While sitting in the library this afternoon, I noticed a light drizzle through one of the windows above the stacks of books. I grinned to myself, thinking I had been smart to carry my umbrella in my bag. Lately I have had no use for it, so it remains stowed away at the bottom of my bag, amidst the random collection of coins and pens and pieces of gum. But I hate to be caught out in the rain so it is with me always.
Most days I go to the library when I am done teaching. There, it is air conditioned and I can work in relative peace and quiet, interrupted only a handful of times by little kids who point at pictures of dinosaurs in books and ooh and ahh over how strong and big they are and who would win in fights–the ones who fly or the ones with big teeth. I say I “work,” but really it is just extended e-mail checking time since I usually check my inbox forty times a day. And this is not even remotely a joke. Today was one of those fanatic inbox days, and so I stayed there in the library, in the nice AC, oblivious to the darkening sky and rumbles in the distance outside my tiny cyber world that never changed no matter how many times I clicked “refresh.”
I wasn’t surprised, really, when just before the end of school, I went up to my classroom, and had to open my umbrella against the drizzle; the day had been a hot one, so I’d expected a downpour to cool things off a bit. As I walked, I thought how nice it would be after this little rain–much cooler, nicer weather to sleep in. From my classroom, where I grabbed some materials to take home with me, I returned to the library where I met one of my friends. The rain had taken a turn for the more serious, the drizzle becoming bigger plops but still nothing my flimsy umbrella couldn’t handle. She offered to give me a ride home so I wouldn’t have to deal with the bus, but she first needed to go back to her classroom, so I gave her my umbrella and braved the drops as I walked up to wait for her at the gate. My walk was interrupted when I was called into the financial office to get my pay stub.
Almost as soon as I entered the office, thunder and lightning cracked overhead, and I was glad to be inside out of the threat of being struck down by lightning. “What are the chances?” I thought to myself, and finished up my conversation.
As the “tchau, bom final” words left my mouth and I walked out of the door, without an umbrella, all of the rain on the entire planet, fell on top of our school. All at once. It was as if, with the loudest crack of thunder imaginable, God overturned his bucket of all the earth’s oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and Hoover Dams, altogether directly on top of our tiny little school. And there I was, in my light blue cotton mini-skirt and white cotton t-shirt, clinging to my school bag as if it would keep me afloat if I were to suddenly be thrust under the flow of water that suddenly, like the current of a river flooding in springtime in Vermont, raged down the hill toward me at a rate I had never before seen. Not even on those Extreme Nature shows on the Discovery Channel.
My mission was to get from down the hill to the gate at the top. Absolutely no coverage, even as I shouted through the downpour to the teacher I saw carrying my umbrella.
“Ah, what’s the harm in getting a little wet,” I thought. “It’s just water. Big deal.”
So, out into the cascade I went, running as carefully as I could up the stone steps and out across the driveway. I clutched my bag across my chest because the last thing I wanted to show were my these in an inevitably soaking wet t-shirt. I should have been concerned about the transparency of my wet skirt, but at the time I was most concerned about my two companions.
Looking back, I have no idea why I even bothered having concern for anything. As I crossed the driveway, my foot slipped out of my shoe. I kept running and didn’t realize I had only one shoe on until I made it to the otherside. So I was forced to return, now completely soaking wet, to pick the shoe up. I thought I would have made a good Cinderella, however pathetic I looked. As the rain dumped down harder, so that I had to squint to see the steps in front of me, I looked up at a crowd of people who had gathered beneath some awnings to gawk at me–this goofy, spazzy, soaking, limp girl running back and forth across a driveway and who was now running up the steps wearing one shoe and carrying the other.
When I reached the awning with the others, one of whom was my boss, I couldn’t do anything but laugh.
“What the hell is this?!” I wanted to scream, but there were kids there. “This wasn’t in my contract!” I looked down at myself. My skirt was plastered to my thighs, my sleeves soaked through, my hair as wet as if I were in the middle of taking a shower at my house.
But the mission was not yet over. The awning was only halfway to the gate. The teacher who had my umbrella waited for me at the awning and together we walked up to the gate; I have no idea why I bothered with the umbrella. Kind of the like the proverbial Fish Bicycle at that point: completely unnecessary.
My friend and I stood at the gate watching the water gush down in currents. Cars revved their engines to get through the water, which splashed up higher than the cars themselves when they went through. Not that the cars moved that quickly–it was the water moving against the car that made such a huge splash. Our next task was to get to her car. While the rain continued to dump, in Biblical proportions, we changed our focus to crossing the street outside of the gate. The water–and I saw it happen instantly–went from trickling down into the drain to gushing down, flooding over it, rushing so fast I feared that I would not be able to stand up straight if I were to step into the current.
But I did. We walked out onto the sidewalk, perused the scene: and it was scary. I put my foot into the current and the water came up and over my calf at a dangerous speed. If I weren’t so ignorant about the danger, I probably would have tumbled and fell down into the flowing water, which at this point was a dark red-brown with the red clay sediment trapped in the water. As my friend and I took another step into the flood, it threatened to push us over, coming up over my thighs and splashing against my hips. We made it safely to the other side. I was delirious from laughing so hard, so entirely bewildered by how much water there could possibly be right here on this spot I was in.
By the time we got to the car, I was so wet there was not a single thing on my body–not even my undergarments–that was remotely dry. Not a single piece of my hair, not even my soul. My spinal cord was wet. On the inside of my body. My skirt was dotted with debris caught in the flood–bits of leaves and dirt. I dripped. From everywhere.
And here’s the kicker: five minutes later, as we drove out of the flood zone, there was no rain. It stopped. Gone. Poof. What rain? When my friend dropped me off at my apartment, I was already pruney. I left her car, water still draining from my clothing. Other pedestrians walked down the hill and as I got out of the car, I noticed they were completely dry. It was as if I had gotten a ride in a Shower Car–a special kind of car in which you take showers and wash your clothes all at the same time inside while you’re driving. Except this model of Shower Car came without a dryer. So when I stepped out of the car, it looked like I had stepped out of my washing machine, except I was nowhere near clean.
But I think the funniest thing that happened, if you can believe it, wasn’t the getting wet, although that was loads of fun. It was when the portero let me into my building. He called me in to his office to have me sign a paper and then explained in Portuguese I couldn’t quite understand about how he was going to come up later and fix the drain in my shower. He paid absolutely zero attention to the fact that I stood dripping in front of him. And so, rather than call attention to myself, I asked him about some grammatical question I had about Portuguese, grabbed my mail, met the new portero, and walk-slipped up the steps to my home. It was as if soaking wet people are kind of a normal thing around here.
And that makes me think I need to invest in a better umbrella and a good pair of fishing pants–the rubber kind with suspenders and boots attached. Listen. Anything is better than see-through clothes and missing shoes. I don’t care how ridiculous I look. (And writing that makes me think I truly am my mother’s daughter.)