For O. M. -
Thanks for your support
Lights out. It was time for some shuteye.
Sophia's eyes felt heavy, very heavy, and her body was becoming one with the darkness in her bedroom.
A sound broke the silence of the night. A sound almost inaudible but just loud enough to jerk her back to reality.
Sophia sat up with a start and rubbed her eyes. It had almost sounded like the gas stove being lit. It couldn't be that, could it? Her bedroom was too far from the kitchen for her to be able to hear anything that happened there. Her heart started racing. To her horror her eyes caught sight of a huge bright flame dancing in the corridor just outside her bedroom, which threatened to invade her room as well.
'Daddy, daddy,' she cried out in fear.
Soon her father was by her side. Well, on the floor to be precise. He was trying to coax her into coming out from under the bed.
'The fire,' she said hugging him tightly and sobbing in despair. 'I don't want it to gobble me up.'
'There. There.' said her father softly. 'There's no fire here, sweetheart.'
'There is. There was one.' she continued with thick tears rolling down her cheeks. 'It was outside my bedroom. I could see two huge arms of flames beckoning to me...'
'Calm down, sweetie. There's no fire. When you feel like it we can go and check it out. We'll go together. Okay?'
They sat on the bed very close to each other for what seemed like a very long time until Sophia finally mustered up all her courage and, hand-in-hand with her father, walked towards the door.
Only when she had confirmed that there was indeed no fire did she loosen the grip onher father's hand. She was safe. Her dad was safe. Her toys were safe. Her house was safe. The world as she knew it hadn't disappeared into a pile of ashes.
'So, are you having cheese or jam with your toast today?' asked Dad.
'Jam, please.' replied Sophia eagerly. She always felt so hungry in the morning!
In the meantime, Dad figured this would be a good time to speak about what had happened. She had been too caught up in her nightmare the night before to have accepted or understood any kind of explanation then, so they would have to speak about it now.
'Sophia, honey, I'd like us to talk about last night.'
Sophia frowned. She didn't want to relive that horror, but she could see her father meant business and would not back down. So, she nodded slightly giving him the cue to proceed.
'I can see that you're afraid and it's okay to be afraid...and I want to help you feel safe.
'It's fire I don't like. I don't like it when you use the stove either...'
'Yes, I've realised that too. You know that if it weren't for the stove we wouldn't be able to cook our food, don't you? What is more, I've already shown you that everything is done in a very careful way and that we never leave anything that is flammable, anything that burns easily, nearby...There's no need to be afraid.'
Sophia bit hard on her toast. Dad could see that she was fighting back the tears.
'Sweetie, yesterday there was no fire in the corridor or anywhere in the house for that matter. You know we have to turn on the lights when we move around at night. Otherwise, we'd always be bumping into things.'
Sophia said nothing but her father could see that she was paying attention, so he continued.
'At school you've also talked about what to do in case of a fire, haven't you? You've even had a couple of fire-drills. And that's very important...It's important to be prepared and to know what to do in case of an emergency, but you mustn't live in fear. Fires don't just happen like that. Indeed, people have to take some precautions but it's actually very rare for there to be a fire, especially house fires.' Dad paused for a short moment to collect his thoughts and then continued speaking.
'You wear your helmet every time you ride your bike, don't you?'
'Yes,' said Sophia, startled at the apparent sudden change of subject.
'Well, you wear your helmet as a precaution, in case you fall. Of course it doesn't mean you're going to fall off your bike and hurt yourself every time you go for a ride. Do you see what I'm trying to say?'
'I think so. I've never fallen off my bike yet I still wear my helmet.'
'Good girl. That's why children mustn't play with matches, lighters or candles. It's also a precaution against starting a fire.'
'I don't play with any of that, daddy.'
'I know you don't, sweetie...Tell you what, why don't we go and visit the fire station this afternoon? I'll phone the station now and see if Fireman Oscar can show us around. He's a friend of daddy's. You'll like him.'
'Hello. You must be Sophia,' said the fireman. Stretching his hand out to greet her. 'I'm fireman Oscar.'
'Hello,' said Sophia in a small voice.
'Put on this safety helmet, Sophia. This is what all firefighters wear...It looks very good on you!'
The girl blushed with pleasure.
Sophia and Fireman Oscar went around the fire station looking at all the strange equipment and meeting everyone that was there. They all smiled broadly at the young visitor. They were used to having children come to the fire station.
'Sophia, your father told me about what happened last night...' said Fireman Oscar.
Sophia blushed again – this time with embarrassment. She didn't want to seem weak or cowardly.
'Don't worry. It's okay to be afraid. Fire isn't something anyone should treat lightly. You do need to be careful with and around it. It's not something children can control and they're not expected to either. That's what adults are for. And to keep you safe, too.'
Fireman Oscar's voice was serious but his eyes were kind and sincere. Sophia had taken to him. She felt he could be trusted.
'I was so scared of the dancing flames that I hid under my bed.'
'Oh dear,' said Fireman Oscar. 'Sophia, have you learnt what you should do in case of a real fire?'
'Yes, I have. My teacher told us that we should find the nearest exit and that if we can't do that we must keep the door shut and put some towels, cloths or clothes under the door to prevent the smoke from coming in.'
'That's right. However, Sophia, and this is very important, you must never hide under the bed or in a wardrobe...'
'Why not?' asked the girl feeling a bit confused.
'Well, if you do, firefighters won't be able to find you so easily.'
'I see. So what should we do then?'
'You should stay close to the ground and cover your mouth and nose with a cloth so you don't breathe in the smoke – and never hide.'
'I didn't know that. Thank you, Fireman Oscar.' Sophia felt reassured now that she knew that fire-fighters would come to their rescue should her father and her ever be in danger.
'Now, would you like to climb onto the fire engine?
Sophia's eyes were wide open in sheer happiness.
'Ooh, yes please! May I really? My friends will be so jealous when I tell them about this!'
'Daddy, daddy! Look at me! I'm a firefighter. This is so much fun!
Dad smiled. It had been a good idea to visit the fire station. Hopefully Sophia would not be so terrified of fire anymore. If anything, he hoped she had learned that it is always wise to respect fire and that if people are careful they might never have to fight against one.
And perhaps one of these days he and Sophia could actually enjoy some toasted marshmallows. That would be fun!
It was almost time to go back home, but before they did Dad bought a fire-extinguisher, which Fireman Oscar had said was useful to have at home and to contribute to the firefighters' annual fund raiser he got Sophia a stuffed toy dog, called Captain Sparks.
Sophia was over the moon. What a wonderful afternoon they had had. She flung her arms around the surprised fireman and said goodbye.
'Thank you so much. I had a wonderful time today and I don't think I'm that scared of fire anymore!'
'Goodbye, Sophia,' said Fireman Oscar, with a twinkle in his eyes.
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