I was still staring, transfixed at the TV and the events unfolding before my eyes. I hadn’t dared to go back up to the rooftop to see the carnage for myself; I couldn’t bring myself to even move. I was in a state of complete shock. Several of my colleagues had already fled in search of family, or perhaps just trying to get as far away as possible. Now there were just three of us, including Vivian.
Minutes after the attack, an official-looking individual had made a public announcement. From what little I understood, and while also deeply regretting my decision not to continue studying Chinese, he had advised people to stay home, and remain calm. Evidently that advice had been ignored entirely.
The TV was showing scenes of chaos and pandemonium in the streets as millions tried to flee the city – traffic jams, road pile-ups, even looting – the city had gone mad!
When my colleagues left, I had briefly considered joining them, but to what end? From the looks of things there was no way out. For the time being we were stuck here. I snapped out of my trance and tried to clear my mind. It was time for a plan, if only to keep busy…
I looked around the office space – we had water and food enough to last a while, but we needed to put together a list of everything we had, and everything we needed. I thought back to those students who had left their bags behind – perhaps they had left their lunches too.
“Vivian, Charlotte!” I addressed my two coworkers who had stayed behind. They turned to me with frightful looks of helplessness. I only hoped my own face appeared a little more confident than theirs. I wasn’t a natural leader, not by a long shot, but someone needed to take charge of the situation, and it seemed that role right now had fallen on me.
With the most calm and collected voice I could muster, I spurred my troops into action
“Check the classrooms for food and water, and anything else useful, and meet me back here in ten minutes. Quickly!”
We each took a couple of classrooms in our search. Ours was a small training centre and only took up one floor of the office building, so we grabbed what we could find and met back in the office with time to spare.
Altogether, we had four jugs of water, seven water bottles of varying sizes, half a dozen packs of biscuits, some half-eaten sandwiches, two bags of chips, one container of rice, and enough tissue paper to take care of business.
I also discovered a small Stanley knife hidden inside one of the student’s pencil cases, one which I distinctly remember telling that student never to bring to class again. For the first time in my long career as a teacher, I was glad a student hadn’t listened to me. I thought it might come in handy later on, but I hoped I wouldn’t need it.
We had enough to last a couple of days at least, assuming we could ration responsibly. But there was no telling how long we would need to stay here. Eventually we would need to search for supplies elsewhere, but not now; not while the city was busy tearing itself apart. I returned my attention to the chaos on the TV, wondering how long it would last…
After a while, I heard a commotion outside the office – shouting and banging. I pocketed the Stanley knife and motioned for the girls to stay low and keep quiet. I opened the office door slowly, careful not to made a sound and peered out into the hallway.
At the far end, a man was trying his hardest to break down a door. He took a few steps back, and then hurled himself against it with his shoulder, all the while screaming in frustration – a looter, or just some guy as confused and desperate as we were?
“Hey!” I called out to get his attention. He stopped for a moment and turned towards me, a crazed look in his eyes; his face, a picture of terror and exhaustion. He started yelling at me, and charged in my direction. I held my hands up in front of myself to show I wasn’t a threat, but he kept coming!
I pulled out my knife and waved it menacingly at him, hoping to give him pause, my heartbeat a race. Thankfully it worked and he came to a stop a few meters before reaching me, his eyes darting between mine and the knife. I continued to point it at him and yelled at him to go. He backed away slowly towards the stairwell and out of sight.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t know if I could really use a knife on another human being, but god-knows what he might have done to me if I didn’t have it.
From now on we would have to be careful. It is often said that people forget themselves in times of crisis, and if there were more like him, then perhaps we were better off alone for now.
When I returned to the office we barricaded the door with tables and chairs in case he, or anyone else tried to get in. From the sound of the sirens outside, and the continued lawless free-for-all taking place on TV, it was going to be a long night…
to be continued…