“Mommy, won’t the fire go up go heaven and burn God?”
I don't remember too many things when I was seven years old. But I vividly remember our house going up in flames. I remember my mom assuring me that Jehovah was safe in heaven— too far up for the fire to reach him or his angels.
It was night. I was asleep. I don't remember if I smelt the smoke, but I remember being awakened by my mom. She was calm and collected.
“Lecia,” she said in her most soothing voice, “The house is on fire. We need to get out. Do not worry, we will be safe, but I need you to climb through the window next door and wake up our neighbours so they don't get hurt.”
I never doubted my mom. I knew I'd be safe.
I did as I was told. I remember shaking my neighbour awake. Funny, I don’t remember her name but I remember telling her exactly what my mom told me.
"Get up. The house is on fire. We need to leave!"
I can't forget her response. My neighbour was, like my mom a teacher, but she was also a born again Christian.
“God is not going to allow the house to burn down!” To this day I don’t know whether she blurted this out from shock or immense faith, but it has certainly influenced the way I feel about anyone who claims to be born again.
“Come! The house is burning down!” I screamed as I shook her hoping she would come to her senses.
I don't recall sticking around to convince her for much longer. I climbed back through the window to our side of the house and mom and I exited down the stairs through the back of our house.
“Mommy I hear voices.”
“Shhh! Be quiet” she whispered and she gripped my hands tighter as we slowly crept through the back door wearing nothing but our night gowns. It was cold. My mom still had her curlers in her hair. We stood still in the darkness outside the back door until the voices disappeared. I might have imagined I saw the silhouette of men as they slipped away into the bushes blending into the night.
My mom never let go off my hands and we hurriedly walked across the road and pounded on our neighbour’s door. They let us in.
A cylinder exploded and the house was now fully ablaze. I felt no fear, but I was mesmerised by the flames, the way they seem to be engaged in a passionate yet destructive dance.
The crowds came.
The fire truck eventually came.
As usual, it was too late. The fire devoured our house, fast and furious. I heard my neighbour praying fervently. I guess the Lord told her to get out after all.
The flames continued to dance, hissing and popping with every explosion. It was like an angry yet seductive woman. I was transfixed. My subconscious self seemed to have made her escape and hovered above the crowds, keenly observing my mom and me and the fire which seemed to laugh mockingly as we helplessly watched our home and all our possessions go up in flames.
My mother never cried. At least I didn't see her cry.
If there was a moment, an incident to solidify that my mom was and would always be my hero, this was it. We lost everything. She had lost everything she had worked for, yet there she was reassuring me that we would be “all right”.
“Jehovah will protect and provide for us. After all I still have my most valuable possession.” My mom stooped as she hugged me tightly.
My little heart was bursting with love. I was my mom’s most valuable possession!!!
For a short while after the fire, I went to live with my aunt. I attended the Retirement All-Age School in St. Ann for about three months and my mom went right back to teaching. She came to get me as soon as she had found a new home in Clarendon.
Today, I am both deathly afraid and strangely attracted to fires. I can smell anything burning from miles away. I have many stories of turning back or running home in sheer panic after conjuring up thoughts of electronic devices left on or plugged in.
Imagine then, my horror when sometime last July a raging bush fire started just a few feet away from our home. From as early as 8 a.m. in the morn, I smelt the smoke, saw the soot as I swept and wrongly thought the fire was some distance away as sirens blared past our home.
A few minutes later as my hubby stepped out to drop off my hair dresser. He alerted me to the fire. By now it was now literally across the road from us. I didn’t panic but I felt a quiet fear sweeping over me. As I watched the fire blaze, I felt like my seven-year old self. I remembered my house, engulfed in flames. The fire crackled and popped. The flames danced frantically. For a brief moment, it appeared to recognize me and laughed mockingly just as it did back then.
I watched my husband as he jumped into action, calling emergency services, summoning help, coordinating with my neighbours, the Jamaica Defence Force and the Fire Department in an attempt to contain the fire. My subconscious self hovered above, watching as I clutched tightly to my husband’s arm. I whispered a silent prayer of gratitude. This time I had, not my mother, but my husband to protect me.