Hang

Fire in the works

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on July 19, 2019 Published on July 19, 2019

Okay, so I admit that’s a deliberately misleading title. There’s no fire anywhere in this week’s column! But we went to the Fourth of July fireworks, during my visit at my sister’s home, last week.

She has two lively grandchildren, eight years and seven, girl and boy. Their father is away and so is Bins. All regardless, my niece, sister, children and I brave the traffic to see the lights. The two grands have dressed for the event, wearing patriotic colours on headband, tee-shirts, socks and shoes. My niece has researched the best locations for firework sighting. “Apparently, the top-level of the Central Connecticut State University parking lot,” she says, “is the best place to go.” Her car’s GPS speaks in Cookie Monster’s voice. “Turn right,” he says, growling and eating cookies, “num-num-num!”

The show is scheduled to begin at 7.15pm. We want to get there early. Families gather for barbecues in backyards and picnic spots to look up at the sky. We leave home at 6. Traffic is medium-heavy but moving along. At the parking garage there are traffic police guiding people towards the entry point. There are plenty of spots but we can’t go all the way to the top in the car. So we have nowhere to sit.

On the fifth-floor open terrace, 200 or more skygazers are already present. They’ve come fully prepared: Floor rugs, folding chairs, picnic hampers. A nearby couple has set up a table atop a stool, playing chess. There are beach balls and sun hats. Insect repellent and ice-boxes. But no dogs. This is a time of torment for all creatures so they’re left to suffer alone, at home.

Some children are running around with sparklers. The two grands are amazed. “Is it real fire?” they ask us. “Is it dangerous?” At this height, we can see private firework displays in distant neighbourhoods. Fountains of sparks and stars, pattering volleys of explosions, the occasional muted boom. The seven-year old decides he can’t bear to wait. He wants to go home, “NOW!” My sister drags him off to tour the terrace. The sky darkens. A beautiful crescent moon graces the horizon. 7.15 comes and goes. No display. At 7.30pm, we wonder if the show is already over. At 7.40pm, some people pack up and drift away.

Then at 7.45pm — WHOOSH! It begins. A brilliant pink chrysanthemum soars up, up, UP. Cheers ring out. On and on it goes, immoderate and glorious. When it’s over, we return to the car. Immediately, we’re jammed tight, on Level Four, with everyone equally stuck. Ten, 15, 20 minutes go by, no movement. Finally, a muscular, heavily-tattooed man strolls by, heading downstairs with a purposeful air. Five minutes later, hurrah! Cars begin to move. MuscleMan is at the exit, directing the flow. We thank him as we glide past. “You’re welcome, my love!” he trills in return. And the Cookie Monster guides us safely, all the way home.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on July 19, 2019
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