That time I burnt the house down

That time I burnt the house down

They say when you turn 21 you have reached adulthood, ready to be given the key to a future full of opportunity. I celebrated my coming of age by inviting friends and family to a party, as you do. The invitation gloriously displayed a photo of me with undies on my head. Seemed most appropriate to me. We partied, my sister’s band played and people said really nice stuff. My South Auckland friends didn’t want me to miss out on the classy tradition of receiving a mirror-backed key to hang on my wall, symbolising my newfound independence. Glory be.

Days passed and the key started gathering dust. As is common in your early twenties, I moved flats more often than I did the dusting. I shifted house (this particular move is a whole other story in itself that I can’t go into) and shortly after settling in I received a very  unexpected phone call.

“Emma, I am calling from the Avondale Police Station. We require you to come down to the station tomorrow as you are a suspect of arson at your last residence.”

With much hesitancy and nausea, I phoned my boss at the Christian charity I worked for (and still work for) and explained that I would be in late because I’d been summoned to the Police Station for questioning. Maybe it had been premature to give me any kind of keys – symbolic or functional.

Never had a short drive felt longer than my trip to ye ol’ station. I was greeted at reception and escorted upstairs by the detective who asked me while we walked, “so I see you’re a nurse?”. I’ve never been a nurse, unless you count the many sessions of doctors and nurses that my brother and I played as kids, so I set him straight but it didn’t feel like a positive start. “Why did you lie and say you’re a nurse then?” he asked, already suspicious.

I was questioned intensely in a small room by a big detective for just over two hours.

Someone, apparently me if he’s to be believed, sawed through the metal pole of the washing line at the flat I had moved out of two months before. Yes, that’s right – sawed through the metal pole – something I must have learnt how to do at Girls Rally. But wait, there’s more. They/I used said pole to smash through the ranch slider and start a fire in the lounge that burnt the entire house down.

He explored my motives for burning down this house that I had been the last person to live in (along with my two flatmates who, by the way, didn’t get called in). He wanted to know the names of every person who had ever visited us at this flat which formed a written statement that was seven pages long. By the end of two hours I actually believed I might have done this crime. He was either really good at his job or I was guilty.

Part way through the interview/interrogation, he left the room to confer with another detective. As he walked back into the room, he stopped and pointed at a rolled up piece of white paper on the floor. “Is that your joint?”, he asked. “Ah, no, I think it’s rubbish…a receipt or something”, I answered.

As those words came out of my mouth, all bodily fluids tried to exit my body quickly as I recalled that the classy glassy mirror wasn’t the only gift I received for my 21st. Another friend decided I should celebrate my freedom with a classic West Auckland gift – a joint that I had later tucked away in my wallet. The very same wallet I had with me at the station. EEEEEEKKK.

Thankfully they didn’t require a bag search and let me leave, not without telling me I would need to come back for further questioning. I never did receive another callback or any closure on who did actually burn the house down. I’m still 99% sure it wasn’t me.

A few months later, having cleared my name and able to look my boss in the eye again, I was running a training session at work on how to use the telephone system. The fire alarm went off and we congregated out the front of the building, confident it was an inconvenient drill. The fire engines arrived at which point lots of heads turned. Mid-banter with my colleagues, our receptionist came running up to me saying that the firemen had requested to speak with me specifically.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Dreams of hanging out with firemen were supposed to be much more romantic than this. They asked what I had been doing in the upstairs meeting room and whether I had been smoking, as the alarm was set off from the room I was in. Sweating as though I was in a fire, I once again set the record straight with the authorities and awkwardly shuffled back to my colleagues. They later discovered that water had leaked through the ceiling and set the alarm off. Gaaaahhh.

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire…we don’t need no water…LEAVE ME ALONE.