Just before 11 pm I heard a man banging on a door in the hallway. This building is old; all sounds in the hall echo around the stone walls. At first I thought it was just some drunk trying to get his friend to let him in. But behind the banging and the man's shouts came the tinny, repetitive screech of a smoke alarm.
Moving closer to my door, I heard the man talking loudly to another neighbour, using words like "smoke" and "not answering."
Turning around I threw on some clothes (I had been getting ready for bed) and grabbed up my wallet, my passport, my keys and my phone. (My passport was on my couch, having just arrived in the post).
Heading out into the hall, I found that one neighbour had already called the fire department. The man who had been banging on the door of the smoky flat joined us and we tried to establish who the people were who lived in the flat. Another woman came out onto the landing and said it is a couple, and they have a baby.
The first siren indicated that the fire trucks were arriving. Four of them hurtled down our street like land-locked bees, barely coming to a stop before firemen began jumping off, pulling on their oxygen masks and unrolling hoses.
I stood outside the building while the firemen worked. It was soon clear that it had just been some burning food and nothing threatening. I still don't know if the people were home and just not answering the door, or if they had gone out after burning their dinner.
I live in a building that has four floors, and I don't know any of my neighbours. Even tonight, after speaking to four of them in the midst of a stressful situation, afterwards we didn't even introduce ourselves. Tragedy averted, we all turn back to our own doors, our own modern caves.
When I took my wallet and my passport, I gave a fleeting thought to my camera and my laptop, but immediately dismissed them.
A strange evening after a long day. What I have learned:
-I need to make more of an effort to greet my neighbours and learn some names, in order to establish at least a small support network in this building
-The firefighters of the Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service are absolutely remarkable and deserve to be commended. I'm going to write them a thank you card.
-When it comes down to it, stuff really is just stuff. A phone to communicate with friends, ID (important in case one needs to prove one is legally allowed to be in this country), a warm coat, and good shoes. At that moment, those were my essentials.
Do you experience urban isolation in which you live squished next to thousands of people, but don't know your neighbours?
When was the last time you said thank you to someone who works in emergency services?
What are your essentials?
What a weird night. I'm going to bed. I can't wait until JP moves to Edinburgh. I need a cuddle.
Twilight Scrawls by Kirstin Maguire
7 hours ago