She checked her phone. No missed calls; no new messages.
She watched the news until she couldn’t anymore. All those faces. All that pain. Strangers who seemed all too familiar but who still couldn’t answer the question she really cared about.
She checked her phone. Nothing.
It got dark early. Severe, dense clouds looked down from the sky, ready to burst like the multitudes marching through the city streets. Watching the sky was as bad as watching the news. The dread, she realized, was inside her so it manifested in whatever she looked at: folded newspapers, cracked paint, sun-faded family photos.
She checked her phone. No calls. No messages.
Fear. Rage. Futility.
She hurled the phone across the room, and before it had even struck the wall, she let out one sharp, agonized sob.
No one was coming to check on her; no one would help pick her up. Finally, she rose, retrieved her phone, screen now cracked, and turned the news back on.
Smoke. Scattered figures running. A flash from something off screen. Shouts and screams. A stammering newscaster. It was starting to rain.
Her phone rang. Emblazoned in the cracked glass, her son’s name.
* * *
“Here they come.”
The plaza had been slowly filling for hours, but now a tidal wave of protesters poured in from main street. He reached under the visor of his riot helmet to wipe the sweat gathered on his forehead.
“Hold this line,” the captain behind him growled. There were already reports in of property destruction from some of the fringes of the demonstration and the direct command was to put an end to the hostile presence as soon as possible.
So many faces. So much anger.
Fingers on triggers. Clouds of gas billowed. People shrieked, ran, fell.
He never saw the brick coming.
His world spun. The surrounding noise rose and fell like crashing waves. Rough stone rushed toward him from above and he lifted his arms to defend himself, gradually realizing he’d fallen to the ground. He lifted his eyes toward heaven. All was dark and blurry, but his vision was no longer swimming. Raindrops spattered the visor of his helmet.
A single thought: he wanted to feel the rain. His helmet fell to the ground and he looked up into a concerned face. The black man extended a hand, offering support. He took it.
* * *
“We should go,” he said, speaking so low behind his facemask that she could barely hear him above the surrounding crowds.
He leaned closer. “We should go.”
Monica’s face twisted in shock and confusion. “What are you talking about? We’re only halfway to the statehouse”
He jerked his head in the direction of two brash, strutting men nearby, both carrying a brick in either hand. “I don’t want to be around if this is going to get ugly.”
Hey, brickheads,” she shouted, drawing eyes all around them, including those of the nearby men. “Yeah you,” she continued. “You best drop those before any cops see you. We don’t need nobody starting shit today.”
But the men just laughed. “Shit’s gonna go down anyway once the cops start shooting. Might as well be ready for it.”
“They’re gonna ruin everything,” he said. “We should go.”
She faced him with a dark scowl. “I’m done with living in fear and letting people with hate in they hearts run my life. We gotta hope, or else they win.”
The crowd surged on, billowing and charged like the dark clouds above, and he moved forward as part of it.
* * *
“I’m trying to get out of here, but I don’t know how.”
It was chaos. He’d seen people with upraised hands being pepper sprayed, cars burning, rubber bullets striking fleeing protesters.
“I’m trying, mom,” he said. “I’m trying to come home. I love you.”
Hanging up, he peeked out from between the cars that sheltered him. Groups were fleeing down First Street unimpeded. Walls of police blockaded every other road out of the plaza. He started running.
Shouts. Smashing glass. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a lone police officer crumple after being struck by a brick.
No more fear, he thought. No more hate.
He turned and ran to the injured man’s side. Confused, grateful eyes looked up at him. The man took his hand and rose. “Thank you,” the officer rasped.
Then he was plummeting. The ground slammed into his back, and two helmeted officers stood over him menacingly. He opened his mouth to speak, but then his eyes were burning. With a scream, he turned away from the pepper spray and tried to crawl, but clubs striking his back sent him back to the ground.
Deep, deep pain.
* * *
A mother waits. Her son has not come home, and there have been no more calls.
A mayor reads the tweets of protesters while the evening news plays in the background. There’s a press conference tomorrow, but how can he possibly justify what’s happening? And what will they say if he backs down now?
An officer sits in his squad car outside the station. He should go home and recover from the day’s trauma. He should not go to sleep due to his minor concussion. He should say something. He should not rock the boat. He should protect his fellow officers. He should protect the innocent. He should have ignored his orders. He should do something. But what?
A young woman clutches the hands of strangers and tries not to cry. In a darkened room, they wait for the National Guard to move through the neighborhood. The elderly man who opened his home to protesters shuffles among them, handing out water bottles, tissues, encouragement.
The most powerful man in the world rages against what he cannot control.
A young man with cracked ribs and red eyes leans his head against the wall of his jail cell and tries to hope.
* * *
Hope: an Epilogue
He was quiet, and she was worried. “You don’t have to come today.”
“And waste this sign?” he said, shocked. “Are you kidding?”
She studied him, trying to figure out if he was really as confident as he acted. She could see dry scabs on his hands and his chin and knew that there were deep bruises all over his back. He was still moving a bit slowly, a bit stiffly, and he would wince whenever he took a deep breath. The protest was marching to the statehouse again today. The same place the police had given him those injuries.
“I’m just saying, no one would blame you if you were scared about—”
A gentle smile made her pause. Such a warm, unexpected expression. He stepped close, taking her hands in his. “I’m doing what you said. No more fear. No more hate. If I have hope, they can’t hurt me in any way that matters.”
Together, they walked into bright sunlight, stepping almost immediately into a stream of protesters. There was anger on faces, but also resolve, love, and even joy. He lifted a sign above his head. In large black letters, he’d written, Today is a New Day.