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Grandma had a friend on the nineteenth floor, and the friend, who likewise had a grandmotherly look, let us into her home. Her walls were painted the colour of lightly burnt pancakes. Cousin Hal and I, perhaps rudely, rushed past Grandma’s friend and ran to the window to watch the wave still advancing, marching towards the building.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Grandma’s friend pointing curiously at Grandma’s wooden box. Grandma obliged her friend and opened the box, extracting a single black-and-white photograph. Seeing the picture upside-down, it looked to me like a tree, but with the branches white against a black background, as if the photo were printed in negative. It took a few moments for my brain to reorient itself and then I realized that the branches of the tree were actually the electric tendrils of a lightning bolt splitting an inky sky in half. The photograph shook in Grandma’s hand.
A bright flash filled the apartment, and a clap of thunder came almost immediately after. My attention was torn away from Grandma’s picture, and I looked outside.
That single flash was followed by another, and another, until the sky became a shimmering, strobing light show. It hurt my eyes, but when I could steal a glance, what I saw looked like a forest of lightning, each inverted tree created by a bolt just like in Grandma’s photo. But, unlike the still photo, the bolts in the sky danced, and even though each bolt lasted only a split second, they came with such frequency that they appeared to move, I swear, and where each bolt disappeared, another took its place, so that it seemed to be a single bolt that was alive, animated like a cartoon. The thunderclaps blended together and sounded not as discrete claps but like a continuous roar of angry applause.
The huge wave still advanced, and it formed a backdrop for the dancing lightning bolts. The shrinking space between the wall of water and our building became a stage for the frightful ballet playing out before us.
The wave would be upon us soon, in seconds.
Grandma closed her eyes and whispered, “Stop.” I closed my eyes too, and together we whispered, “Stop.”
The storm went silent.
We looked down to see the white foamy remnants of the wave, spreading outwards away from our building. The flood was already draining away. The clouds were breaking to reveal a cleansed blue sky.
Nowadays, when I look at Grandma’s photograph of the lightning bolt, with older, more mature eyes, I know why she hurried to retrieve it when the rain started: it reminded her of a storm she had faced when she was young, and of how she had survived.
What the picture reminds me of, though, is how Grandma and the storm taught me how to grow up, more than a cooking lesson ever could. And how, on the day of the storm, we watched the lightning dance and the wave surge, Grandma and Cousin Hal and me, and we weren’t afraid, and it was with a mixture of calm and awe that we watched, and wondered why.