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Yesterday I had my eyes glued to my phone when I heard some Arabic in the background. I didn’t pay much attention to it as the television stays on almost always in my sister’s house. But then I heard her say, ‘Listen, listen!’ and I perked up my ears to listen. It was an announcement being broadcast over the PA system, not from the television afterall.

The Arabic was Greek to me, but it was soon followed by English. It said we had to vacate the premises immediately due to a fire in the building. Do not take the elevator down, the voice cautioned us. Take the nearest exit. Go down the stairway. Was it a drill, or was there a fire for real? I can smell something burning, I said.  May be it is for real. But my sister said that was the smell of the clay pot heating up on her stove.  Of course. It is just that my imagination had gone into overdrive.

In the meantime I grabbed my passport (I wanted to return home, didn’t I!), and my sister and brother-in-law took whatever folder they had kept ready for emergency and we trooped down the stairs. Half way down (we are on the 6th floor) sister remembered she hadn’t switched off her stove, so she ran back upstairs. The brother in law waited for her saying they’d catch up and asked me to go on (I am much slower going down the stairs due to my knees). Sure enough, they were by my side as soon as I reached ground floor.

But, where was everyone else? We had seen no one while coming down the stairs. We could see two small kids in their pajamas in the playground, and also a lone lady in her night suit and robe standing near them. She walked over and we got talking. The little boys were her neighbors, she told us and had been at home by themselves. The older boy, about 7 or 8 had heard the warning, pulled his 4 year old brother out of the house and brought him safely downstairs. What a an alert and responsible young feller! We all applauded him on his prompt action.

In the meantime, the brother in law who had gone off to find out more about the announcement returned to say that it had been neither a real fire nor a mock drill. Workers had come over to clean the a/c ducts and had accidentally set off the fire alarm in our building. They had switched it off, but no one had thought it fit to inform the residents. As it appeared only three families seemed to be around to have heard and responded to it. The rest were probably at school/work/out for the day/sleeping still.

So we all heaved a sigh of relief and went back to our respective homes, this time taking the elevator. So you have something more to add to your list of experiences in Oman, the sis and brother in law said as we stepped into the house. I agreed and we all laughed over it. Just then we heard the same voice over the PA system telling us in Arabic first and then in English, to exit the building as there was a fire……

(In case you were wondering, it turned out to be a false alarm, again!)

©Shail Mohan 2018