A Week for the World
When the explosion went off, I wasn’t expecting an angel.
Before that, I had been taking the normal route to Emanuel’s. Normal, except for the fact that my reckless biking was severely endangering the lives of the pedestrians sharing the sidewalk with me. Amidst a verbal onslaught of “Hey!”’s and “Use the bike lane!”’s I gnashed my teeth, and muttered, “Irritating idiots...” The capacity the average person had for ignorance never ceased to amaze me.
Had any of those people bothered to actually look at where I was supposed to be cycling--the bike lane-- they would have seen many people. These people were not on bikes. No, these were self-serving, ambitious motorists who found it in everyone’s (read: their) best interest if they snaked around the slowing traffic.
My wheels kicked up stray bits of litter, and an empty cup rolled away. Hitting the brakes, I picked up a discarded chip wrapper and used it to pick up a half-eaten pear, dropping both into a trash can a few yards away. If some idiots hadn’t been careless with their mess, I could have saved myself the hassle.
Stupid people caused the world to suffer from so many large problems: overpopulation, deforestation, and the threat of nuclear warfare, just to name a few. “Why doesn’t anyone else do anything?” I growled to myself, cursing the owner of a half-eaten sandwich thrown on to the side of the street. I could afford to take a little bit of my time to help out. Shouldn’t others do the same?
In a word, I’d describe the world as “hopeless”.
A high-pitched scream pierced my thoughts. Shocked, I forced my bike to a screeching halt as the people and cars ahead of me came to a standstill. “What happened?” I wondered
Against an urban backdrop, dozens of flashing lights and deafening sirens bombarded the scene, made only more extreme by the thick columns of smoke I saw rising. As I walked my bike over, through the crowd of onlookers and policemen and cars, I could make out a large perimeter marked with caution tape. In a policeman’s arms, a woman next to a baby stroller was sobbing hysterically.
The scream had been hers. Was something actually wrong? Squeezing under another person’s arm, I made my way near the officers and was stopped short.
A large crowd was gathering around the caution tape. I approached a middle-aged businessman--judging from his suit--and tapped him on the shoulder.
He was thin and balding with heavy eyebrows that made his face look like it was all going downhill. I noted his battered briefcase and tattered suit.
“Hm?” He gave me a questioning look.
“Excuse me, might you tell me what’s going on with all the caution tape and police cars?” I asked.
“Oh, well, you see, there’s these apartments burning, and the police say there’s a possibility of a gas explosion.” He replied, almost seeming excited. The man wasn’t worried at all. Madman.
“That’s insane! Why is everyone just standing here? Are the people in the apartment safe?” I exclaimed in surprise, getting a few odd looks from the others in the crowd.
A gas explosion was not good news. Doubly so if they’re near you.
A police officer came over, strolling along the caution tape, pushing people back, “Sonny, you’re about to witness some raw power. A gas explosion can produce huge walls of flame. You see that blue pipe all the way back? Just dug this morning. The fire could spread soon and the whole thing might blow, but we’ve already evacuated everyone a safe distance. That’s what the caution tape is for.”
His reply calmed me a little, but I was still pretty wary. Who was he to be an expert on bomb explosion radii? The blue pipe didn’t seem that far away.
Cautious as I was, it would be incredible to see a demonstration of pure power. But I didn’t have much time, and Emanuel would fire me if I was late. No matter what explanation I gave, he would take no excuse. His requirements for his employees were near tortuous, but he was the only one who’d hire me for hours longer than the state limit. And this was for less than minimum wage since I was technically underage.
I swung my legs over my bike and readied to leave, but I remembered the crying woman holding a stroller. What had been going on? I looked at my watch. I had to hurry, but curiosity got the best of me.
Before I could get a chance to ask anyone, the woman with the stroller broke free of the officer’s hold and tried unsuccessfully to make a break for the tape. Two struggling policeman caught her as she cried and writhed. My heart skipped a beat. Were they roughing her up? I looked to the crowd, but every eye was trained on the fire in the distance.
I spoke up, “What are you doing to her?” I was a lot more nervous than I let on.
It was the woman who replied. In a shaky voice, she answered, “My child, Gerald, he’s gone missing. We left together when we heard the evacuation warnings in our apartment, but when I arrived, he wasn’t in the stroller. Oh! He’s only three! My Gerald is all alone, crying right now! He could be burning! Why won’t you do something?” The last question was directed at the officers.
“Ma’am, the area there is highly unstable. Extra motion could set off the explosion at anytime. We’re under strict orders not--”
“Screw your orders! Someone! Do something! My child could die! My child will die!” Each person hung their head or reddened in shame and looked away as she cried out. No one wanted to die. No one wanted to walk straight into the burning building, or set off an explosion. Even if it meant saving a human life. Everyone else in the crowd, all the other people, sickened me.
The woman beseeched the crowd, pleading with her eyes. I was the only one that met hers. She knelt and whispered to the sky, “God, anyone, do something to save my child. Please.”
I was never one for heroics. “If anything,” I thought, “I should leave for Emanuel’s right now.” I checked my watch. The jam in traffic had cost me almost ten minutes. If I didn’t leave immediately, I was bound to be late. Not to mention, it was obviously the woman’s fault she lost her son. Chances were, she valued her life over her child, and in the mad scramble to evacuate, lost her kid. It wasn’t my fault. It was hers. “She should solve her own problems. Why me? I should just leave her, shouldn’t I?” My mind struggled to rationalize my decision to walk away.
But all that would do would be to prove my point. That I, like everyone else, wouldn’t solve other people’s problems. I would be just as terrible as everyone else.
I made my decision.
The first step was the hardest.
"Desmond, what in the world are you thinking? You’re marching straight into certain death!" My thoughts were less than encouraging.
The onlookers gasped, and the officers realized what I was doing.
I broke into a sprint, rushing at the tape as officers scrambled to find their bearings .
“C’mon, let me through...” I muttered as I swerved to avoid each oncoming person. The caution tape was coming up soon. Scared of crashing into it, I instinctively backed, catching the charging officers in the corner of my eye.
I ran faster.
Another officer appeared in front of me, bracing himself for the impact of where he thought I would run.
“Sorry kid, orders are orders,” the officer spoke, arms extended, expecting my impact. I ducked down and rolled across the crook of my arm. He jumped back in surprise at my sudden drop, giving me enough time to slip away. Wincing in pain, I continued towards the burning building in the distance. My entire side felt like it hit the pavement- which it had.
“Hey! You’ll die for sure! Get back here, kid, you hear me? That whole thing is unpredictable!” The officer shouted from behind the caution tape. Typical person. Never one to risk their life for another’s.
“Who says people can’t be unpredictable!” I shouted back as I ran towards the column of smoke.
I couldn’t think well about what I was doing. Everything was moving too fast. “Snap! Emanuel is going to fire me! “ I lamented out loud as my brain screamed, “Desmond Wing, you are running towards a burning building to save some idiotic woman’s child, and you’re worrying about your job?” My brain is quite good at putting things into perspective.
"I can still back out now," I told myself, “Your life doesn’t have to be squandered like this Desmond, you can still help other people. You have already helped out lots of people, why do this?” Considering that it was me asking myself a question, it was all but rhetoric, “I can’t turn back, I’ve already made my decision.” But as each step I took put me farther and farther away from safety, I couldn’t help but think, "Was it the right decision?"
The evacuated buildings paled in comparison to the crimson spectacle ahead. Great columns of smoke were issuing out from the roof of the complex as flames poked their tips through the windows. The freshly-dug earth a few feet away was bunched around the large gas pipe.This was where I had to go?
Sniffing the air, I gagged and bunched my shirt into a ball over my face. The air stung with heat and reeked of smoke. Blinking rapidly, I tried to clear my irritated eyes, but every step I took only made the heat and smoke worse. How could I pull this off?
In front of the building, I stopped and yelled, “Gerald! Are you here? Your mommy sent me to come get you! Hello? Gerald?” I tried to sound as cheerful as I could in front of a blazing apartment. My heart pounded as adrenaline surged through my body. Exhilarating as it was, standing on the brink of being burned to a crisp, my body wanted to get out of here as soon as possible. Reasonable.
I got no reply, but I heard a low SHWWSSSH sound around me. It took me a second to realize it was coming from the blue gas pipe. Cripes. The gas explosion,
“GERALD! GERALD! CAN YOU HEAR ME?” I was screaming at the top of my lungs, frantic as the pipe seemed to slightly swell in size. In response, I thought I heard a crying sound.
I looked at the pipe, trying to gauge how much time I had. That was stupid. I knew nothing about gas lines. There was, however, a valve on the side. "Maybe I could turn it off. Whatever the case, I might have ample time to run away before it exploded. Or, I could charge headfirst into a burning building to try and find a child who may or may not be there,"I gauged my choices.
I charged headfirst into the building.
The door was brittle and gave easily. I stepped inside, and every part of my body screamed in protest as the room inside was lit by the flames. Across the plush carpet, rolls of fire flicked their tongues up. The entire room was smothered with flames, producing a homey, albeit distressing glow.
“Gerald! Are you here?” I yelled again.
I peered through the smoke, trying not to breathe. The firelight illuminated the scrawny figure of a little boy, clothes smudged by the flames. A pitiful sight.
Sobbing, his teary eyes looked up to me, begging. Around me was an incredible display of fire. Showy and incredibly dangerous. I paused short as the intense heat and smoke made for an intimidating atmosphere. Was I really about to attempt this?
I weighed my chances. If I grabbed him, I might be able to survive with some minor burns, but if I waited for help, we might both survive unscathed. Who was I kidding? No one was going to help. That’s how people always were. I took a large breath, then coughed out as the smoke filled my lungs. I often forget simple things.
“Gerald, get ready!” I yelled as I jumped past the carpet and grabbed him. Gerald was heavy, and my body felt like it was burning. Holding Gerald as close as I could so he wouldn’t get burned, I ran and jumped again, as an ember singed my pant leg.
I looked again to get my bearings and spotted the same door I entered through. The crackling sound in the building grew louder, and soon, stray embers and beams began to fall.
With Gerald by my side, I rushed towards the door as debris and flames scattered.
A huge flame sprang up, blocking a good part of the door. I backed up as far as I could without touching the flames and leapt. In mid-jump, another small beam fell, cutting my leg and dropping me down to the ground. I screamed aloud as I saw and felt a flicker of flame dart to my exposed leg.
I sank to my knees, right outside the apartment. Frenzied and afraid, I leapt up and tried to move away from the fire, but my leg was unwilling. I tried to crawl until my leg seemed to explode with pain.
I examined my wound. A large gash totaled the skin, leaving it almost unbearable for me. The rest of my flesh had been singed, and my layers of skin were hard to see past the blood. Gerald sniffed, looking at my injury. The flames hadn’t been kind to me, and I wasn’t going to kid myself. I was screwed.
“Hey, I’ll be okay, you go on ahead, okay?” I lied, trying to comfort him. He sniffed and grabbed my hand tightly.
“Run!” I screamed to Gerald, pushing him towards the general direction of the crowd. “Look, Gerald, I’ll be right behind you, go!” Gerald, however, didn’t budge. Over my yells, I could hear a rushing sound. I was screwed. The gas pipe.
“Run Gerald! You don’t want to die, do you? Just go!” I was exasperated, shoving Gerald off as he clung to my shoulder.
The sound of whooshing gas rose in volume. I looked at the pipe; already, I could see it bulging at an unnatural shape.
“Gerald! Leave! I’ll catch up!” I lied, just wishing somehow I could get him to move.
He spoke nothing and just sat down with me. Ridiculous.
“Gerald, I can’t go on. My leg is very hurt.” I grimaced and tried to explain. “You need to go. It’s very dangerous here.”
Gerald just shook his head and stayed.
Panic was spreading through me. In an instant, the flames seemed to completely surround the area, cutting off any escape routes Gerald could have used. Hissing, popping, crackling, all the sounds around me seemed to flaunt at the hopelessness of my situation. I couldn’t let Gerald die.
I had an idea. A very reckless idea. Grabbing Gerald, I tried to hoist him over me and toss him over the flames. If he survived the fall, he could run away, but it was all over for me. Before I could hurl him over, the world around me ruptured.
Like a thunderclap, the world exploded into flames as bits and pieces of shrapnel and wood flew across the scene. I felt a huge force rip through my body. My last thought before I blacked out was, "Emanuel’s going to kill me."