Hands trembling, legs quivering, my subcutaneous layer was still raging with the lingering sensation of the burning pit of rubble. The mask felt heavy against my head, I removed it, sweat poured out unto the cold hard ground concocted with tears and quandaries. I should have saved him. With regret, my mind coruscated through the charred breadcrumbs of those instances.
We were racing through the remaining floors of the building which was engulfed mostly in fire. It was a 20-story apartment, a massive fire broke out due to the short fuse of a circuit, from our intel. John and I were assigned to be the vanguard of the rescue team we were young with the boldness and ample experience on dealing with this.
John had been my working partner for almost a decade, we did not match at the first place as I was quite the introvert, but eventually John- the extrovert, ‘adopted’ me as a son, as a brother. He had the charisma and I had the instinctual intelligence, we complied with one another’s shortcomings, he was rash, I was chill; I was quiet, he was noisy.
Standing beside me, shoulder to shoulder as we entered the ceaseless field of fire, ready to indulge the crisp of our over-burnt remains. The fire menacing, our hearts fortified with gold, we were determined to save as many victims as humanly could. Saying a quick prayer before proceeding, “Don’t die.” John uttered, as usual. I replied with a nod of assurance.
Everything equipped, we marched into battle with fire, armed with mere human flesh and instinct disguised in our proper gears. The fire level of that case was alarming, on a scale of one to ten, it rated eight. Time would accelerate the case to a possible ten or bringing hell unto earth as the building was enormous and had a lot to fuel the vicious inferno.
Ten, twenty, our team were doing our very best, making sure every single individual could be saved in the nick of time. The fire level escalated to a 9.5 in a matter of half an hour, we were told to retreat, but John’s rashness and my instinct forbade us to do so.
“John.” at the top of my lungs, pointing at the floor above us, “I think there is a little kid that we have overlooked…” my instincts were deadly accurate all the time. John got the message almost instantaneously. Disregarding the order to retreat, he risked it all to walk into his death to save that little child that was trapped above us.
The structure of the building was starting to get shaky, so as our lives, hanging on a burning thread of hope, literally. John did not think twice before heading straight back into the floor above us. I followed him behind. The debris formed from unknown falling objects were becoming more frequent, the fire was getting even restless.
Crying was heard intermittently in the cracking of the scorching inferno, it was feeble and desperate. Both of us heard it, the child probably was suffering from breathing difficulties at this stage of the rescue. It was a miracle that the child survived until this point, we scrambled to lift up the debris that was on the child.
Mustering every ounce of our energy and spirit, “three… two… one… PUSH!” under heavy breaths, suffocating in the thick smoke, “three… two… one… PUSH!” one breath was more difficult than the another. Eventually, something must give way, the weight on the child did, our heart did a somersault as we hurried ourselves out of the brutal circle of hell with the child slung behind me aided with breathing kits.
Thump! My heart sank, as hard as the fall sound. Something went wrong. ARGGGHHHHHH!!! There went his agonising scream for help. John became frantic and desperate, he was struggling in front of my sight for his very life, wrestling unwillingly with the already impending death. I was struck with fear, petrified by the enormity of shock that I had to endure for that situation.
“John…” my first words after the shock.
“Go.” What? “Just go. You got the girl. GO! NOW!”
I was convoluted and sad, my instinct said the same as well. The fleeting moment between both of us was final, we could never see each other again. Our goodbyes were brief, overwhelmed by silence and the urgency of dignity in executing our duties. My mind was on airplane mode as I carried the child to safety, nothing much occurred to the child, casualties remained at the bare minimum with a sacrifice from our side- John.
Is this worth it? I shrugged back into the immense fight between dignity and friendship.
Is this all worth the sacrifice? After almost a decade of being together as partners, I had to choose to save a little child that I did not know at all over John. What… What is that trade off? Does that really prove anything?
I sat cocooned in the state of regret. Coaxed by the remainder of my friends.
But, worth it?