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18# A brave bet

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

NIGHT - Pueto La Libertad, El Salvador - EXT

He had to make a choice: the ocean or the road. Rob was a boat captain, a surfer, and an athletic swimmer. Under normal conditions, he would have chosen the ocean. But he had no surf boards or life jacket, and this was a hurricane. Chaos and hazard would kill him first. He left the house and headed to the main road.

The water was knee-deep and running down the hill. Rob pushed with both hands against the block wall and walked, crab-like, to the top of the alley. At a slow and careful pace, he reached the main road. Sirens and beams of red lights swirled in the distance. Rob followed the lights.

People had abandoned their cars in the middle of the road and fled for higher grounds. A few stubborn drivers, out of fear or out of greed, held on to their cars and honked their frustration. Rob had experienced storms of similar magnitude at sea. On land though, the havoc was different. Solid objects moved around like leaves in the wind. He felt like the ground itself could collapse at any time, and jogged towards the town's exit.

The rain was a curtain of black strings. In the dark, Rob spotted a small silhouette growing bigger in front of him. It was a teenage girl, yelling “Mi familia!”. She threw herself at him and pulled onto his arm. Rob let himself be led. They ran on the main road towards the red lights. Rob was relieved. It was a firetruck, not an ambulance. The girl passed the truck, but Rob pulled her back. She stopped at once, confused. He asked.

  • Rob: Where is your family? Donde esta su familia?

  • Teenager: Alla!

She pointed to a neighborhood on the hill side, below street level. Rob walked around the truck to talk to the fireman, still pulling the girl by the wrist.

  • Rob: This girl’s family is stuck over there.

  • Fireman: They’re too far. We do not have a rope that long.

  • Rob: What are you going to do?

  • Fireman: There is nothing we can do.

The teenager started panting. Rob quieted her with an angry shush.

  • Rob: What are you going to do?

  • Fireman: If we go without a rope, we will all die.

  • Rob: You're going to give up on them?

  • Fireman: Only God can help them.

  • Rob: You’re a fireman for God’s sake! A FIREMAN!

  • Fireman: There is nothing I can do.


He slammed the fireman against the truck and yelled at the girl:


The girl swallowed her tears and nodded. She led him until they were on-level, 300m above the house. Rob could see a green concrete cube with metal tiles on top. Water was raging around it. He spotted a fence bordering the block, slid down the hill, and grabbed onto the fence. Step by step, hold by hold, he moved against the current. When he reached the end, the house was only ten meters away, on the other side of the gushing river.

Rob climbed to the top of the fence, jumped, and landed with both feet in the mud. He reached for a pipe sticking out of the concrete and pulled himself out of the riverbed. He entered from the back door; the water was up to his waist. Inside the house were two women, crouched in the dark, on top of the kitchen sink. Both were swaying their heads, praying. One was holding a baby.

The image of the Titanic victims popped in his mind. They’ll drown or die of hypothermia, he thought. Staying inside was out of the question. He walked up to them and tried to speak, but the sound of the rain on the metal roof was too loud. He pointed up. The young woman nodded, and passed the baby to her mother. Then, she hopped on his shoulders. They walked out of the back door and held on the lowest part of the roof. The woman grabbed on the metal tile and stood on Rob’s shoulders. Keeping her balance with the metal tile, she climbed on the roof. The metal bent under her weight, but it held on.

Rob went back inside. The old woman had the baby inside a basin. Rob held the baby in the basin above his head and carried it to the back of the house. On the roof, the mother leaned on and extended to grab it. Rob pressed up and passed the baby, then the basin to the woman. The metal creaked, but held on.

The grandmother was still inside. Rob came back and kneeled for her to climb on his shoulders. She did, and the two walked out the back again. The elderly woman could not stand by herself, so her daughter reached down to pull her up. The metal tile bent and threatened to collapse. "LET GO!" he shouted, and stepped back. The roof did not collapse.

With the grandmother on his back, Rob circled the house looking for an accessible spot on the roof. He found a steady tile but it was much higher. He got closer to the wall and went on his knees to helped the woman stand on his shoulders. Her daughter held her hand and in a desperate effort, the three managed to get her on the roof. The baby stayed in the basin. All were safe.

Rob was too heavy to climb on the roof. He saw a fence on the other end of the house and held on to it. Adrenaline, survival instinct, and stubborness kept his grip firm. All night, Rob held on and the women prayed. He did not let go. They did not stop praying.

Dawn came to shed light on the destruction. Cars, refrigerators, and unidentified objects floated on the river. Mudslides carried trees, debris, and corpses to the ocean. Semi-conscious, Rob was wrapped in a blanket and transported into a police truck.

He woke up to a soft tickle on his cheek. A bright red hurt his eyes. Inside the truck and perched on the metal shelf was a parrot! He laughed, and dozed off.

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