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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Drama
- Published: 03/12/2013
Oh my god, what am I doing? I need to get away from these flames, somewhere safe. I wheel myself to the corner of the warehouse and there I wait for the police. All of a sudden there are police in the room and arms dragging me backwards. I hear voices through the smoke and one of the policemen says, “There's a kid in here, we need to get him out before the fire takes hold.”
I was on my way to see Dr Hugh Terry, as it was my weekly tutor meeting, and we had just been set our personal projects, worth 50% of the module. The ramp up to his office was so steep, my arms were beginning to ache. Luckily I could see him at the top smiling at me. Independence is overrated. He pushed me up the last bit to his office.
“Ah, good morning Paul, we must really stop meeting like this. Today is a great day, you know why? It is assignment time! I do like these assignments, don't you? Sorts the men from the boys,” He laughed, then walked over and sat down in his black leather desk chair. “I like this Paul, it makes me seem like a Bond villain.” This time was my turn to laugh, or at least fake-laugh. I did like Dr Terry, but his jokes were awful. Dr Terry gestured for me to wheel closer to his desk, with a big sweeping arm gesture, more akin to a bow than anything else.
“So, the assignment I set in class this morning, are you okay with it, or do you have any problems you'd like to talk through?”
I looked down at my lap, at the white sheet of paper precariously balanced on my yellow social sciences folder. When I looked up again, Dr Terry was leaning back in his chair, fingertips pressed together. He reminded me of Sherlock Holmes in a funny way. I looked at him, and then I said, “I think I'm okay for now, but I will let you know if I am having any problems. I'm thinking of doing a study on how people react with disabled people compared to able bodied people, you know, in shops and stuff.”
He looked at me for a long while, and then said in the normal cheery manner in which he gives all his lectures and seminars, “Well that sounds like a good idea, go to it son!” As I left, he patted me on the back, holding the door open for me as I wheeled out. I looked back one more time to see him wave cheerily, before the spring loaded door shut. These weekly tutor meetings were really beneficial, but sometimes they were a drag when you have nothing productive to do in them.
So, I was off for the day. I was having such an easy time as I only had twelve hours contact time a week, and the rest of the day was mine. I decided to head down to Next and surprise Louise, who had finished her waitressing shift early and I knew that Next was her favourite clothing shop. As I approached the shop, the building loomed above me like a giant, menacing monster. I saw the lone figure of Louise standing by the entrance of the shop. She apparently had been expecting this rendezvous; 'psychic', I thought, 'my girlfriend is psychic.' We had been going out since school and I was, to say the least, very fond of her. When she caught sight of me she said, “You,” pointing her finger at me. I returned the greeting – we always greeted each other in this way. As she bent down to give me a kiss, she smoothed back her shoulder length blonde hair, “You alright?” she asked me. “Yeah, not too bad,”
“I thought you had Film Society tonight?”
“I do, I admit it, but Jim is choosing the film and he always wants Richard Gere films, and you know how much I love Richard Gere films.”
“Yes, such a talented actor.”
“I know, so many expressions.” I replied.
“You lucky boy, I've got his box set for your birthday.” She smiled down at me.
I smirked and said, “If you do that, I'll be forced to get Miranda for your birthday.”
“Richard Gere and Miranda Hart, what a couple.” she replied. “They can stare blankly into the camera forever.” We both started laughing, then Louise said, “Come on, let's go.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I've got a gig tonight at the pub. I thought you could be my cheer leader.”
“Pom poms at the ready,” I said. I laughed, and thought how lucky I was to have her in my life, remembering how talented a singer/songwriter she was. We headed towards our local café, named Tom's Diner, after the Suzanne Vega song, and went inside to find a table. Louise ordered the coffees, while I remained on table guarding duty. When the drinks came, mine was black and Louise's (as usual) had milk in. We made small talk, but I was eager to talk to her about my assignment, so I got out the yellow folder and flipped to the familiar white sheet of paper. “I got given this assignment today, and was thinking of doing it on social interactions with wheelchair bound people.” As I was saying this, I slid over the sheet, which was blank except for the typed introduction Dr Terry gave us, and my scrawl. “I was thinking it would be best to tackle it in three bits – start off small in shops, then move onto bars and the like, then out and about in public places.”
“Oh, this sounds interesting. You could argue that you're helping the public see their flaws - a public service if you will! So would you send yourself and someone else in and compare notes, or would you questionnaire it?”
“I was thinking if I went in first hand, it would give a more personalised outcome, you know how Terry always likes the emotional side of reports.”
“Maybe I can be involved, you know I like Derren Brown. We could start with Next. We'll have to meet up over the weekend.”
God, today is Friday, I've totally lost track of the days. I said, “That would be very helpful, let's do it. I'll write up the sheets tonight.”
I dropped Louise off at her house early in the afternoon, and the pub was packed by the time I got there, a little after seven. The support act had just started playing as I took my seat next to Stuart. We exchanged a quick hello and settled back to watch. I cannot remember much about the support act, except that the lead singer was very energetic and jumped up and down periodically during the songs. The support act finished at 8:30, and then the whole room began to mutter with expectation. Louise took to the stage, to rapturous applause, and was brilliant. She regularly played at this pub, and so the audience knew what to expect, and had their favourites lined up to request. She never performed covers, only her own songs. When it came time to go I walked Louise back to her house and we whiled away the rest of the evening.
When I woke on Saturday Louise was already up. I went into the kitchen and found her already looking at the sheets of paper I had printed up the night before. She looked up cheerfully as I entered, her red rimmed glasses had been replaced by the contacts she sometimes wore.
“That is a good look for you,” I said, “It really brings out the blue of your eyes.”
“You charmer,” Louise said.
“I know, do not tell everyone.”
We laughed and she said, “I really like the project, I think it will be interesting to see what happens.” Then we discussed our plan of attack. The first shop we were going to hit was Next. Then Tesco, and finally O2. We would enter each shop separately; Louise would be first in and then, once she had exited, I would enter. After I had left, we would go in together, and we would note down the difference in time it would take the assistants to serve us in each case. Obviously we would note the business of both the shop and the sales assistants, and the manner in which they served us as well. Louise, enthusiastic person that she was, agreed that this was a brilliant way of doing it as it would make the project more personal to me, rather than doing a tonne of research. Once it was agreed what we were doing we were off to Next.
Louise headed towards the shop and I waited hidden out of sight, lest the staff suspected something. It was agreed on the walk over that Louise would pick out a red dress and see how long it would take any of the members of staff to come up and ask her whether she would like to try it on. Louise went into Next, a few minutes later, she reappeared. I looked at my watch and noted down the time, then I went in and Louise took over my hiding place. Almost immediately, a portly shop assistant bustled over. “Can I help you, sir?”
“Yes, I was wanting to try on this,” I picked up the first thing that my eye alighted upon, which was a green cardigan with silver buttons on. “Yes, right this way. The changing rooms are a bit cramped, I'm afraid. Will you be able to fit? Will you be alright in there?” She said, pointing at my chair. I assured her that I would be fine, and we went the rest of the way in silence. She was very nice; she even offered to push me, which I declined.
I emerged from the shop to find Louise looking at me with a confused expression. “I didn't think we were supposed to buy the merchandise,” she said.
“I know, I just couldn't help it. This looked so good on me. Think of it as a social experiment in shopping.”
“In that case, let me go in and buy the red dress.”
“No, we don't have time now, you'll be in there for hours.”
“Not if you come with me! I think I'm going to like this project.”
As we walked away from Next, heading for Tesco, Louise said with a smile, “Could you pick me up some ham? Ooo, and the new Tarantino DVD which I really want to see.”
A short while later, we arrived at Tesco. The supermarket was a little busier, and so it took longer for both of us to be served. As usual, Louise went in first. The plan this time was that Louise would go in and ask a question about wine and see how long it would take for the Tesco guy to find that particular bottle. I concealed myself while Louise went in. Five minutes later she re-emerged, and I entered the supermarket to ask about the wine. Again, almost immediately I got a shop assistant's attention, was taken to the wine aisle and had the particular bottle pointed out to me. I came out, and Louise said, “Did you have Gary?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And you asked him about the same bottle of wine, didn't you?”
“Riiiiiiiiight, where are we going now? I know it's a phone shop, but which one?”
“O2, I think.”
We arrived at O2. This time the plan was for Louise to go in and ask for the new Nokia phone, then I would go in and do the same thing. Finally, we will both enter the shop together and ask for the new HTC, to see whether it made any difference in speed of service. It seems to be exactly the same as in the other shops; Louise had to wait, I got served immediately, and when we went in together, we still got served immediately. As we were leaving, Louise whispered “Our results are very interesting. Let's go for a coffee and I'll show you mine...”
“If you show me yours!” we said together.
When we sat down to analyse the results over coffee, we noted that Louise had to wait a full two minutes longer than I did at both Tesco and O2. Although I took longer in Next, we concluded that this was because I had actually bought the cardigan, rather than simply trying it on and getting out of there as Louise had done. Overall, however, it seemed that disabled people don't have to wait long to be served, and Louise and I together are a magnet for these guys.
“So,” I said, “Phase two: bars. Where should we go to? I think I want to do a big chain, like Wetherspoons, and a smaller chain, like Tiger Tiger, and then an individual one like The Blues.”
Once it was decided which pubs we were going to, we left the coffee shop and headed to Wetherspoons. The pub was packed when we got there, and so it was decided for the sake of variety that we would attack the busiest bar at the same time. With that, Louise and I went in. In the corner of the pub, I caught sight of our friends, Stuart and Mark, so we went over to say hello and tell them that we were both going to the bar to get drinks. With that, we left them in an attempt to get served, and only once did I have to say excuse me to a tall gentleman stood right in front of me. Once this had happened, the rest of the people moved out the way like I was Moses parting the Red Sea. We got up to the bar, got our drinks and were back at the table in what must have been record time. We sat with Mark and Stuart for a bit. They were quite surprised that both Louise and I were in the pub on a Saturday. When I explained it was for my social science experiment they listened, intrigued. When I finished outlining the entire project, the conversation turned to Richard Gere films.
“How did the Film Society meeting go last night?”
Mark sighed, “Never let Jim choose the film again, promise me!”
“Not good, eh?”
“You could say that. I never want to see The Mothman Prophecies again, it should be burnt!”
“Don't worry guys, I'll be back next week. Anyway, onto a less painful subject, Louise had a gig last night.”
“Really? How was it?” Asked Mark.
“Good,” I replied. The conversation continued in much the same fashion until Stuart said, “This project sounds very interesting. Have you thought of seeing how much you could get away with just because you are sitting down?” Sitting down was Stuart's way of saying 'disabled' without actually using the word, as it made him uncomfortable. Come to think of it, I was not that comfortable with it either.
“Like what?” I asked.
Stuart looked up, “Oh I don't know, like pushing an old lady over? Even go really extreme and burning down a building?”
We all look at each other seriously for a moment and burst out laughing. I put my hand in Louise's, “Would you fancy me if become a criminal?” I asked. She looked at me and said “I will love you whatever, you know that.” Louise squeezed my hand, while we all laughed at the thought of me being a criminal. I mentioned that I did not think Terry would let me complete the course if I burnt down a building. We all laughed again, and then Stuart looked up with a serious expression on his face. “Yes, but if you were going to burn down something, it would have to be that warehouse over on Clarkenwell Avenue. You'd be doing everyone a favour. Nobody likes that thing, it's an eyesore.”
“So, I would be doing a public service” I said, thoughtfully. “I don't think the police would look on it quite like that. It used to be useful, you could get really cheap carpet in there.”
Stuart looked at me, “Yes, if you liked shag pile. That's all I ever saw them do. It's so retro! Still, it would put a whole new meaning to carpet burn!”
At this, we all burst out laughing again. We continued talking amicably and finished our drinks. I looked at my watch and said “God, it is quite late, I have to go!”
“Yes, another day, another pub.” Louise chipped in. We said our goodbyes, and Louise and I made our way outside. We did not say much on the walk home; it had been a long and tiring day, and we still had data to analyse before bed.
The next morning, we went into another pub and repeated the routine. Once we had our drinks, I remembered what Stuart had said the previous night, and mentioned it casually to Louise.
“You know that comment Stuart made?”
“Burning down the building, or the other stuff, about Richard Gere?”
“No no, the building. Definitely not Richard Gere, no one should remember that.”
“Yeah, that's a fast ticket to the inside of a prison cell!”
“I wonder if I could though?”
“You could, but I would not bake you a cake with a hacksaw inside so that you could get out of jail. Besides, that was a joke.”
“Yes, I know, but they do it in films all the time.”
“Life is not a film, Paul.”
I look at her with an exaggeratedly shocked expression. “You mean Bruce Willis cannot jump off buildings? And there I was, thinking he was a really good free runner!”
“I'm not saying that he can't jump off buildings, just that he wouldn't survive.”
“What, you mean not even in slow motion?”
We continued joking about the things that action heroes cannot do in real life, which included a very interesting ten minute conversation about the tax on the Batmobile. We finished our drinks and went on to the next pub. I mentioned to Louise that I could believe that Terry was sanctioning, what was in essence, a pub crawl. While we were having this conversation, Stuart's joke was in the back of my mind. Especially the part about how I would be doing everybody a favour. Plus, I would be doing it as part of the project. So where's the problem?
Louise's voice bought me back to reality. “Paul, where is this pub? Now, are we going in together?”
“No no,” I said, “you go in first, I will come in afterwards. I've got to think about my approach.” Louise smiled and went in. I did not notice the time pass. It seemed like only a few minutes until Louise came back out. “Right” she said, “your turn.”
“Louise,” I said, “It's Sunday, I don't feel like doing this today. Shall we just go?”
She looked at me, shocked. “Go? I thought you wanted to get this done? To present your findings to Terry?”
“It is okay,” I said, “I will go to him with what we've got already, to check it is heading in the right direction.” She looked at me, the shock turning to concern.
“Paul, are you alright? This is not like you to bail out half way through the day.”
“Yes,” I said, “I am fine. I did not sleep too well last night.”
“You should have said. We didn't need to continue today. I could have let you sleep in.”
Then, for no reason, I did something totally out of character: I saw red. My normal mild manner was gone, and I snapped at Louise. “I am fine,” I shouted, “I just need to go home!”
“Fine, you don't need to be like that about it.”
We walked home in silence.
The next day I was left on my own, as Louise had gone out. She did not say where she was going, presumably because she was still mad at me from the day before. It was still going round my head, why did I do it? I never normally snap at anybody, let alone Louise. Louise is the love of my life. She had left early in the morning without saying a word. I had tried to ring her to apologise, but her phone was off. I needed some air to put everything into perspective.
As I walked down the road that led away from our house, I tried Louise again. Her phone was still off. I thought, 'way to hold a grudge,' and then continued on my walk. I was half way to our local park when I decided that I was hungry, so I best go to Greggs and get a pasty. Greggs was packed, and as I wheeled myself in I accidentally ran over the foot of a portly looking woman. She turned to look at me, but before I could get 'I'm sorry' out, she was apologising for standing in my way. The more I tried to apologise, the more she protested that, no no, it was her fault and that she should have made more room for me as she didn't think disabled people were second class citizens. Her uncle was disabled and she knew the problems we had to get around. I eventually got to the front of the queue, paid for my goods and left the shop. The woman was still apologising as I left. This is what's weird – people apologise to me, when it is clearly my fault. It happens all the time, but now with Stuart's comment in my head, everything seems magnified somehow.
I had film club tonight, but I felt like being by myself. This project had put a new perspective on things for me.
A short while after getting back, Louise returned. She still wasn't speaking to me. When I tried to tell her what had happened in the shop, she just shrugged and said “That's life, Paul. Get used to it.” The next day I had lessons again, so I threw myself into uni work. It all was going well, so well in fact that when Friday came around I even missed my appointment with Dr Terry. When he emailed to see where I was, I replied with apologies, saying that I had been so absorbed in my work that I had completely forgotten about the appointment, but that everything was going fine and I would see him next week. This was a slight lie. I had remembered, but I had a new experiment in my mind, which I had decided to get on with instead.
It was slightly off the project topic, but who would know? I went into town, heading for the local supermarket. I smiled as I walked along in anticipation, there would be no paperwork this time, no timings, and nobody to do it with; just really personal. I arrived at Tesco and went in, going straight for the DVD aisle. I looked around for a moment, but then the 'two for five pounds' stand looked so inviting. It would just take one push. I nudged it slightly, it wobbled. Then I thought back to that night I had snapped at Louise, and I saw red. I toppled the whole stand. The DVDs crashed on top of me. There were a lot of Friends boxsets here. Immediately the shop assistants rushed over.
“Oh my god, are you alright? Let's get this off from on top of you.”
I told him that I was alright, that it was my fault, and that I had pushed a little bit too hard. But to my surprise, the shop assistant was not paying attention to me. Instead, he was already calling a colleague over.
“Marco, who put this stand in the way? The aisle is quite narrow anyway. Who did this?”
I kept protesting that it was my fault, but the shop assistant seemed too preoccupied to even notice me now. He was yelling something about the stand, and that it was overloaded. He finally turned back to me. “Sorry about that, sir,” he said, “Sometimes people don't think about how wheelchairs will be able to get through.”
I left the shop with a feeling of euphoria, wondering what more I could get away with.
Then quite by accident I bumped into a man who was on his phone. Yet again, before I could say anything he muttered his apology and hurried off. A smile crept across my face – if I could get away with all this then maybe, just maybe...
Fridays came and went, I did not even bother replying to emails any more. This side project was getting in the way of the real project. I could not concern myself with timings and people's reactions, I was going for shock value now. I did not even bother speaking to Louise, though she kept trying to talk to me, she wouldn't give up on me. And film club, well, I stopped going altogether. I stopped answering the phone, although it would ring incessantly. Probably people asking whether I was alright. But I was, I was better than alright. If I could do this, it would be the ultimate end to my project. I found that everybody, even tutors, were thinking too small. Initially, I attended class and sat there dutifully while the other students droned on. When asked about my project, I was either evasive or non committal; I would either say things like “It's coming along.” or, “I'll bring some data in for you next week.” Naturally, Terry and Louise were worried about me. They tried to talk some sense into me. I remember Louise saying something about how I couldn't keep doing this, I needed to tell her what I was thinking. The funny thing is, she knew what I was thinking – everybody says I have a one track mind, and because of this I was a high achiever. This was still true, but now it was on a totally different track. All I really remember about my conversations with Louise was her talking to me, me not really responding, her voice beginning to grate on me, and Louise storming out. Well, that was the end of that, thank god. I never realised how grating her voice was before.
It was a Tuesday night, I had just had my fifteenth argument with Louise. I do not really remember what it was about, I tended to tune out. But, it ended as it always did, with Louise storming off; I didn't care enough to storm off. After she had gone, two things happened: firstly, I breathed a sigh of relief, secondly, I went out and I found myself by the warehouse. I had taken this experiment quite far already, but over the last few days I had seriously begun to think about whether the police would believe it was me if the evidence was right there in front of them. I had a feeling my chair would protect me. I began looking around for possible entrances and hiding places where I could store the petrol which would start the fire, which would be my ultimate public service. Luckily enough there were four dark corners. No one would ever see them in here, not that there was any security that patrolled here any more. Now I had found the hiding places, one question remained – where would I find petrol?
The key to this would be Stuart. Thank god for smart-phones, he hadn't seen me at Film Club for ages, so he would be dying to come over and talk about how the Film Club is going to pot without me. I would introduce the idea of Demsey's and see what happened. In order for him to understand the gravity of the situation, I texted him from here, saying 'come to meet me, it has been a long time, let's have a talk.' As I finished writing the message and pressed the 'send' button, my heart suddenly sank; what if he wasn't by his phone, what if somebody else picks up his phone, what if... I had no need to worry? however, because a text came back almost immediately, and in what seemed like a blink of an eye, Stuart was there, so happy to see me. We made some small talk about films, mainly Richard Gere ones, that had been shown in my absence. Stuart said there were some repeats on the list, I laughed. Stuart finally asked “How is the project coming along, Paul?”
“Yes, really well,” I said, “I only have one more thing to do. It will be a first for this, I think.”
“Oh really, what are you doing? And more to the point, why are we meeting out here?”
I replied with, “I wanted to show you.”
“Show me? Why me? I thought Louise was your -”
“Louise was busy tonight.” I snapped back. “Now listen Stuart, remember your suggestion about burning down Demsey's?” He smiled, chuckling slightly, “It was a joke, not a suggestion.”
“Whatever. We are going to burn it down.”
Stuart physically took a step back, “We?” he exclaims.
“Well, by we, I mean 'me'. But you're going to provide some materials.”
“Yes, the petrol.”
“Petrol? Paul, you're scaring me.”
“Look, buddy,” I suddenly smiled sweetly, “You won't need to be involved, just bring some petrol over here, leave the rest to me.”
“No, I won't do it. It's crazy.”
“No what's crazy is what I can do, if you say you won't do it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can tell the police that you're a drug dealer and it was your drugs that got those kids killed a year ago.” Even though it was dark, I could see Stuart turn visibly pale.
“You wouldn't. How did you...?”
“Come off it Stuart, you're always reeking of pot, and I know you do harder drugs. I turn the other cheek because you're my friend. I pretend not to notice, but I know you do. But, if you buy this petrol for me, I won't tell anyone. Think about it Stu, there is no need to answer me now. God you're shaking man, let's have a drink.”
By the time I left the pub and crept in, it was late. I left Stuart with a lot to think about, and quite the worse for wear. The next morning, I got a frantic call from Stu, in which he said he always thought that burning down the warehouse was a good idea, and, if I didn't tell the police about his drug habits, he would get what I wanted. I left the house after some breakfast and headed over to Stuart's. Somehow he had already got the petrol. He loaded the car up and we headed to the warehouse together. Once the cans were in place, we left the warehouse. I intended to go back later that evening.
I took one final look around the house and left, shutting the door behind me and wondering whether I would ever return. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked. As I was wheeling towards the warehouse, the building appeared to me like a gigantic monster, looming out of the darkness. It was windy and the sign flapped against the wooden front of the warehouse, making a hollow knocking sound. I went round to my chosen entrance. When we had been storing the petrol earlier, I noticed that there was some wooden panelling on the front of the warehouse which was now rotten. All I needed to do was give it a light tap with my foot and it gave way. This is it! No going back now! Stuart would be so proud! After all, I am doing a public service. I felt like a weight had been lifted as I bashed my way through the rotten timber and into the dark interior of Demsey's warehouse. I paused for a few minutes, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Stuart was right, shag pile is so hideous, it must be eradicated. It is time. I wheeled myself to the nearest red petrol can and give it a push, then went onto the next one, and the next one, repeating the process until I got to the final can. This one didn't want to go over, but after some extra encouragement it finally fell, splashing its contents on the rugs. The splash back seems inordinately loud in the silence of the warehouse, but hey, there was no one around to hear it. This would be such a great public service, and a fitting end to the project. Was I still working on that? I could not remember any more. I had missed so many meetings, I could not even remember the interior of Terry's office. Once the can was finished, I flipped the lighter and let it fall onto the floor. It got very hot very quickly, but it was okay. All I needed to do was wait. The police would be here soon. As the fires sprang up I began to panic, and the harsh reality set in.
Oh my god, what am I doing? I need to get away from these flames, somewhere safe. I wheel myself to the corner of the warehouse, and there I wait for the police.
All of a sudden there are police in the room and arms dragging me backwards. I hear voices through the smoke and one of the policemen says, “There's a kid in here, we need to get him out before the fire takes hold.” I am being hauled out of the building now. Behind me I can hear fire crews shouting, “Get that fire under control! We need more water over here!”
I am out, I am out, I am safe. I am being wrapped in a blanket by someone I assume to be a paramedic, because the next minute they are putting an oxygen mask on me. I have now begun to cough and splutter, but these are not faked for the benefit of the emergency services. Someone else is asking me whether I am alright and whether I saw who did this. I decide the best thing to do is to just stay quiet. They repeat the questions for a few more minutes, but it is really odd; as they fire questions at me, the voices are drifting out of focus and then the world goes blank.
When I eventually regain consciousness, the people around me have gone. I see them in the distance, going through the ruins of the smoking warehouse. They have lost interest in me. Now they are talking to the random bystanders, asking them whether they saw what happened. One draws my attention in particular, is that?...Oh god, it is. I have messed up this time. The woman they are talking to is slim, blonde haired, and is wearing her glasses again. It's Louise. No she cannot be here, why is she here? What is happening? It is all falling apart. Did she talk to Stuart? She is bound to say something about Stuart, about the pub, and about the joke. And then they will question Stuart, and link it all back to me. I try to strain my ears to hear what she is saying, but I cannot. It is too far off. All I can hear is general people talking, and CB radios. They are turning to look at me now. Oh god, this could be it. All my well laid plans, they are bound to find something. She is bound to say something about my change in behaviour. She points at me and says something. The policeman is coming over now, oh god. He crouches down to my eye level, supporting himself on my armrest.
“Sonny,” He says, “the lady over there,” he points to Louise, “says she knows you.” He chuckles. “And then she's saying that you had something to do with this! I can't believe it, you were in there, we found you. Would an arsonist really wait to be found?” He smiles.
Why is he laughing? Why couldn't I have done this? I cannot believe they can be so stupid. “So, do you know the woman, sonny?” He lifts off my oxygen mask to hear what I have got to say. I feel like Martin Luther King, about to deliver his great speech. If I admit I know her, then all the pieces might fall into place; they might believe her, arrest me. I am panicking inside, but I do not show it. In fact I do not speak at all. I just silently shake my head. The policeman then asks, “Who brought you here? You can tell us, you're safe now.” My panic is starting to show through now, as the policeman once again repeats that I am safe. The paramedics come up behind me now and talk to the policeman, “He's in shock, we need to get him to hospital. Your questions can wait.” The policeman lets me go but, as I am being lifted onto the stretcher, I see another policeman come up to him, “He must have done it, there's no one else here.”
“How could he have done it? He's in a wheelchair for heaven's sake. Most likely some kids got a hold of him and decided it would be fun to stick him in here. Search the parks nearby, and I guarantee you'll find a group of teenagers stinking of petrol.”
“No, that lady over there is right, just because he's in a wheelchair, doesn't mean he can't do anything.”
As the doors to the ambulance close, they both turn to face me with a look of dawning realisation.