A Close Encounters With Lightning
If you ever try to convince me that, chances of a lightning strike are not be increased by the use of cellphone during a thunder storm, I will not believe you.
I once had a very close encounter, with lightning…..
OMG its only just sinking in how close this encounter was. If this were the comic book universe, by now my super powers would be fully developed, including an almost instinctual ability to tailor make my very own super hero costume. Alas my powers still haven’t manifested yet or maybe I haven’t discovered them yet, I will keep you updated.
Here’s how the encounter played out:
I was standing close to the window of our first floor dormitory room which I shared with 8 other boys (you can read that as “witnesses”)
School’s first term had started about a fortnight back and my brother had snuck in for a visit and to bring me “provisions”, you know the basic stuff a mission boarding school kid needs, more juice, biscuits, tinned goodies and peanut butter. My brother had finished High School a few years before and was on a paid internship from which his savings allowed him to buy a new prepaid mobile phone.
It was a garishly coloured red monstrosity of a brick that looked more like a child’s plaything than an actual working mobile cellular phone. Did I mention it was red, red for danger, red the colour attracted lightning……
A Seimens C10 phone popularly known as a Mango Phone from Telecel with prepaid top up vouchers known as Juice Cards. Telecel launched the first prepaid service in Zimbabwe when all the other cellular networks still had post-paid billing and even till today prepaid top up cards are known as Juice Cards….
The Siemens C10 commonly came in 3 fun colours red, blue and yellow
…and best accesorised with a thick leather pouch and a strap where you could hook up your phone to your belt…. Hello fashion statement.
You must remember this was back in the late 90s if you had cellphone you flaunted it, a phone was a status symbol before the prepaid era they were only for the rich while the rest of us mortals had to content with public phone booths… Would you believe that initially you used to be billed not only to make calls but to receive calls too? Thats why they advertised free incoming calls
Small wonder the Shona phrase for mobile phone is “Nhare Mbozha” meaning “phone for the rich”
So there I was, fiddling around with my brother’s mobile telephone device, checking out the monophonic ringtones and generally being impressed since this was my first real-life encounter with a cellphone having only seen them in the movies. There wasn’t much else I could do with it, back in those days network coverage was limited and our mission boarding was far from cell towers.
Mostly I just stood there phone awkwardly in hand as I watched the other boys trying not to stare at me but I knew they were dying to get a closer at the phone; while I talked about scanning for network and pretentiously waved the phone around, intently peering into the tiny LCD screen, watching it search for a connection, searching and ever searching….
It didn’t find the network but it found something else……
…….A brilliant blue flash filled the room and time stood still….
No, time did not stand still, it was as if there was a strobo-scope, each moment broken down into freeze frame slow motion…
From the end of the room where I stood I had a vantage point of everybody in the room watching them move frame by frame; someone closest to the door fled the room, while some rolled onto to the floor and crawled beneath their beds, someone dashed into one of the open closets that lined one wall of the room……
And I just stood there, too stunned to move, as tingly sensation made all the hairs on body stand.
At the very instant the blinding light reached its peak brightness, the window behind me shattered into pieces with the shards of broken glass falling inwards, followed by an earth shattering reverberation that you could feel in the soles in your feet, as the brightness receded the room seemed almost dark.
Normalcy returned and time shifted back to its usual motion.
“Is everybody OK?” I heard my words come out of my mouth barely above a whisper but sounding loud in the silent room. Slowly people got back out from where they had ensconced themselves, accompanied by some nervous laughter from me.
They all looked at me and as one we all turned to look at the gaping hole where the window had been and shortly after drops of rain were blown in carrying in the smell of damp earth mixed with a pungent static smell and a faint smell of plastic and burnt electronics.
A floor below us we could see smoke coming out of the Recreational Center and later learnt that the TV had blown up.
“Lightning” someone finally offered an explanation with a shaky voice.
The phone in my hand felt warmer and heavier than usual and the screen showed it was still searching for signal. I pressed the power button, switching it off and silently passed it back to my brother.
Outside, it begun to rain buckets.
Much later when the rain had stopped the Boarding Master came to check on us and reassure us that lightning does not lay eggs which it will later came back for.
A tarpaulin cover was nailed to the window for the remainder of the week. I carved my initial into the wet window putty when the new window was installed.
I finished school and the lightning never returned, and today there’s a window in Bruno Hostel with my name engraved on its putty, a silent remainder of an encounter with lightning, that lasted no more than a few seconds yet seemed like time stretched and stretched and almost stopped….
B was here