A Transformation of Torrents

There are some rainy days when I look up at the sky and groan. The prospect of cycling home in the rain isn’t usually appealing, soaked to the core, only to hit a wall of air conditioning upon arrival.

Today was…. let me spin today for you. I had entertained the vain notion of beating the rain home, and refused a ride from my boss. As soon as I donned my helmet, unslung my keys and stepped up to the bike rack, the first drops began to fall, big as grapes, it seemed. I retreated under the overhang of the Hamilton Center, headphones blasting Rasputina. Within moments, the rain sped up to a dull thunderous patter still audible over the actual thunder.

Only moments after I had decided to acquire dinner, Ham Center’s lights flicked off, then on, then off again. My stomach growled impatiently. It took only a minute and a half of murmurs and giggles for the lights to come back on; I bought my meal and decided to wait it out in the warm wet air under Ham’s overhang. But there wouldn’t be any real waiting. As I was standing mostly dry, a campus police car drove up onto the tile, racing across the wet terra cotta and an ambulance wasn’t far behind, sirens wailing. There’s a feeling that starts sometimes in the pit of your stomach and only sinks lower… I followed the wailing sounds out into the rain and to their source.

There was a reason the power flicked off in Ham, you see. It was a very pretty reason, though not a very safe reason. Sparking and sputtering in the rain like a road flare, the red blossoming of a lightning fire was eating the corner of New College’s property closest to the airport at the base of the power lines. Relief does flood. It soaks through a person like the aquifer overfilled. All I could do is stand in the rain watching the flames lick red and gold at the palmettos, and the smoke rolling over itself close to the ground, thick and dark from the moisture.

Flooded with the knowledge no one was hurt, I skipped back to Ham, spattered and damp. I resumed my post under the overhang… but the rain did not abate; it fell harder. The drain grates started erupting, bubbling up like fountains from the overflow. The roof of the sukkah in the green space between Ham and Z Dorm caved in under the water weight, its tie-dye cloth walls ripped free, trailing about the mud. And the rain picked up its pace, making knee-deep pools in the grass. And the rain hurried onward, faster still, until the world was a grey sheet.

It was then that I set my backpack down, under the safety of the overhang, laying inside it my headphones and cell phone and the day’s copy of the New York Times. Pockets empty of electronics, I dashed out into the torrent, shrieking with glee. The water ran so heavy, the tiles were their own ankle-deep river; the sky was shot with lightning. Two friends appeared out of the grey curtain and without saying a word, we all knew what to do. With sweeping shuffling strokes of our legs, we splashed the tile-river up at one another in graceful arcs. The angles of our feet directed each aquatic attack as we tried to keep our balance on the red ice; nothing is more slippery than those terra cotta tiles that run the length from Pei to Ham, and nothing else could have made us giggle and shriek more.

Finally, finally, the rain cleared, and this drenched form in ruined work clothes pedaled home, angling her front wheel for every puddle on purpose. Instead of being splashed by passing cars, I sent water splashing after them. Even the air conditioning at home could not bring down my spirits, despite the freezer-like quality of my house. I made a bee-line for the bathroom, stripped off all my wet clothes, and turned the shower knob all the way to hot. Through the bathroom window, the sun shot gold through parting clouds. Warm and wet, I draped myself in a bathrobe to venture back outside, looking skyward at the breaking clouds for a rainbow. Not your typical rainy day.

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