The Diffident Hero - NaNoWriMo 2012 - Day 1

“So I was walking down the street just keeping to myself, and suddenly the whole block explodes.”

“I know that part, I watched it on the news. C’mon, tell us about how you saved that baby’s life!”

Brandon sighed. “I’ve told you, it was an accident! She fell into my arms. She literally just fell right into my arms as I was walking. That’s how it happened!”

“But how did you know it was falling? How did you catch it?” Derrick was eager, talking as much with his hands and arms as with his voice, was clearly not listening to a word he said.

Brandon grunted in exasperation. “I didn’t know the baby was falling. I was just walking. How many times do I have to go through this? She basically just hit me in the chest and I caught her by reflex.”

It was completely true. It had happened just about an hour before. Brandon had been walking home from work, planning nothing more special than a stop at the coffee shop between the office and his place. Before he’d reached it, a building had exploded with fire and debris. It had certainly felt and sounded like a whole block had gone up a the time, though.

He’d barely had time to react or even panic when he’d been hit in the chest by a heavy falling object, and had instinctively grabbed it. It had turned out to be a baby; he’d saved the little girl’s life. And with just that one single, instinctive action, his life for the past hour had been turned upside down.

He hoped it was just for the hour. There’d been something about that kid that had unnerved him slightly, and it was more than just unfamiliar human contact. Brandon led a very solitary life, with just a few close friends and coworkers, but …

It had been the eyes, he thought. The little girl had looked at him after he caught her, and he’d been transfixed for a moment. Those eyes never belonged in a baby’s face. They were old, and deep. They knew things; they saw things. They’d seen him. They’d smiled at him, and he’d felt a shiver, then, as though a chill breeze had blown across his spine.

He’d been stunned, of course. Not just by the baby he held, but by the blast itself, and by the sudden wave of applause that had gone up as people around him realized what he’d done. The cheering and clapping had gone on for at least five minutes, though all he remembered was the shocked gratitude and joyful tears of the child’s mother as she thanked him for saving her life.

Then had come the sea of hand-shakes, and he was pawed at by people who for some reason he’d never understand just wanted to touch him as he passed through the crowd; an endless successful of pokes and prods and brushes on his arms and shoulders, as omnipresent as the dull roar of the adulation, yet fleeting sensations, gone as fast as they came.

Just as he’d been starting to get a grip on himself and was making his way to the edge of the crowd to break away, the police and fire services appeared on the scene, followed closely by TV and other media trucks, and he found himself blinking and stammering his way through not one but several interviews as the local news caught up on what had happened.

First game the glitzy blonde, the face of the evening news, a woman who’s name he barely registered as Belinda Press (”All the Press that’s fit to view!”) before she was holding him up as an icon of the city, an example for the community, someone to look up to for young and old alike. “N—not at all, I was just in the right place at the right time,” he protested, but she cut him off.

“And such a model of modesty he is, too. Mr. Brandon Burns, hero of the hour, thank you so much for being on the show!” And with that he was in the clutches of the next, a local radio report, and then the next, from the city’s largest newspaper, giving up sound bites with no chance to think about what he was saying to all of them.

Then the police escorted him out of the limelight, much to his relief. An officer was on hand with a water bottle for him; the survivors of the fire were huddled around, having already given statements. As the most prominent witness/participant, he was questioned about the events. “Did you see anything unusual leading up to the buildings’ windows blowing out?”

The police had explained that that was what had sounded so loud; the building hadn’t actually exploded, the windows on several lower floors had blown out due to the pressure of super-heated air from a raging fire. He shook his head. “No, detective, I didn’t notice a thing. I was preoccupied with my own thoughts, not really paying any attention to what was going on around me when it happened, and then it all happened so fast …”

“It’s alright, sir. You’ve done a very heroic thing today. You should be proud.”

“Is it alright if I go?”

“You’re free to leave, sir. We’d just like to get your contact information first, in case we have any followup questions to ask.”

He’d given his address, email and cell number, then looked out at the crowd. Most were staring at the burning building from a safe distance as the fire department worked to extinguish the flames, but a few cheers went up as he stood and prepared to leave. He cringed and headed back to the other side of the police line tape that had been put up while he’d been questioned.

Finally his friend Derrick had found him, and together it took them another 10 minutes to get lost in the crowd and head out of the area.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the smoke. My phone started going crazy, everyone was asking if I’d heard about what happened, if I was okay, if I was near when it happened. Then I saw the whole story—did you know you’re all over the media?”

“Yeah, I was there,” Brandon said with a touch of sarcasm, though truth be told he was taken aback that word had gotten around so quickly. He was used to the speed with which news of events could spread, but it felt very different when you were involved in them.

“Right, well this is huge! Everyone knows you now, there are pictures of you holding that kid on all the news sites. They’ve even got security camera footage of you making the catch!” Derrick was wide-eyed and animated with excitement.

“They’ll forget all about it soon enough,” he said. “It was a fluke, just blind luck.”

“Not if you act fast, Ben,” Derrick said. Brandon suppressed momentary annoyance. ‘Ben’ was not short for Brandon, and yet everyone seemed to want to call him that. Derrick was usually much better at avoiding that these days, but when he got particularly excited by something, he’d still slip on occasion. “I keep telling you that you could be doing so much better if only you’d talk yourself up a bit, let people know you’re out there! It’s Marketing 101.”