Written by Nandini Sethi
It was a Wednesday afternoon in college like any other: the class was lit, projector set up, and the sound of collective chatter filled up the auditorium, resonating all the way to the adjoining staff room.
Veer, Kiara, Tanay and I were sat facing each other, deciding on our final lunch menu – momos and Maggi from the canteen and cold coffee from the little shop outside college. Just then, I felt something light land on my shoulder, and turned to see it was Piyush and his group that were messing around, shooting paper airplanes with ridiculous pick-up lines all over the class.
“When will you grow up, Piyush?” I scoffed, flicking the piece of paper aside as he stuck his tongue out in retort.
We were waiting for our professor to arrive, and in the anticipation that he won’t make it t class, the hum of the chatter got louder with every passing minute. The class representatives tried to silence everyone, but there was no point because no one took them seriously.
I was about to walk to Piyush and give him a friendly beating when a loud THUD! sounded. In a second, everyone stopped talking. In fact, when it sounded again for the second time, a heavy tension pervaded the air. It was only when we a heard a loud shriek, coming all the way from the back of the class, that the gravity of the situation was understood. There was a shooter loose in the college, and we were all going to die!
The commotion was unlike anything I had ever seen before – the girls were wiping their mascara-infused tears and the boys were holding their head, looking all around the auditorium for an escape of some kind.
Mohan, the usually happy-go-lucky, not-a-worry-in-the-world guy was pacing, taking loud steps back and forth, scratching his head, trying to come up with some ideas. He suddenly stopped mid-step, called one of his friends over, as they both lifted a chair and pushed it against the door of the class. They stacked one chair after the other, hoping the shooter wouldn’t be able to break through the well-protected barrier.
I looked to my side and watched how Aditya, my lab partner, was on his knees, hands folded in prayer, begging, and negotiating with God to get him out of there. If the situation wasn’t so tense, it was almost laughable the kind of deals he was striking up with God: no meat for a week, no more sexist curse words, and he even promised to visit the temple every once in a while, in exchange for his life.
I fished my phone out my pocket and dialled my father’s number. In hindsight, maybe I was being just a tad bit too dramatic, but my life was on the line. My dad was about to lose his only daughter at a school shooting.
“Dad! I love you! Please tell mom I love her more than anything in the world and that I will see her in my next life.”
“Shruti, just calm down and look for an escape-”
But I didn’t let the man finish. I threw my phone aside and engulfed Piyush in a frantic hug.
“Thank you for being my best friend Piyush! If we weren’t about to die today, I know I would marry you someday”, I cried out, soaking the back of his shirt with my tears.
He looked at me with pity and opened his mouth to say something, but we were interrupted by Tanya’s wails, asking us to shut up and draw the curtains. I immediately ran towards the clear panes, looking one last time at my beautiful college, only to be reminded that I was never going to see this campus again.
I was about to head over to the back of the class and hide under the benches, but one look at Manav and his guy gang stumped me, making me stop mid-step. He was standing on one of the benches, bag pack in hand, the rest of the boys filling their bags up with heavy books, in hopes that once the shooter entered, they would knock him out by punching him with their fantastic weapon.
Even in my frantic stupor, I was going to go up to them and yell for being so ridiculous, but we heard someone against the door, trying to make their way in. Once again someone shrieked, followed by the rest of the class shushing him. Again, the shooter tried to wedge open the door, and you could really tell he was frustrated by the way he was banging and pounding against the door.
For a minute nothing happened. I let out a sigh of relief, thinking he had given up and moved on to another section of the campus. But one deafening thud! proved me wrong. This loud bang pushed all the carefully stacked chairs against each other, and like dominoes, they all clattered to the ground.
Slowly, in anticipation, we saw the door unlock, and watched as a neatly polished shoe tip-toed into the classroom. From bottom to top, he was formally dressed, and in my mind, I asked myself, would I really take this well-dressed man to be a shooter?
I was too afraid to look at his face and lock eyes with him, but curiosity gave way, and I mustered up the courage to see who this man was. A stubbly chin and a badly groomed moustache made me wonder where I had seen him before; the rectangular glasses and bushy eyebrows did seem familiar. When I looked into his eyes, realization struck me and I asked out loud, “Professor?”
Everyone seemed confused, including the newly entered professor. He took one long look at the class – disorderly chairs, benches atop the teacher’s desk and students scrambling all around class. For a moment he did nothing but stare.
Finally, he broke the silence, “Students, what is going on here?”
No one spoke, still reeling under the tense environment.
“Alright, I just came in here to inform you that there is a fire drill going on upstairs and you may hear a few loud sounds, so don’t be too alarmed”, he said, taking one more sweeping glance at the room, slowly coming to the realization that he was perhaps just a tad bit late in delivering the news.
The whole class stood still.
I looked at Piyush, a hot pink flush colouring my cheeks, as he once again looked at me with pity. Then, I looked at Aditya, still on the floor, a regretful look in his eye, cursing himself already for making empty promises.
The professor spoke once again, “Looks like I will not be able to take this class”. A pregnant pause. “You know, due to the fire drill”, he motioned his fingers upwards.
No one moved an inch for the rest of the period. But I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.