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Cousin Hal and I went to the window, still giggling. Grandma fidgeted at the dining table. When we heard the worry in her voice — “Not again,” she said — we stopped giggling.
I stuck out my hand and pressed my palm flat against the window. The first drops of rain smacked against the glass, and the vibration sang right through into my fingertips. Then it was pouring, and water splashed down the glass as if a window cleaner above had spilled his bucket. A numbing cold deadened my fingers.
As Cousin Hal and I watched the world below through the rain-streaked window, Grandma disappeared into her room. When she re-emerged, she had in her hands a small wooden box, the same colour as the old mahogany table. She stood by my side and rested her calm hand on my shivering shoulder, but she kept looking at the box, as if its contents were alive and screaming for her attention.
It was the hardest rain I ever saw. The ground below was flooding. The streets stopped being streets and became canals. People, trapped outside, unable to find shelter, looking like miniature figurines from our vantage point on the tenth floor, waded through the flood. I swear, the water went from knee-deep to waist-high in under a minute, it was coming down so fast. Before long, they gave up on the whole wading concept and just dove in and swam.
Cousin Hal pointed at something, and when Grandma and I saw it, we gasped. A wine-coloured minivan floated in the water, dipping and rising like an ungainly boat in the choppy waves that were forming in the canal-streets. And, I swear, there were people inside, a mom and dad and two kids, each sticking a canoe paddle into the water, paddling and kicking up huge splashes.
When we saw what the paddlers were trying to get away from, we became truly terrified. It was a huge wave, and I swear, the crest of it — the crest was breaking, a white crown of foamy froth atop a solid wall the colour of a dusty chalkboard — I swear the crest was as high as where we stood on the tenth floor. The wave was at least as wide as our apartment building. It was about a kilometre away and it rolled towards us with slow but fierce determination.
Cousin Hal’s first reaction was to run around and slide all the windows shut. We should have done this when the rain started, but it had not occurred to us then, so stunned were we, and so the carpet was already wet and puddling. Somehow the sight of the wave gave us this belated impetus to shut the windows, as if that would seal the apartment against the oncoming wall of water. Each time Cousin Hal slammed one shut, the sound of the storm became more muted, muffled, heavy on the low end like from a subwoofer. I joined him, running around, and I stepped in all the spongy carpet puddles, and my damp socks and feet felt like the first symptoms of flu.
Grandma called us “sillies” for closing the windows and gestured for us to follow her out of the apartment. She held the wooden box close to her chest, and used her other arm to encircle the two of us. The hallway was filling up with the neighbours. Wordlessly they filed into the stairwell. Up was the way to go. It was a sort of animal instinct, to head for higher ground, but where animals might climb grassy hills, we instead herded into grim concrete stairwells.