Tuesday, July 11th : Part 2

By Tendai Saungweme

Dashing through the hostel entrance,my mind was only focused on the last floor, room 75 to be precise, where I had just witnessed gushes of smoke violently forcing themselves through the already broken window. My computer! What had happened to it by now? For how long had the fire been going on for? My passport and travel documents were also in that den of fire. Yet I was bound to travel at the end of the month. I was dodging streams of people coming down the stairs running away from the smoke and to bring their lives to safety. I didn’t care. All I thought about was rescuing my possessions.

Upon reaching the last floor where my room was located, electricity had now gone off by that time. Darkness and the thick smoke were acting synergistically to obscure my vision. I could hear voices of people in the corridor shouting but couldn’t fathom what they were saying. Was this really happening? I had never witnessed a hostel fire during my time in high school and college. I became the one chosen by the tragedy. What a way to be welcomed to an experience.

When I got to the room I found the door already opened. Someone had probably force kicked it because I remembered locking the time I left the room. I entered the room and it was the first time in that instance that I encountered light. Fire was consuming my bed. It still felt like I was hallucinating. Without hesitation, I dashed to the bathroom and grabbed a bin half full of water. Under normal circumstances it requires at least two people to lift that weight. At that time, adrenaline was my aid. I went and poured the whole bin of water under my bed where the fire was coming from. There was not much difference from this action. In fact, it was a smoke enhancement. Some people started yelling that I shouldn’t pour water on an electrical fire. I knew that! But my things were burning. I quickly went back for another round of water and a third one and the water reserve on the floor got finished. At that time I rushed in and started grabbing anything I could, beginning with the laptop, followed by some clothes and shoes. Amidst the process I could feel the heat from the fire on the bed from the wardrobe two meters apart where I was trying to rescue things. I was now using my knowledge of where things were usually located as I could no longer see anything. My glasses were dark with smoke. My eyes were already blinded and tearing. Because of the wind from the window, the door would constantly close with me inside. I would only realize after banging on the wooden door upon trying to exit.

A few mates came to assist. I would just blindly hand over what I collected to anyone I saw on my way. Constantly I would rush to the kitchen window, a small room fifteen meters from the den of fire to catch a breath. When I did so I would witness people casually sitting on the washing line floor , the one below where my room was casually talking and minding their own businesses. Maybe this would be their business too the moment the ceiling catches fire. At that instance I remembered my passport which was still in the room. I forgot about the clean air and rushed back into the smoke. Counting the doors to my room as I ran through the corridor, I was praying that the fire would not reach the cupboards or ceiling because we would not be able to control it. I reached for my passport and bank cards and rushed out to get more water from the floor below. People would bring buckets full of water on the stairs and I would rush with them to the room since I was the one now able to identify it by counting. We did this several times until I could no longer tolerate smoke. At that time people were trying to unwind the fire horse pipe which also had no water. The fire extinguishers at the floor, last serviced ten years ago, played no role in putting out the fire. Just before I left, the security man arrived with an extinguisher. I did not stay to see him putting out the fire.

I sat on the half wall of the washing area floor, clothes dirty and smelling of smoke. I was coughing out soot and I realized the damage that the smoke could have done to my lungs. Everyone on that floor was looking at me. Was I at fault? Or was it pity? I then took out my phone to make a call.

19 August, 2023