It came upon a midnight clear

Yolanda Hadid was so right when she said, “I have learned that friendship isn’t about who you’ve known the longest, it’s about who came and never left your side.”

I had had a long day. A hectic one at that. All I wanted to do was to sleep, sleep, and sleep. And sleep, I did. A deep one at that. All of a sudden, I heard a siren, and announcements in German, followed by English. I couldn’t make sense of it. It’s just a weird dream, I thought. I blamed it on my frayed nerves and mental fatigue. And on the Berlin cold that rattled my bones. I tried to shut out the sounds and go back to sleep. But in vain. The announcements and the siren were still blaring. It took me a few seconds to realise that it was for real, and not a fragment from my dream. It was a fire alarm, and the announcement was for us, the residents of the hotel, to get out of the building as fast as we could. I checked the time on my cell phone. It was 4 am.

OMG! This isn’t happening. Not when I am thousands of miles away from home, away from the people who care for me, I thought. I panicked. But a voice in my head kept telling me, “No, this can’t be for real. Such things happen only in movies.” I didn’t know what to do. I just grabbed a light coat that was close to my bed, my phone, and the key card, and stepped out of my room.

On the corridor, I saw people running helter-skelter. Well, the voice in my head was wrong. It was really happening. Luckily for me, my room was on the first floor. I took the stairs down and joined the crowd that had gathered in front of the hotel. A sea of strangers. People from different nationalities conversing in different tongues. I felt alone. And weepy. And scared. Adding to my woes was the biting cold. I frantically looked for familiar faces from the 15-member group that was with me in Berlin to attend a workshop on vocational education.

Thankfully, at a distance, I spotted Jean from Canada. Being quite tall, he stood out from the crowd, literally. I was so happy, so happy that I ran towards him, making my way through the crowd. Along with him were a few members of our group. I felt reassured. I guess the sentiment was mutual. They enquired after me and asked me what essentials I had carried with me before leaving the room. That was when it struck me that in my hurry to rush out, I hadn’t carried my passport along with me. And a warm coat and a cap. The rest of the group had them with them.

Yolanda Hadid was so right when she said, “I have learned that friendship isn’t about who you’ve known the longest, it’s about who came and never left your side.”

I felt like a fool. I was scared stiff. And cold. I could feel my ears and fingers turn frosty. I wanted to cry. I stood there rubbing my hands and ears to beat the cold, all the while wondering what I would do if the hotel went up in flames, reducing my passport to ashes. I was hoping against hope that it was a false alarm, and that we would be asked to go back to the warmth and safety of our rooms soon.

To add to my misery, a fire engine made its grand entry sounding its siren. I went blank. I desperately wanted to sit down and bury my face in my hands. And cry. Fear was writ large on my face, I think. For, Jean tried reassuring me with a gentle pat on my shoulder, while Mladen, my colleague from Montenegro, asked the group if any of them had extra jackets or coats to keep me warm. I guess it was more like thinking aloud than asking. For, even as he was asking the rest, he was taking off his coat to give it to me. I was about to say it was alright and that I would manage the cold, when I felt a warm coat around me. It was Jean’s. I had no words to express my gratitude to both my colleagues, especially to Jean, who had magnanimously lent his coat to me in that biting cold. They weren’t expecting it either.

Wrapping myself in the warm coat, I wished this ordeal would end soon. I said silent prayers to God. After what seemed like an eternity, we were told the hotel was safe and that we could go back to our rooms. It was half-past five. I couldn’t go back to sleep. In the safe confines of my room, I reflected upon the entire incident. It was some experience. At least the fire alarm bit. But, the incident taught me many life lessons and reaffirmed my faith in the goodness of humanity. Most of all, it had helped me earn two good friends — Jean and Mladen — who had put my comfort before theirs, and watched out for me when they could have easily ignored my plight. After all, they had known me only for three days.

Yolanda Hadid was so right when she said, “I have learned that friendship isn’t about who you’ve known the longest, it’s about who came and never left your side.”

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