Sydney. A long time ago. I’d escaped a psychotic girlfriend and survived a share house with people who were tripping balls most of the time. Finally I had my own place: a studio in an old building on the corner of Kippax and Elizabeth near Central Station. Things were going well. I was saturated with music: working at a music channel and playing in bands. Great job, great friends.
But as you may already know, I’m not the neighbourly type. I keep to myself and don’t automatically like anyone. I certainly wouldn’t create a friendship merely based on proximity. So I didn’t give a shit who was living next door. Axe murderers? Not ideal. Nosy neighbours? Absolutely unacceptable.
As long as they didn’t encroach upon my territory, they could do whatever they wanted… except burn the building down. That’s where I generally draw the line.
It was late and I was sitting in the studio, stoned with just a towel wrapped around myself. It was quiet. I think I was too wasted to turn on a TV or stereo. I was probably just letting my mind drift. I’d like to think I was developing a novel or working on one of my short stories, but it’s more likely I was just staring at the wall.
Suddenly I heard fists pounding on my door and a woman was screaming ‘fire’. I leapt up quite automatically. Sure enough, a distraught girl was standing there. I could smell the smoke from the apartment next door.
I darted straight into the neighbour’s space. I don’t think I was selfishly concerned about my studio – I was functioning purely on instinct.
That stopped when I spotted a panicking youngster doing the shittiest possible job of putting out a fire. You might think it’s audacious to claim this wispy Goth was the worst fireman in history, but just trust me. Short of sitting down and watching the building burn, it was the most deplorable effort I’ve ever seen in an emergency situation.
He was throwing water on a steadily climbing wave of fire that had managed to spread in a wide arc up the wall above their stove. The guy would watch as water dribbled out of a tap into a small saucepan. Then he’d glance at the burning wall, freak out and throw the water he’d collected at the far superior flames.
First I thought of running back to my kitchen and filling a bucket. Maybe if we doubled our efforts we might beat the blaze. It only took a split second to realise it wouldn’t work. I only had one other choice. I took the towel that was wrapped around my waste, doubled it over and started whipping the flames.
Look, you know I don’t like to talk myself up, but I have to say quite objectively that I was a goddamn hero.
It didn’t take long to bring the fire under control. Leaping onto the counter (gazelle-like, I should add) I finished it off with little difficulty. I finally turned and slumped a little from exhaustion, taking a few deep breaths. I started laughing. Maybe it was relief, maybe it was the fact I was inhaling toxic fumes.
But the couple seemed a little uncomfortable, and for a moment I was puzzled. Surely it was time to celebrate avoiding a catastrophe, not stand around gawking at the floor.
I’d been so intent on fighting the blaze that I’d completely forgotten I was naked. Adding to the awkwardness was the fact I was standing above them, so their heads were approximately testicle height.
We didn’t say a word to each other, and as I climbed down and walked out, I saw no point in covering my exposed anatomy with what was left of my towel. I simply walked back into my studio, and that was the last time I ever saw my neighbours.
I’m assuming it was the one time in their lives they appreciated having a nude, tattooed stranger standing in their apartment. Then again, in that neighbourhood I couldn’t be 100% sure.