Off doing some errands in the nearby neighborhood, I spotted fire trucks rounding the bend, sirens wailing their do-sol-do-sol plaintive tones, lights flashing. Ever curious, I strode up the side street to see where the emergency was. I didn't smell any smoke, didn't see any panicked crowds of residents escaping to the street.
I edged my way farther down the street, trying not to be too nosy but still wondering why the firemen had been beckoned. A beefy man was standing watching the whole scenario, smoking a cigar, shaking hands with and commenting to his neighbors one by one as they passed by and/or stopped to join the gawking. I endeavored to make myself part of the group. "Alors, what is happening, do you think?" I asked. "I haven't seen any smoke -- Est-ce que il y a une incendie?" [Is there a fire?]
"Comment?" was their bemused reaction.
"Un feu-- une incendie?" I repeated.
"Oh, mais non, je ne crois pas," the guy replied. "Seulement une vieille dame qui ne repondait pas." An old lady who didn't answer her phone or the gardienne's knocks on the door.
A group of pompiers were leaning out of the windows of the apartment on the right-hand side of the building, shouting instructions to the pompier who was maneuvering the ladder. He lined it up to the shutters of the apartment on the left, then donned a shiny chrome hard-hat and scrambled up the ladder. He pushed in the shutters and the windows of the old lady's apartment. A brightly dressed woman on the floor above, pretending to water her flowers, was peering down to observe the scene.
I shuddered to imagine the sad scenario he was going to find inside: a frail old woman, collapsed or even dead on the floor of her darkened apartment. I felt so sad, and yet so heartened that neighbors were clearly looking out for her that when she hadn't answered, they called the authorities.
Then all faces disappeared from the windows. Next the chrome-helmeted fireman exited the building from the ground floor, with a sheepish expression. He spoke briefly to the gardienne who was waiting outside. "No one was home," he said.
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