ONCE FAMILIAR CORRIDORS seemed different, as if the clanging of the fire alarm itself had changed the colour of walls and linoleum. Everything seemed claustrophobic, compounded by the loneliness I now felt as I ran down emergency lit stairwells. Strangely the elevator was still operational, but I wasn’t stupid enough to risk everything. Only when I rejected the gaping doors of the lift, did the prospect of death even enter my mind.
I was on floor 136 now and burst through a tough door into a hallway. Water. Where is the water cooler? I found one a short distance away and filled my body with as much as I could from shitty plastic cups. Then I heard a voice.
‘Hello! Hey! I thought I was the only one up here!’ said a voice belonging to a cleaner judging by clothing. The name badge read ‘Mike’. He was short and middle aged with a poorly trimmed goatee. ‘I’m Mike,’ he said as he approached.
‘Asha,’ I said shaking hands. After his initial animosity his face turned grave.
‘Why are you here?! You need to go. There’s no time for water. Don’t you know what happened?’
‘No..’ As I said this he scooted me away and ushered me back to the stairwell.
‘Run faster than you can my friend.’ Those were the last words I heard him speak as I stood in the stairway several steps down. Tears could be seen forming and abruptly he closed the door turning a key as well.
Confused and worried I bounded down fifteen more flights. Halfway through those the smell of smoke had begun to get stronger until now I stood panting, gasping for air through a makeshift mask made out of my t-shirt. Opening the door to the hallway engulfed me in a putrid smog. It was difficult to see anything, my eyes now stinging, forcing me to blink rapidly. Slamming the door shut I peered downwards and saw only smoke where steps should be.
To go down was suicide – death by smoke inhalation. To go upwards was to run from the inescapable problem. In that moment it hit me. I climbed jelly legged to the next floor above and crumpled to the concrete, away from the black air. Fire engines don’t reach this high up. Ladders aren’t long enough. I almost laughed.
Where next? asked my survival instincts. I was determined to make it back down one way or another.