Many of us can recall cherished memories from our childhood, embracing the nostalgia to bring us back to the days of favorite toys, constructing impenetrable blanket forts, and imaginative games. Among the adorned activities included a favorite: the floor is lava. The rules were simple. Use any means possible to avoid touching the floor or you would suffer a horrific fate of burning alive in the molten rock. Miraculously, all furniture could safely float upon the lava, thus any piece of furniture was safe. Despite our parent’s demands to not climb on everything, we had to crawl on couches, tables, and counters just to stay alive.
These revered memories combined with outlandish Hollywood action movies, I sometimes wondered what it would be like if the earth did violently open up, creating giant chasms with flames and lava spewing from the deep valleys below. What would that really be like? What would it feel like if the earth began to rumble and crumble just beneath your feet? One fateful day in January, I got find out.
Ok, it wasn’t a vicious splitting of the planet. However, an unusual event did happen that I image felt the same as if the earth were to divide in two.
My wife and I were preparing to sit down for a delightful dinner and enjoy a relaxing evening together. The smells of the food were inviting and made my already hungry stomach grumble even more. The familiar sounds of street traffic below our 4th floor apartment made their way through the open window. I was walking to the table when suddenly I felt a vibration below my bare feet, accompanied with loud cracking noises. My footing became loose on the cold marble tiles, and I felt my knees getting weak trying to adjust to the sudden movement. I was disoriented. I stumbled to the wall and held myself up, however was suspicious that wouldn’t save me. I was convinced an earthquake was erupting and that a violent collapse of our apartment building would follow. Then as fast as it started, it stopped.
I spun around looking at the walls and ceiling searching for cracks in the concrete. I ran to the patio outside the kitchen, certain that I would see gaping holes in the earth and splitting brick and mortar along the outside of the building. Hesitantly, I walked on the patio, gingerly stepping one foot in front of the other, prepared to escape if a rupture would cause the patio to fall. Grasping the railing, I looked below. The pavement on the street was solid and lined with its consistent flow of cars and motorbikes. The building walls were smooth, and the patio was solid.
I returned to the kitchen, continuing my exploration for damage while waiting for the 5th floor to drop into our living room. But it was still. The food still smelled delicious, perhaps more inviting than before. Then I heard it again. A loud crack. It sounded what I imaged to be the same sound of a breaking bone. Like a dried stick snapped in half. It reverbed off the marble tiles and cement walls, prolonging the chilling sound in echoes.
Another crack. Then two more. That’s when I saw it. The floor where I was standing just moment before started lifting up. The big square floor tiles began to raise off the ground, like an atrocious beast was trying to escape from the depths of hell. Maybe a small rodent sized beast, but a monster nonetheless.
The tiles split and cracked and echoed through the kitchen. Then it continued out into the living room, like a domino effect. Convinced that the floor would soon disappear into dust, we frantically moved the kitchen table, chairs, and living room couch to the other side of the room. Dinner would have to wait.
A while later the cracking stopped and the floor was still. We didn’t sleep well that night, certain that we would get to meet the neighbors living below us by joining rooms through the floor. Nevertheless, we remained on the 4th level throughout the night. The next day, the apartment manager scheduled repairs with a vendor. She said it would take three days to fix. No problem, we can handle construction for three days.
On Monday, we left for work while the construction crew would start day one of the repairs. We returned home that evening to find something we never expected. The front door of the apartment walked into the kitchen. At the floor by the entrance was a pile of tools and a stack of marble floor tiles. The second half of the floor was…, well, gone. They had chiseled up the concrete floor with a jack hammer leaving a pile of large broken pieces of rock. The rock bed extended from our kitchen all the way through to the living room. The work crew had loosely covered our kitchen cabinets and refrigerator with a clear plastic sheet. It was worn and ripped, probably from multiple uses. It was not long enough to reach to the end of the counter, so the stove was uncovered. A thick layer of dust had made it’s way through onto the burners and countertop. The couch in the living was also covered, but not with plastic. Instead, they had repurposed the curtains from the windows to serve as a cover for the couch and television. They also were too short to cover the furniture. Tired from the day’s events, we accepted the fate of our belongings, ordered food delivery and retreated to the bedroom, our new living quarters.
We could barely open the front door on day two. A heap of trash and empty paper bags that once held concrete mix were piled up behind the door. The living room rock bed had been replaced with tons of paper bags, now filled with the broken pieces of concrete. The plastic sheet had fallen and was no longer covering the refrigerator. The television was not protected anymore either and had a half inch later of dust in every crease and corner. Sitting on top of a TV stand, we wiped it down and cleared a spot for it in our bedroom, just between the microwave and coffee maker.
Day three showed little progress. Most of the bags were gone, exposing a layer of sand on the floor. PVC pipe that held the electrical wires running to wall outlets were buried in the sand. Some of them had been cut during the chiseling phase, exposing the wires within. I was certain that once all this was put back together, we would no longer have functional electrical outlets, or even worse, we would be electrocuted by merely walking in our apartment.
Day four thru six slowly showed signs of progress. Each day the room smelled of cigarette smoke and empty cigarette packs laid on the floor. Some of our drinking glasses were out on the counter, printed with the dirty handprints from the workers. The water jug in our dispenser went from full to empty in record time and some the food in our cabinets had disappeared. The workers had done something horrendous to our broom. It looked like it had had a spar with a garbage disposal.
Finally, a week later the tiles were down and the rooms were cleaned. Elated to finally reclaim our kitchen and living room to end the dinners of microwaved food in our crowded bedroom, we were disappointed when the inspector came to check the work. Failing proper protocols, the work was going to have to be redone.
Tired of crammed imprisonment in our bedroom, week two proved to be difficult. We found lots of reasons to leave the house, just to get out. Sometimes we would go walk around aimlessly in the supermarket just to have breathing room. Eventually the work was done. Chipped tile and rough grout still cover the floor today, but having learned from the experience, we won’t complain. At least the floor is level.