AS MY MUSIKSTIK blitzed my ears with the same old playlist I thought of the open door and flashing light. Why was nobody around? I dangled off the West of the building now, meditatively cleaning with lazy expertise. The patterns made by my squeegee had a certain look and feel to them that was pleasing, the cleaning liquid always differently formed. Sad details like these have some import when this is your life. Even medieval witches had one up on me. They didn’t have to clean when they were hanging. Disregard that – my life could be worse, I could be on the other side of the glass, I could be a fruit fly, dead within hours of hatching.
I paused to randomise my playlist, fumbling a bit with the tiny size of the music device through thermal gloves. As I decided I was in an electro kind of mood I smelt something unusual in an airspace usually so pristine. It was like I was in my flat after a power outage, having snuffed out a candle, the faintest whiff of lingering smoke. Several windows later and I got another hit through my face mask.
There seemed no obvious source – until I looked down.
As I looked below me the clouds looked dirty, in need of a clean, tinged with unnatural brown. Pollution wasn’t exactly unheard of. I peeled off my ski-goggles to have a better look.
From the side of the tower there was a small spiral of smoke. It didn’t seem real. Where was the fire? I couldn’t see any signs of orange.
Did that explain the flashing light? I couldn’t hear a fire alarm. I had an idea. I swung the cleaning fluid bucket around my waist so I could press against the glass. There was a chance it would work despite being over two inches thick. The wind buffeted me against the glass making it hard to get my ear against it without running the risk of having my skull bashed in. I grabbed a narrow sliver of a sill and got my lug against the glass. I listened attentively, trying to drown out the background whistling of the wind. I couldn’t be certain but I thought I could hear a faint clanging. Simultaneously my mask filled with a toxic stench. Ripping it off I realised that there was more where that came from. It was the smell of burnt monitors and cheap office furniture effortlessly fueled by pointless paperwork.
Only in that instant, as my lungs filled with cancer inducing toxins, did I think to pull myself up, to get out of the decreasingly fresh air and get to the ground floor as soon as possible. A look at my watch told me it had been about forty five minutes since I saw the open door and flashing light. No wonder the place was empty. The kicker was I hadn’t even signed in today. I never bothered, but at least I’d say hi to several people on the way up that I knew, who could verify for me. Today I hadn’t even seen anyone on the way up. All the other cleaning crews would have finished before me as well and been lower down, meaning they’d have had more warning about the emergency.
Pulling upwards I looked down once more. I expected it and it didn’t disappoint. A lick of orange was now curling out the building as if a dragon had taken up residence. It all seemed so surreal, to the point that I calmly hauled myself back up to the access hatch, no faster than normal.
This predictable heart of mine thumped away, as if the brain was totally disconnected, steady, so steady. Black smoked grew blacker as I unharnessed, hugging the sides of the tower then swirling out into the open air bringing occasional flecks of amber. It was times like these where childish wishes enter. If only I were a base jumper. One jump, one pull of a cord, twenty seconds, then safety.
Optimism gurgled away as I opened the access hatch and climbed down the short ladder; I pictured smoke-free stairs and enough time to grab a snack and a drink on the way down…