The sound of helicopters was the first clue that something was wrong. It took me awhile to finally get some sleep and once I began to drift, the roaring sounds of helicopter broke the silence of the room. At first I ignored it, thinking it was just the police doing some kind of search or sweep or SOMETHING and it should just go away in a few minutes. After 5 more minutes when the noise didn’t go away, but get more intense as if it was right overhead, I walked over to my bedroom window which looks Kings Highway. As the sky was preparing for the new morning, it painted a rose canvas for the helicopters to glided over gray streams of smoke. Shit, I muttered. What the hell is going on now? The sounds of emergency vehicles came next, followed by the image of number of police cars and ambulances moving recklessly through traffic. Looking over my cluttered desk for my cigarettes, I came to the realization that had none left. Cursing as I grabbed some jeans from off the floor, I was hoping that the deli where I got my cigarettes from at a discount (10 dollars a pack while others in the area charge around 12 dollars) was open even through it wasn’t 6 a.m. yet. Even as I sleepily moved around my bedroom for clothes, more and more sirens can be heard outside. Kimmiko, my cat made her way into my room
Within the span of 10 minutes from first hearing the helicopters, I was out the door. The moment the hit the street, the blistering cold gripped me. I zipped up my jacket even further in hopes that it would provide more warmth. As I turned onto my block from my building entrance way a oceans of red and white light stood before me just on the other side of Kings Highway. Cop cars and emergency vehicles blocked off the area from the growing traffic. Curiosity was getting the best of me. I wanted to know what was going on.
Since the Deli was on my block, I went there first. Surprisingly there were several people in line already playing lottery numbers. First this woman, dressed in some sweats, thin jacket and hair wrap called off her numbers, that I nonchalantly mentally saved in my own mind for later, then this Crip, I knew growing up shouted his numbers to the Arabian behind the counter joking with him at the same time “An OG told me I should write my numbers down instead of saying them, nahmean…” he told him. The guy just nodded and gave a polite laugh. I paid no attention to the dialogue, wanting to get the hell out of there before he asked me for change again. As the Crip was getting himself together, going through the shelves for some goodies, the Arabian guy came over to me and I asked for the cigarettes and a large cup of coffee. “Light and sweet, 8 sugars” I told him. He gave double take, as if he has never heard me order coffee like this before even though I am there almost every other morning. “Are you sure?” he asked in a heavy accent. I just nodded. He turned to the coffee maker saying something in Arabic then turned back and handed me my cup. I thanked him and exited the store.
While the sky was bright and sunny, the area before was draped in fog. As I approached the scene, the smell caught me off guard. I am not a fan of fires, especially since my grandmother’s accident. Seeing someone you love ablaze, burns itself in your memories for a lifetime. Shortly after my grandmother’s accident, there was an explosion in the building across the street from my house. The smell of the explosion lingered for days and as I got closer the smell triggered old memories that really wanted me to turn back, but only a few feet away, I ignored those feelings those feeling and continued on.
There must’ve been over 100 Firefighters and at least 25 fire trucks in the front of the NYCHA apartment building. Ladders were still extended to the roof and smoke was making its way from the top floors. At a safe distance across the street, I watched as EMT workers looked after some fire fighters in an ambulance and others that had collapsed on the pavement. As I started to take some snap shots of the area with my camera phone, this guy starting talking the head off of anyone around telling them what happen and how he got photos of it all. Children in groups or with their parent started to make their way to the JHS and elementary school up the block, passing the depressing scene. Some stopped and watched, while other hurried along. A man with son stop next to me, and asked what happen. I told him there was a fire and he began to laugh. “Housing is going to finally get in trouble over those damn boilers” he said as he held his son hand “Finally going to find to put that shit in the building”. That is when I finally remembered this place. For the last 4 or 5 years, the boilers have been outside these building managed by the NYCHA and they received a lot of negative press about it (LINK) last year. When I used to make my daily walks to Canarsie to see my grandmother in the nursing home, I would pass by these monsters hoping that nothing would spill out on me.
Suddenly, my hand began to swell and my fingers started to turn a pinkish purple. That’s when I knew it was time to head back home to warm up. I stopped at the deli once more and got a second cup. The Arabian was sweet talking to a girl who had dressed similar to the woman I had seen when I came in the first time. She was giggling while holding on to a loosie he handed her as I walked in.
“You’re back so soon” He said.
“Yeah…” I answered slightly laughing. “I went to see what was going on down the street”
“Oh yeah the fire… Is it out?”
“Yeah… but it’s a big scene”
“Where is it?” The girl asked.
“Over by the NYCHA buildings a block up” I told her gesturing as if the builds were right in front of us.
“Oh you mean, by the Castle?” she asked, with a horrid expression.
Now the “Castle” was part apartment complex, part halfway shelter, part drug den and exactly across the highway from the deli. Both the Arabian guy and I gave her side eye glance.
“Not the building across the street, the one with the boilers outside.”
“OOOHHHH!!!” she said.
So I made my way back home, dodging the kids that were getting off their school bus and running into the Charter school on my block and other adults that were making their way to where they had to be today. As I turned the key into the lock of my apartment door, I thought that this was an interesting way to start the day.