On the Rooftop – Forty Year Storm – February 24, 2019

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Shredded scaffolding canvas billowing in the hurricane gusts tearing across the Sliema Chalet promenade  David Bugeja (c) 2019

The deafening crash shook me out of my three hour nap and I was now wide awake – glued to bed and no will to investigate. As in a nightmare, with encroaching evil fast closing in, yet shorn of all strength to slip away to safety. Fly to flypaper. Time crawling and the knot in my stomach wrenching ever tighter. And still I couldn’t force myself out of bed.

The wind howled and shrieked and swung window shutters on creaking hinges slam-bang against door frames. I had to act. Not just lie there pretending that nothing had happened, paralysed with the soothing thought that it would soon be light and I could put off checking out the house till then.

Tough to be alone in the old family home on a night like this with any storm damage coming my way  being entirely my problem to remedy and fix. No sharing of the troubled and anxious thoughts flitting through my mind. Only the storm mattered now. Nothing else. All of my attention and focus was on the shrill wind gusting loud against doors and windows and the sharp metallic clang ringing out from the street.

I couldn’t delay any longer, lie there in bed doing nothing, just waiting out the storm, ignoring any damage that might only get worse if I didn’t act fast.

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Sliema promenade later that day on Sunday afternoon – evidence of the all night, all day’s violent gusting winds was everywhere to be seen. David Bugeja (c) 2019

Steel  my will, cast away the luscious warmth of bed and crawl out of my sleeping bed into the frigid room. These big, old Maltese houses sure don’t hold the heat – great in the torrid summer months but awful in winter.

Dazed, from too little sleep I perched for a while on the edge of my mattress with my feet firmly planted down on the floor. For one brief moment I hesitated and held back yet again, then all at once sprang into action and ran across the room hurrying down the stairs to the kitchen.

Nothing seemed amiss.

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The dining room wall clock ticked away the minutes. 3.15 am and time to get back to bed with my conscience salved and my duty done.

But the heavy rain pattering down in the central courtyard caught my attention. It had been raining all night and there was no sign yet of the downpours easing off the slightest bit.

I shone a super bright, white LED through a window pane and lit up the yard and was stunned.

A water tank lid lay upside down flat on the ground in the silt and mud. The rain was beating down hard. No this couldn’t be right. That couldn’t be my tank lid! Someone else’s lid must have flown off a roof God knows from where. I decided to leave it precisely at that and ignore the whole matter – this was someone else’s problem, not mine. All I’d need to do was clear the yard when it was light and tuck away the lid as a useful spare. Funny how the mind works in such a situation, ignoring the blatant proof staring at you straight in the face.

But there it was: the niggling thought that the lid had been torn off my own tank so perhaps I should get out there in the yard, flip the thing over, and if it was silvered on top it was mine.

Bad enough exchanging my sleeping bag’s warmth for 10°C at 3 am, but groping blind in the silt and rain and doing my best to clutch the slippery tank top rim in the pitch black yard lit up with a bike light felt like sheer madness.

Gotcha! I grasped one end of the rim and flipped the tank lid and it sure was silvered on top! Amazing that the only damage was a very minor crack on one side of the rim where the lid must have snagged a nasty blow against yard wall or drain pipe fixture on its long way down. Hardly an unlucky outcome for a sheer forty foot drop.

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Sliema promenade, Sunday afternoon – No surprise that my water tank had been sheared by the storm! David Bugeja (c) 2019

I couldn’t leave it out there in the yard in this weather. Best to start fixing the problem immediately. No more sleep anyway. Not by a long shot. Whatever little sleep I had had that night had been shattered and there’d be no further rest until this bugbear was sorted out.

I splayed out my arms and carried the lid all the way up two flights of stairs to the washroom annexing the roof, standing it up against the wall adjacent to the roof door. At least I’d find it ready to install as soon as the weather improved. In the meantime I felt the urge to inspect the tank and roof for any serious damage that might have already been caused by the storm. But I dreaded unlocking the door and the mere thought of venturing out on the roof in the hurricane gusts and cloudbursts forced me to reconsider. What damage might have been done now was done and I couldn’t help the situation by going out there now. I’d only be risking making things worse by also getting hurt in the process.

But I am not a patient man and if there’s bad news I’d rather know it all at once – bite the bullet and check out the roof and tank right away. I’d just have to make sure I didn’t get stranded in the storm by letting the door slam shut in it’s frame once I got out on the roof. I slid the key into the padlock, clenched my teeth and forced the door open holding on as tight as I could. Soaked in seconds but at least this section of roof was the best sheltered from the severest brunt of the incoming gusts. I tried hard to ignore the chill gusts and the rain bucketing down on me and slid a wood wedge sliver between door and frame before setting out to explore the roof. I crouched down as I pushed forward and scurried this way and that across the roof.

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Sliema promenade, Sunday afternoon – Checking out the roof in such weather felt crazy but I felt compelled to act. David Bugeja (c) 2019

Stark clear that it was my own roof tank that had been decapitated – the last unsevered sinew was a solitary unbroken cable tie waving vigorously in the wind and somehow still attached to the tank’s upper rim. Impossible to reinstall the lid before the wind had subsided.

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At least I never gave way to the crazy thought of attempting to fix the damage there and then at night in that weather. Sure, the thought occurred to me, but I shot it down as soon as it arose – I’d most probably have been knocked off the roof,  tank lid and all, if I had dared a stunt like that. No other way but wait it out till the next day by when the storm would have subsided and the worst of the gusts would have died down.

All Text and Photographs Copyright (c) David Bugeja 2019

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