It’s fairly rare that my whole family is in the same place at the same time. I’ve made Cape Town my home (incase you hadn’t noticed) and the rest of them are in Jozi. Although both my brothers live on my parents’ doorstep, the youngest one – literally, they’ve all got their own ‘shiz’ going on.
These unfortunate circumstances have led to one of the greatest events in the world, an annual family holiday. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. You see, my folks have a thing with timeshare. Fortunately for us ‘kids’ they bought a fair amount of it when they were young and it was cheap. Relatively.
Now my mom is good at a lot of stuff. She’s a headmistress of a Pre-primary school with a pretty good name, so raising little rascals is her game. You can see how that would come in handy… But one of her other many talents, is ‘owning’ that timeshare scheme as if she had written the rules herself. She operates that points swopping system like a boss, and what that means is we get spoilt rotten once a year with an actual big-white-bed, room-service, beach-hotel, big-family holiday. All hail the ‘queen mother’!
This year that holiday was in Umhlanga, and I could not have been more excited. I mean I love Cape Town, but there’s just something about warm seawater and staying so close to the ocean the fear of Tsunamis gets real. You just sleep better. Or at least I do anyway. When my mind isn’t being tormented by outlandish and sporadic thoughts of giant, land-eating waves.
Before you start thinking I’m wasting your unbelievably precious time with a boastful post about my family holiday, let me assure you I’m not. The story stops a mere few hours into our week-long stay, and there’s not a single mention of room service from here on out. Just hang with me a few paragraphs longer, and all will be revealed.
OK, where was I…
So, on the night we arrived we had a bit of a party. My family is of the “social” variety, so one could say the first night (and every other from then) was rather festive. Once we had drained the past few months out of each individual family member, we collapsed into our big, white, cushy beds, drunk on family tales – and some other stuff of the liquid variety.
When my dreams were at their deepest, however, they suddenly took a rather strange turn. “What is that head-splitting sound? Why is there a woman in my room? Yelling at me? What? I shouldn’t use the elevator? WTF!”
Once I had surfaced from the rabbit hole and was suddenly able to distinguish dream from reality, the situation suddenly dawned on me. We were being evacuated. Over and over and over again we were asked to, “remain calm. Avoid the lift. Descend using the emergency stairwell in an orderly fashion.”
I momentarily froze. Is this really happening? Surely it’s just a ‘drill’? But what kind of hotel tests their evacuation alarm with a hotel full of guests a 2 o’clock in the morning? No hotel. This really is happening.
My child’s cry jolted me into action. I ran to his room, yelling at my husband (who could sleep through Hiroshima) to get up. My shrill shrieks must have popped his dream bubble, because he was somewhat compos mentis when I flung E into his arms so I could grab some warm clothes for his little body.
Once I was sure the rest of my family were up and out of their rooms, we attempted to descend the stairs in a “calm and orderly” fashion. But so did the rest of the guests in the hotel.
10 Floors up, stuck behind an elderly couple in a very narrow stairwell, my little boy confused and crying in my arms, the reality of the situation really started to set in. Panic planted itself deep in my stomach and started to take over my body like a merciless weed.
Every step felt like a lifetime. I anticipated tongues of flames lashing out at us from every door that separated each floor. I was convinced we would be swallowed by a cloud of black smoke at any minute.
Terrible thoughts began to fill my head. About our situation. About the old couple in front of us. About what I would be capable of doing if it came to it.
And then we hit the ground floor. And there were no flames. There was no smoke. No terrorists. No bomb squads. There was, in fact, no reason to panic at all, because all that stood before us, was a group of half-asleep, panic-stricken guests who had been rudely awoken but some freakin’ tonsil who decided he fancied a ciggie in his room…
We all went back to bed and the holiday continued as it should, but I couldn’t, and haven’t been able to forget how I felt that night. Hence this blog I guess. I can now totally understand how people are trampled to death, or die in stampedes.
You just don’t know how you’re going to react in a situation like this. You like to think you do, but you don’t. When you’re full of panic. When the faces of the people you love most in the world are stricken with fear. When your mom instinct kick in and the only thing you have on your mind is looking after you and yours. You don’t know what you’re capable of.
I didn’t push the elderly couple out of the way or down the stairs. But heading into the unknown with fear leading the way and my family unit following, I can’t say it didn’t cross my mind.
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Kate Royce is an advertising copywriter, co-founder of Mammas’ Meeting Place and adoring mother to little Ethan whom, she is convinced, is set to be the greatest adventurer and explorer the world has ever known. Her dad once described her as “having the ability to find beauty in the strangest places,” which she thinks is one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said about her.