For hours Mudira and Bulelwa worked tirelessly, side by side. The water never ran out. They filled buckets and soaked the ground. They went inside to check on Gogo.
At some point the lights in the house suddenly came back on, and as they worked they were bathed in an eerie neon light that filtered through the billowing grey smoke.
Then, at about three in the morning, the girls felt the wind turn. The fire began to burn back on itself. Bulelwa and Mudira paused and watched the fire moving away from them, and then around them the flames died down on the already burnt ground.
It was only then that they fell into each other’s arms.
Mudira had evacuated the area with her mother and many others much earlier. They had been taken down to a sports ground along with thousands of people. Mudira had searched frantically to find Bulelwa, but she could not find her, or her grandmother. All cellphone communications had stopped working and Mudira became terribly worried.
Her mother was dozing on a chair inside the sports building, wrapped in a blanket, when Mudira slipped away. She overheard some people talking, saying that they were going to return to their homes. By then it was obvious that there were simply not enough firefighters to fight the many fires blazing that night, and the owners expressed a desire to try to save their homes themselves. They were getting into a car.
Mudira slipped into the back seat, together with some others. She said she needed to find her mother. They either believed her, or else they were thinking of other things.
“Your mother will be so worried,” said Bulelwa, looking down into Mudira’s face.
“My mother will panic, I know,” said Mudira, holding Bulelwa tight. “But I am safe, and so is she. You are the most important person in the world to me, Bulelwa. I realized that you had probably stayed with your gogo. I had to come and find you.”
The two girls clung to each other and kissed. They were exhausted. Their clothes were covered in ash and Mudira noted that the soles of her shoes were melted smooth from when she had crossed the hot tar of the road. She had not even noticed.
The girls went inside and made a cup of tea for the three of them. Together they helped Bulelwa’s granny up and took her to bed. They tucked her in warmly and in a moment, she had fallen asleep. The dawn was beginning to break. They went outside.
Even though they had been out in the smoke, surrounded by flames, for most of the night, nothing could have prepared them for the sight that met their eyes. They were surrounded by the most awful devastation.
Looking around them Bulelwa and Mudira realized that Bulelwa’s house was the only one standing in their road. All the rest were only smouldering ashes and lingering flickers of flame.
They held hands tightly and began to pick their way up the road, towards where Mudira’s house should have been. It was not there; in its place was a grey pile of rubble. Mudira turned her head into Bulelwa’s shoulder and wept. Bulelwa stood with her, with their feet in the ashes and rubble of Mudira’s once most cherished and beloved home.
Mudira opened her eyes and turned her tear stained face to look around her. Even the walls of her house had crumbled. They stumbled around the broken shards of the roof tiles lying on the ground. There was a strange pile of large, burnt staples in one corner. “My mother’s re-upholstered couch,” murmured Mudira, kicking them gently with the toe of her burnt shoe.
Bulelwa picked up a mug, cracked, but otherwise whole. In the kitchen area, there was a lot of broken crockery, it being made from a substance that was used to fire.
Mudira found the room that had once been her bedroom. She found no trace of her bed, her school books or her wardrobe full of clothes.
“I had already bought my Matric Farewell dress, you know,” said Mudira softly. “It was going to be a surprise for you …”
Bulelwa took Mudira in her arms and held her close. She kissed the tears on her cheeks, she whispered gently. “Everything will be alright. I promise you. I promise you.”
Mudira stood and Bulelwa held her gently while she sobbed. Bulelwa looked up and out over Mudira’s shoulder and she could see other people also standing, shocked, silent or sobbing amongst the ashes of their homes.
A little distance away Bulelwa could also see her own house. The white picket fence around the blackened garden still stood. It hardly seemed to have been touched by smoke or flames. The walls of the house, sheltering her sleeping grandmother, appeared singed in part by flying debris and burning embers, but otherwise, there it was, completely whole.
Behind them Bulelwa could hear the sound of footsteps crunching through the shattered bricks and roof tiles. She turned.
“Mudira!” shouted Mudira’s mother. “Oh thank God you are alright!” Rushing towards them she gripped both girls with both arms and held them very, very tightly.
Tell us: What do you think Mudira feels like? What would it be like to lose everything you own?