever... His parents threw him out of the house so his sister kindly took him on. For a few months she had said. It's been 1 year, 4 months and 3 days.

So that Friday morning, on 27 November 2009 Mr Liew was not at home. He had started early as he knew that many Muslims would be visiting their relatives and needed to take taxis. It wasn't raining, Mr Liew didn't like rain, he felt it made people more aggressive. And the dull sky did not match Singapore's tall buildings. Mrs Liew had taken the kids out. She wanted to shop for a gift for her husband whose birthday was coming soon.
Denis was home alone. For once he hadn't slept until the afternoon as he had the house to himself. He was smoking on the sitting room couch listening to some music on his mp3 dreaming about a life on a sail boat in the Pacific Islands. He was thinking about the clear blue sea, the fish jumping about. The white sand of the beach just a few hundred meters away. The warmth of the wood under his back, the sun on his face and the sea breeze preventing the heat from getting unbearable as it does in Singapore. The oven clingged, the pizza was ready. He got up, left his burning cigarette in the ashtray lying on the armrest and walked slowly to the kitchen. He was busy cutting the pizza on the table when he smelled some rubber burning. He turned to see if he had left some plastic on the oven, but it was cooling down slowly. Then he saw some black smoke in the sitting room. He grabbed the bottle of iced tea in the fridge and ran to the couch to soak the fire starting in the ashtray and spreading fast on the nylon cover, and reaching the curtains. In a few seconds the whole room was full of smoke, and the fire couldn't be stopped, he was disoriented and went to the place which was less smoky: back to the kitchen. He opened the window and shouted out, but no one was downstairs, only this car reversing 20 meters up the car park. The smoke was brought towards the opening, he started choking and was now trapped. No phone, no exit so he climbed out the window.
The heavy smoke had alerted the neighbours and a crowd was gathering around. Denis was crawling away from the heat and the smoke along the bamboo poles where the few clothes hanging dropped the short two floor height slowly dancing in the air as if to mock him at how it was easy for them to land safely on the ground.
The poles were bending dangerously under his weight and the lookers shouted him to be careful, to stay back, not to go out. In the distance the sirens were getting closer but the pole snapped. Denis fell with a shout, but he felt relieved to be away from the heat and the smoke. He hit the ground on the back, his left arm smashing in pieces like a glass. The pain was so intense that he fainted. Some people ran to him, but none dared to touch him. Some blood was coming out of his mouth and nose. A woman bent down and tried to talk to him with no success.
Half a minute later, the fire brigade and the police arrived. The fire brigade post is much closer than the police station, they should have arrived sooner with their ladder...
The fire was handled pretty fast. Once it had burned the whole couch and the carpet, nothing much was left and the firemen were almost disappointed that it didn't give a good fight. Denis was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Apart from his broken arm in four different pieces and his lungs full of smoke (the doctor laughed saying that he had inhaled enough smoke not to need to have an other cigarette in his entire life) Denis was shocked but fine. When he woke up, he told his sister he was going to buy a boat to always have enough water around him to put away any fire.
Mr and Mrs Liew were on their part really shocked. All their furniture was as good as lost. What hadn't burnt reeked of smoke and the rest was soaked in water. The flat was devastated. They had nowhere to live.
Mrs Liew's parents welcomed everyone in the end, even Denis. The refurbishing of the house was done in order, and Mr and Mrs Liew were glad they had taken a home insurance that paid much of the repairs.
After this event, Mr Liew realised he should've been home when this happened as his day didn't usually start that early. He made, from then on, a point of not over working and stayed home as much as he could. He started talking to his wife again. He was earning a little less, but the happiness was worth every single cent not earned.
After his arm healed, Denis found a job at the Singapore Yacht Club. Nothing fancy, just cleaning the boats and giving a hand here and there when needed, but he could learn to sail, and could save money to get his own boat one day. His parents allowed him to stay with them so he didn't bother his sister anymore. But he visited her often and promised to take her on his boat one day.

Of course, most of this story is invented. I was wakened by Ting telling me "the neighbour's house is on fire" at 1.30pm Friday. It took me an other half an hour to get out of bed so I missed most of the action. The smoke coming out of the building was very impressive though. And a person really fell out the window, but I didn't see that. I sincerely hope the owners of the house are all okay and that they have a happy ending like in my story.

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