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Where's the firrrrrrrrrrre?

Short story

October 15, 2002
The Iranian
I work in a small office in a short grayish building. The office walls are white. My office does not have a window, but during my half-an-hour lunch break, I get a chance to go to a co-worker's office that has a window. All I can see from her window is a huge orange building. When it is sunny, I can see the sun reflecting on the windows. It is never sunny here. It never rains here either. It is always cloudy, dry, and hot.

I have a Bachelor of Science in Evolutionary Biology. My degree did not help me get accepted into any position for which I had applied. After sending many applications, however, a company finally hired me. My current job is very challenging. There are 13 different sheets of paper that I have to put together in a specific order. These sheets are all gray except one which is sort of light gray, although in a heated discussion, my co-worker convinced me that it was a darker gray than I had previously imagined.

It may be difficult for a novice to distinguish between these sheets; the reason is that they are all very similar. They all contain typed writings in a very small font. These sheets contain information regarding the rules governing the creation and use of paper work. For instance, there are numerous rules about the type and size of paper that should be used for writing a memo by an Executive First Assistant versus an Executive Second Assistant.

In addition to putting these sheets together, I write the same 13-digits reference number on each of these sheets, using a small-customized pen (that is actually almost out of ink now). The reference number indicates that these sheets have been processed at this specific branch of Hel Inc. Hel Inc is the best in the explosives business. Of course, at this branch, we only deal with the paper work, and I have not ever seen any explosives myself. I do not even know where they use these explosives although some disturbing rumors have been going around for a while now.

In terms of the work hours, I put in the standard 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. The highlight of my day is speaking with my co-worker, the one with the window, during the half-an-hour lunch break. We talk about many things. For instance, once I challenged her to not to use her middle name when initialing the 13th page. We did not speak for two weeks after that. Recently, she was pressuring me to eliminate the zero that goes in front of the reference number. "Everybody knows that there is a zero and you do not need to put it in front of the reference number every time," she said.

I told her that when she becomes the Third Assistant of Inter Office Paper Work Management, then we will see how much of a risk-taker she will be. She threw her glass of hot drink in my face. Next month, she became my supervisor. Nevertheless, generally we have been good friends.

Today, after having finished a very heavy workload, I laid on the couch in front of the TV. It is another very hot day today, and worse, I had to work overtime. They needed my help because they had made some changes regarding the formatting and content of a frequently used sheet of paper. For instance, instead of "Do not write here" we are now using "Please do not write here". Of course, all the forms containing this sheet of paper had to be changed, and this was the third day in two weeks that I had to work overtime. I just finished taking a shower. I am still sweating, but with the fan on and my glass of cold drink in my hand, I am starting to feel a bit relaxed. I feel like I am falling asleep.

I iiiiiiiiii am swimming in deep water with a big pen in my hand and i see the most exotic animals and plants and i see a squid and use its ink to fill up my big pen and i get closer to the floor where there are many animals and plants and things that are neither one and they are all moving and always changing their shape and they suddenly do things that i can not predict and that really bothers me and excites me and scares me... but now i see there are several girls with dark eyes and i can see their shapely body and i really want to touch them ohhh but no... and i see a mother and a daughter who for some reason follow me and smile at me and this feeling of acceptance and love that I have never... but now this other thing... i see there is a green thing on the ocean floor that is dancing mysteriously and is almost yellow and it is like grass that has grown on a circular thing and maybe i know this... but then i see a thick book and later there are so many animals and plants and things around me and touching me... and i am suddenly so hungry and want to smell them and eat them... and there is music and i just want to talk and talk and talk but not because... but just now suddenly this thing comes over my face and i can not breath and i am uhhhhhhhh oh ssssssssbbbzzzzzzehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

I am suddenly awakened. I am sweating profusely and feel thirsty. My pillow is wet with sweat. I would have suffocated if I had not been awakened. What woke me up? I look around the room and notice that there are colors that were not there before. Am I drunk? There is an explosion of colors and lights. Rays of red and white are flashing all around my room, and occasionally shining on the stacks of green bills on my desk. I had forgotten all about the money. Why did I sell my car? And so cheap, so so cheap. I can still remember the day I went to buy my car and I remember the salesman who was talking so passionately about the car: "This is a fast-moving, technologically-advanced piece of machinery. This is your key to a successful, independent, and free future." I remember how I had chuckled when the salesman told me that he had his Masters in Philosophy. My head suddenly hurts. I look at the dirty green bills. If I did not need the money?

I get up and look out the window. I realize that there are several fire trucks, not too far from my house. It must have been the light from the trucks that woke me up. So many fire trucks, and here! This is highly unusual. My neighborhood has always been very calm. Nothing ever goes wrong here. I wonder what has happened. I tighten my gray pajamas and rush outside. After spending several minutes watching the motionless fire trucks and colors and lights, feeling like a kid in the candy store, I realize the presence of other people.

Almost all the people are in their underclothes as they walk very slowly and limply towards the trucks. The scene is indescribable. Soon, several teenagers are walking behind me with big smiles on their excited faces. "Hold up, I brought some beers dude," a young man screams as he runs towards the teenagers with hands full of cans. "What's happening?" asks a middle-aged man who looks very concerned and is wearing what looks like a tiger-skin. He is holding a young girl's hand very tightly. I shrug my shoulders, feeling guilty for not knowing what is happening. A person like me is always expected to know what is happening. I look back towards my house. An old lady who lives close to my house has her door slightly opened. It looks as if she thinks the fire and the chaos could enter her house if she opens the door any wider. She is holding a half-eaten apple. For a second, it appears as if smoke is coming out of her house. I wave my hand towards her. She closes the door.

I can not believe that there are so many people in my neighborhood. Is this the same dead neighborhood that I once knew? I walk towards the bigger fire truck, the only one that still has its flashing lights on. I see several big firemen going into a small house and bringing a few things outside. They are in no rush. I look at the family. The husband is standing beside his wife, holding her gently. The couple is the oldest in the neighborhood. They are both rumored to be artists. Three of their children, who are grown up, have moved away. It is also rumored that they have a son who was kidnapped when he was an enfant.

Nobody in the neighborhood is friends with this family, and hence nobody really knows them. I look at the husband. His brown bony face is decorated by a white beard. Several red and white spots of paint are clearly visible on his loose-fitting white pants. He is naked above the waist. I get closer. He and his wife look awfully cool and calm. He offers me a great accepting smile, and then looks down, staring at their pussycat. I think he feels ashamed that his house is not on fire. It is as if he and his family were expected to put on a show for the neighborhood, but they have failed miserably.

I overhear someone explaining what had happened. For some reason, the husband and wife had thought that the house was on fire. They had tried to ask for help, but both being deaf and dumb, it must have been impossible. Apparently, they had knocked on some doors as well, but to no avail. Nobody knows how the trucks got here.

I look at them for several seconds, having a strange feeling that I should do something, but not knowing what. Suddenly the husband looks at me and appears to say something. Is he not dumb? I am not sure what he said. Is it what he said or the way he said it that makes it hard to understand? It did not make much sense to me, but there is something familiar about what he said. I feel that he expected me to understand what he had said. What language did he speak? I can not read sign language.

The audience have started to slowly walk back towards their houses, some laughing, others still looking towards the trucks curiously, and some angry. A little boy is crying as his mother drags him away. "There no fire. I wanna see the fire. Where's the fire? Where's the firrrrrrrrrrre?" Tears gather in his eyes. A little boy's dreams are shattered. He gave the family and their cat a nasty look as he was dragged away. Deep down, at some level, I share his disappointment. I slowly walk back towards my house. I can feel the hot night on my skin again. Tonight is excruciatingly hot, possibly the hottest night that I have ever experienced.

I have another workday tomorrow. I probably have to work overtime again. Oh God! I need to sleep soon. I take one last look around the neighborhood. Fire trucks are leaving. There was no fire. For some reason, it suddenly occurs to me that the discovery of fire was a very important event in the history of human beings. In many ways, our modern and mechanical life revolves around fire. Honestly, without fire, we would probably all be dead.

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By Arash Emamzadeh





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