“Help me! Somebody help me please!” A panicked female voice cried out from a far corner of the apartment I’d just stepped into. She must have heard my ax break down the door. The smoke was so heavy that visibility was virtually non-existent. I could hardly see anything.
“Where are you ma’am? I’ll come to you.” I called out as I navigated my way around burning embers that had fallen from the partially caved in ceiling. My pulse thumped with adrenaline as I quickly assessed that we only had about five minutes tops to get the hell out of dodge before the whole ceiling came down.
“Here. In the corner by the window.” She gasped before she fell into a fit of wheezing and coughing as her lungs fought with the thick smoke for oxygen.
I made it to her side without a second to spare when one of the large ceiling beams fell to the floor completely enveloped in flames. This left us with only one way out of the apartment. The window. It would be my second window exit that week. The young black woman huddled in the corner couldn’t have been more than a few years younger than me. She was smart though, and had taken some precautions by wrapping a wet towel over her head. She also had the window opened which meant there would be no backdraft.
“Let’s get you out of here sweetheart.” We were two stories up. I radioed the truck and my boys had the inflatable out and and in place in about three minutes. Perfect timing. Another beam had just fallen and the heat in the apartment had risen well over a hundred degrees. I helped the woman out of the window, she took one glance down, squeezed my hand, and then jumped. Beautiful and brave. I followed quickly behind her once my boys helped her off of the inflatable.
When I got to the truck, the EMT’s already had her on oxygen and someone had given her a clean cloth to wipe away some of the soot that covered her face. She had a head full of springy curls and dark chocolate eyes that warmed as they settled on me.
“Thank you!” She said as pulled down her oxygen mask.
“Just doing my job ma’am.”
“Ma’am? A few minutes ago you called me sweetheart!” She teased. Her plump pink lips had me leaning in, but I caught myself before I did something stupid.
“True. So what’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you Jocelyn. I’m Xavier.”
“Mmmm...Savior. I like that.” She said.
“No, Xavier.” I said as I smiled down at her.
“If you say so. Nice to meet you.” She reached out her tiny little hand and I engulfed it in mine. It was soft but held a strength in it that had me clutching it tighter.
“So...this might sound crazy being that your apartment just burned down but maybe I could buy you dinner and help you figure where to go from here so you can get back on your feet.”
“I think I’d like that….Savior.” She said slipping of the gurney she’d been sitting on.
Her hand was still clasped tightly in mine as I led her away.