Several students yawned loudly beside us in the meeting area as we waited for the instructor to speak. The piles of ice lying on the ground in the corners had not yet melted. No one had tried to build a snowman or even have a little bit of fun with the snow. All the students turned their attention to the front. We had been hearing similar speeches every day. On this occasion, they were telling us to do everything seriously and gain valuable experience. They treated the students as robots to be programmed with modern Panasonic profit measures. We had already helped out for two weeks in summer at various stores where our seniors worked in. This time it would be a month.
In the early hours of the next day, there were buses waiting outside the school for the seniors to get to the stores. We were going to walk quickly to our store with supervising teachers to show our willingness to work. A sense of importance could be felt by all of us. All the new knowledge that we had gained was being revised in our heads. This was to make sure that we put into action all of the skills that we had acquired.
After some time, we came upon a few teenagers that were attempting to block the footpath. Dressed in casual clothes, their hands were in pockets and they seemed to be up to something. Several were smoking and others showed aggressive behaviour. We looked towards our teacher who pretended not to notice them.
‘Shall we rest at this park?’ the supervising teacher asked us. We all immediately agreed. There were stairs leading up to the park and we had a good view of what was going on from above.
‘We may be staying here for some time,’ the teacher said. ‘I suspect trouble going on below.’ The fearful look on her face immediately changed our perception of the whole situation.
‘What are you planning to do?’ asked the student next to me.
‘Speaking to these people won’t be of much use,’ the teacher told us. ‘We will call the police as soon as they do something. One of us will have to go to the shop we were planning to do work experience in and inform them of our situation.’
We were all capable people. The teenagers outnumbered us greatly but posed no fear to us. After observing them leave the area after entering a building nearby, our teacher sent five of us to follow and ordered me to stay. Shortly afterwards, smoke began to curl and billow out of the window of the tall shop building in front of us.
‘Call the fire brigade,’ the teacher ordered. ‘We have to focus on the teenagers.’ There had been around fifteen of them.
I jumped over and down the whole set of stone stairs after throwing down my mobile phone and raced across the road to the other side, where shouts and other noises were beginning to become louder. Many people had already escaped from the building. However, there was the obligation to double check. All the floors were filled with smoke and showed that there was nothing that could be done. After getting out of the building feeling somewhat silly and lucky to be alive, a lady began to shout at me. Looking around for my teacher, I found that she wasn’t around to help. The lady was asking me whether there had been any children in the building. There had been victims. I could not think properly and almost stumbled back into the burning building. It was at that moment when the first fire trucks arrived at the scene.
‘Get away from this building! Everyone, it is going to collapse on you!’ The loud voice of warning woke us from our confusion.
A loud splitting noise coming from the front of the building had been in our ears for some time. Looking up from directly below the front of the building, time seemed to rotate slower on the clock as the wall collapsed. It was already tilted at around 70° when confidence rose up inside me. There were several people who had tripped and fallen. I pulled them back up onto their feet to allow them to escape and then carried two children with two hands before making my way across the road. Many people were facing their smartphones at me. Nothing could be felt at that moment. The wall fell with a deafening crash onto several unlucky fire fighters and just narrowly missed us.
People came up and thanked me for the assistance in escaping. Others were weeping. Bodies on stretchers were carried out from the entrance and guilt overwrote the virtuousness in my heart. I had never experienced arson first hand before. The events could have been prevented in some way.
Amidst all the order and chaos, one officer came and said that all the students had been found safely pursuing their respective teenagers. Only the teachers had not been found.
‘Probably because they don’t wear the blue shirts or staff jumpers with the Panasonic logo on them,’ I told him. ‘What do I have to do now?’
‘You won’t have to go to hospital, and we do not require further information from you,’ the officer said. ‘Therefore we have arranged for you to be transported back to your school.’
It became clearer that the teacher had deliberately run away in order to avoid putting her own life at risk. Everyone seemed to have forgotten about me. The media had missed the collapsing of the wall. All anyone would ever know about the event was a deliberately set up fire and the actions of the fire fighters.
Many heroes don’t receive the public’s attention. We are unknown to most but known to many.