It happened yesterday. After returning to my office from a trip that entailed the purchase of my supper – 8 oranges, 1 titus fish & 1 loaf of bread – I found my colleagues snapping pictures of a building in flames about 100 metres away. The view from the window of my office seemed to be perfect for them to capture compositions that would perhaps be submitted as their weekly reports or even sold to an international art buyer.
Upon discovering what was happening, I found it a little interesting that no one thought of going to the burning house to see what can be done to help. Without thinking (honestly I really didn’t think it through), I put down my supper on the table and told them I was heading to the burning "bush" to see how I could help.
About 5 minutes later, I was at the entrance of the burning 2 storey building that seemed to have gathered a cinematographic-audience of about 150+ people. About a third of them had their camera-phones pointed in the direction of the room that was spewing out flames from the second floor. Perhaps I should have brought my camera. Perhaps the thought didn’t occur to me. Like Superman or Spiderman I felt as though a good friend of mine was trapped inside the fire that seemed to be raging from within the seemingly small room.
Without thinking I was determined (in KANU Nwankwo’s Peak Milk accent) to help. I asked an onlooker stationed at the building’s gate if more hands were still needed to put off the flame and was shown the staircase that led to the room burning on the second floor.
A few young compatriots had already climbed the roof and were pouring soapy water in buckets to try the quench the flames. The fire department had been called upon but it seemed they were either wearing a woman’s 2-hour makeup or they were just stuck in Lagos rush hour 6pm traffic. Either way it was obvious that if we were going to wait for the fire fighters to get there, the house would be a rubble of ashes.
I discovered that I seemed to be the only one to have entered the house through the stairs. It was my first presence in a burning house and I was glad to discover that no friend or enemy of mine was trapped within. I was immediately followed by a team of about 7 men who would later help pass me buckets of soapy water that we used to help reduce the inferno stirring up within the 6 by 10 feet room.
The smoke was intense, the fire unforgiving and the determination of the 10 man-impromptu-firefighters to quench the fire was relentless. At one point I had to retreat because the smoke that was emanating from the burning rooms where choking my eyes and lungs. I felt I was 45 seconds away from collapsing. While retreating back for air, I saw one of my fellow firefighting compatriots using his handkerchief to cover his nose. I asked him to give me the handkerchief because it wasn’t going to do much for him if he’s not ready to go closer to the fire to pour the soapy water. He didn’t argue.
What was I thinking? Come to think of it, I wasn’t thinking at all. It was as if the burning house was my beloved BMW 750i that was in flames and I was not going to let this be an easy defeat. By fire by force, I would do my best to quench…. I handed my other colleague the handkerchief and we discovered it wasn’t long enough to cover his nose with. At the speed of thought, I found myself removing my shirt and singlet (let the Nigerian reader know the meaning) and handed him the 2 year old faded singlet to cover his nose. It worked like magic and we were able to stay longer in the flaming room to quench the fire. Of course I wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t used my shirt to cover my nose. I would later find out that we had been in the room for over 10 minutes.
After dispensing about 200kgs of soapy water into 2 rooms whose ceiling and rooftop were gone, we seemed to have won the battle. However, this wasn’t a victory to celebrate because of what was lost. I would later return to my office with revelatory thoughts that ran through my mind simultaneously with the headache I had just contacted as a result of the inhaled smoke. I probably should have thought this through before heading in, but then again the house might have been burnt to the ground if I had thought before going in (just a thought).
The following are some of the thoughts that hit me as I passed the team of professional fire fighters that just arrived at the scene.
1) A crowd of over 300 people stood outside to watch and photograph the building burning. Only less than 10 people (not related to the owner of the house) went in to help. In fact, I later discovered that most of the 10-man firefighting team were people considered to be the miscreants of the society: area boys.
2) The crowd were muttering words of commotion that I had to ignore most of the time. Some were shouting out orders to us on how to quench the fire, some were abusing the owner of the house for making it difficult to gain access to his house, some were blaming NEPA for the supposed-surge of electricity that started the flames while others were just smiling (yes, smiling) because they got there in time to capture the "beautiful" potentially-viral scenery on their smartphones.
3. The room where the fire raged the most was as a result of the tons of clothes stored there by the owner. A small room housed what seemed to be about 8 large suitcases of clothes. It was obvious the room belonged to one person that had PLENTY of unused clothes that fueled the anger of the flames. How many clothes does a man really need, I thought.
4. If I were a member of a religious organization that reigned down "fire" brimstones prayer on my enemies, I would repent because I just witnessed firsthand what real fire can do. I would definitely not want this to happen to any of my enemies. Really.
5. The fact that Bible scriptures were written on the building did not stop it from burning. But then again maybe it was the scriptures that prevented it from burning completely.
6. A church service that was holding just a few buildings from the house was uninterrupted. Since it wasn’t their building burning, there wasn’t a need to interrupt a meeting where God was ministering.
7. The owner of the house wasn’t around when the house caught fire. Whether or not he was a good person, the area boys bravely took it upon themselves to help quench the spread of an inferno that would indirectly affect them.
8. The fact that you’re seemingly surrounded by a lot of people and admirers does not mean they’ll be willing to help you quench your house when it is on fire. The fact that I have 35,000+ followers doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to help in my days of affliction. Many times, real lifesaving help will come from unexpected sources. At that point, I prayed to God to help me have friends that will help quench the fires of life when they rage. I figured that 10 of such friends would be enough.
On my way home, I found myself fighting the tears that struggled to leave the domain of my eyes. So much has been witnessed with these same eyes in my 38 years on earth. I could only smile when my wife then mentioned that she felt sad because she forgot her phone in my office earlier in the day. She forgot her phone and that made her sad. I’ve been sad also for similar forgotten items. I handed her the forgotten phone in the darkness of my room and silently prayed for the family that just almost lost their house. So much lessons learnt from a burning building. So much lessons learnt about life. May God help us all.