From the Collection of Short Stories titled, Love Is All Around (Copyright)
– o –
A freakish summer weather during the rainy season hit the metropolis. With air pollution trapping heat from dissipating, the dry surroundings forced residents to take refuge in malls and other cooler places outside the city.
Other people stayed at home.
From an all-night party Grace attended, she arrived home wanting only sleep. The stand fan on at full blast, she craved for fresher air to make her slumber more bearable.
But the early afternoon rays of the sun would not relent. Without any breeze present, the temperature rose to above normal, nearly reaching 40 degrees Celsius.
Ana, who was downstairs doing the laundry, smelled something burning. However, she thought it was a neighbor setting fire to a pile of trash in the backyard adjacent to theirs. It never occurred to her to check on her older sister upstairs: they had not patched up their differences.
She finished her chores after another twenty minutes, unaware of the conflagration.
When she saw a billow of smoke in the stairway, she became frantic. Grace could still be asleep or already unconscious in her room.
Ana ran out of the house, clutching her cat tightly in her arms, shouting at the same time, calling for help.
– o –
Firefighters from other parts of the city came within minutes after the call was made.
The strong winds that suddenly blew from the east stoked the raging fire even more, quickly engulfing other structures nearby.
Ana’s mother arrived from the market where she tended a small clothing store. Her face showed horror, watching their home slowly eaten by flames.
“Where’s Grace?” her mother asked nervously, not seeing her daughters together.
“I…,” Sienna stammered. She shook uncontrollably. “She’s sleeping.”
“Why did you not wake her up?” she stared at the upper floor windows. “Grace! Grace!”
Ana was unable to answer: she should have tried rescuing her older sister.
Her mother ran to the house but was held up by responding firemen. When she heard the terrifying scream from the second floor, she tried to break free.
– o –
Awakened, Grace felt the painful scratch on her legs. Only the cat could do such a nasty act.
Ana’s cat, whose fur was singed, stood at her feet. Weak from its heroic deed, its duty to warn her was completed.
Grace smelled the overpowering smoke for the first time. She began to cough.
The fire was eating her bedroom door and the walls separating the second-floor rooms. Exit would be impossible from there.
Panicking, she saw the open window, giving her the only chance to escape a fiery death.
The plywood ceiling was nearly gone. In seconds, her room would look like hell. With no recourse but to jump, she closed her eyes and leaped. With that abrupt decision, she totally forgot to rescue her savior.
Grace landed feet first on the ground, her momentum pushing her forward to the arms of neighbors. Her mother and younger sister excitedly ran toward her, grateful she appeared unharmed.
“Are you all right?” her mother hugged her tightly.
Grace nodded, still coughing. Attending medics checked her for broken bones and bruises.
Ana’s face was clueless. Grace did not want to tell her the bad news.
“I am sorry, Ana.”
Her younger sister saw the scratches on her legs: unmistakably they were from cat’s claws.
“Where’s my cat?” Ana shouted, looking around, recalling her pet was safe earlier. “Where’s my cat?”
Grace sobbed: the question pierced her heart.
“Have you seen. . .?” Ana could not finish, weeping, as she tried not to confirm her initial fear. She looked up from where her sister jumped, hopelessly waiting for her pet to follow.
Grace’s face was filled with sorrow. She tightly embraced her sister, grasping for words to console her.
“Your pet saved me!”