Somehow I will find a way out of here.
With a burst of determination, I tear my sister from the ocean’s grasp and hold her securely in front of me as I wade towards the shore. I sprint madly through the maze of burning houses and jump over flaming obstacles. There are no exits, no signs of escape.
Before I can dash past a house already engulfed in flames, it weakens beneath the fiery attack and collapses into my path. Not stopping, I turn right through a narrow alley between two unsteady structures. I am forced to slow down as I squeeze through, but I speed up when I reach the other side.
I pause for a second, uncertain about where I should run to next. My sister’s small tummy moves up and down rhythmically against my chest as the acrid scent of smoke begins to make me nauseous. Her breathing renews my motivation to keep on, and I manage to faintly convince myself that just up ahead will be a way out, an escape. I cough, longing for a breath of fresh air outside of this exhausting heat. I realize my skin is stinging, and sweat pours down my face.
Then, up ahead, a burst of color, lights, fire trucks or ambulances. Shouts and sounds of confusion. I hug my sister closer to me.
Please let my family be somewhere on the other side.
Loud groans voice themselves threateningly from two unsteady structures up ahead that are preparing to close in on our escape route. Beyond that, bulked up by the equipment he’s wearing is a shadowy figure—a fireman.
My heart ticks like a restless clock. I race towards the gap between the two burnt houses uniting themselves to block us out. We’re going to make it!
Then I stop.
He encourages me to keep running, dashing in my direction to help. My heart slows with reality. The buildings lean closer down, screaming and shooting sparks in all directions. Their voices taunt me: This is our kingdom now. You’re trapped. You will never escape this. You were birthed here and you will die here.
Tears sting my eyes. I squeeze my sister tight. Then, with all the strength I can muster, I move closer to the gap and throw her towards the approaching fireman. The buildings collapse as he catches her. I smile with defiant relief, closing my eyes to the chaos around me. Amidst the turmoil I sense a strange peace.
Fire closes in around me.
*A malong is a colorful, decorative shawl used in the Philippines, especially among the tribes. Primarily it is worn in traditional dances/events, but sometimes among the poorer or more deeply tribal people it is wrapped around as a skirt, folded to make a baby carrier or used as a covering during bad weather.