The Fright of Stairs

Let me begin by saying that the most dangerous part of a house is the flight of stairs. The longer, narrower, and darker it is, the higher your chances of dying in it. You’ve heard about it. These things happen: male neighbours, uncles, or granddads slipping down the stairs and hitting their heads and being rushed to the hospital. Why mostly males? Because they’re the ones often too drunk and careless and reckless. I myself admit to having those unique qualities.

Other variations of this could be seen in many primetime Filipino and Mexican ’90s telenovelas. Perhaps the most famous one: Two characters, usually females, and usually over the leading man, fight each other on the upper floor. The fight drags on interminably, and somehow, they are able to drag each other by the hair close to the stairs until one of them pushes the other off. The former always happens to be the villain, the latter the protagonist. Then comes the slow-motion scene of the protagonist falling down the stairs, rolling step by step according to the director’s orders, until her body crashes into the landing with a resounding impact. The camera then pans to the villain, revealing a guilty, worried look on her face (hinting at a shred of humanity) as if she didn’t mean to do it, that she was just caught in the heat of the moment, while the viewers, with eyes glued to the TV tubes, curse the bitch. The episode often ends perfectly in this part, leaving the viewers hanging on for the next episode, with enough time to discuss it among family members or neighbors, wondering whether the protagonist is still alive, though they know deep down that a protagonist never dies, especially in such anticlimactic fashion. One less-used variation, yet still all-too-common, is a minor character, usually the protagonist’s father, suddenly collapsing from a heart attack walking down the stairs. Then the scene transitions to the oblivious son working at the office or talking with his friends. Why all these cliches about stairs? Are they telling us that something as insidious as death or pain lurks under the steps?

Over a week ago, I fell down the stairs. No, it wasn’t a fight or a heart-attack. I was all alone. I have only my being a creature of habit to blame. Sometimes, habits turn us into absentminded, mechanical creatures, oblivious to the little changes, and that was what happened with me. One night, I was watching what seemed to be a promising good movie, when I felt the call of nature. I tried putting it off until I could hold no more. When the inevitable came, I rushed downstairs, where the comfort room was.

Let me tell you that our flight of stairs is long, narrow, and dark, and the chances of me dying in it is quite high. But I was too dumb to consider that at the time, since I’ve been coming up and down the stairs thousands of times already (thousands more during the pandemic lockdowns), but nothing remotely close to an accident has happened, even when I was drunk, even when the stairs or my feet were wet, and even when I was not holding the handrail in the dark. Living in the house long enough makes you feel that the rooms, stairs, tables, and chairs are parts of your body. You get to feel the whole house, and you can even guess where a family member is around the house, as if you were a psychic, if you focus your senses hard enough. But my habits caused my mind to treat each day the same, and in some way, that dulled my senses.

A few steps before the landing, I didn’t see that one of our four small dogs, whose fur was as dark-brown as our wooden stairs, was lying there all curled up. I saw him at the very last moment, just before I planted my heavy foot. I immediately shifted my footing, miscalculated, and missed a step. I made sure to keep my head safe above everything else. But that caused all my weight to fall on my right foot, twisting my ankle. I felt my ankle give way and heard a small pop, like a hollow clicking of a tongue. There was no slow-motion cut to help me break my fall. All this happened in a second or two. The dogs started barking at me, agitated at the disaster. My mother approached me and tried to hold me up, which I declined, for I was a grown man, and the last thing I wanted was for my mother to hold me back up when I’m down. My whole foot was numb for a moment until such excruciating pain took over that I almost pissed myself. I’m no stranger to twisted ankles. I’ve had a lot of it when I was playing basketball and football and skateboarding. But I never experienced twisting my ankle falling down the stairs. It was different. The pain was different. I must say it was beyond comparison.

I didn’t shout in pain despite wanting to cry over it like a child. But I was a man, nearly all three decades of it. I went on clicking my tongue, shaking my head, as if dealing with a minor inconvenience, like at a bar waiting in line for your turn to piss. I first checked if the dog was all right. I told my mother I was all right. I told myself I was all right. But when I tried to stand, my body answered I was not. I couldn’t stand on two feet. So I hopped like playing hopscotch toward the comfort room where finally I could relieve myself. To my amusement, I pissed standing on one foot. That was the first time that happened, and not the last. Little did I know that I’d be living on one foot for a week or so. I went back up the stairs, again, hopping on one foot, like a kid, with the dogs barking behind me—they’d be barking at me for a whole week because of the way I walk. I got back to my room upstairs. I finished the movie, which wasn’t even good. I was hell-bent realizing it wasn’t worth all the pain I was enduring.

Before going to sleep, I thought about the poor state of our stairs. The steps here were far too small for my feet. To make them fit, I always had to angle them sideways or walk on tiptoe, but I’ve gotten used to that. Still, there will always come a time when bad things happen, and I had the misfortune of having it happen to me in the stairs. It was a near-death experience, I realized. I was starting to feel glad coming out of it alive, with only a bad ankle to deal with.

Careful not to bend my ankle, as any movement brought forth waves of pain, I slept like a corpse, dreaming of flat, wide, carpeted stairs. In the morning, I woke up to the most incredible pain and swelling I’ve ever had in my life. I wanted to sleep it off, but, with sheer terror, I felt nature’s call. 

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