Have you ever watched a news broadcast where there’s a whole gang of cops in riot gear advancing on a rabble of hippies throwing rocks?
And have you ever seen – just out of focus to the absolute left of camera – a few passers by in suits or maybe just jeans and t-shirts? And the passers-by looks absolutely stunned to have had their lunch break interrupted by a riot?
And by the shock on their faces you can just tell that they’re thinking, WTF?
Like, they were just minding their own business, sushi-style. They didn’t want a fricking war in between the avocado roll and the pickled ginger.
I didn’t, anyway.
It was Friday. I’d got my lunch – the usual, down at my favourite Japanese take-out. I grabbed my Coke. Life was good, the sun was out. It was spring. Warm. Good. I walked up Stuart street, taking it easy, mellow, nothing really on my mind, moving towards the lower Octagon, figuring I might sit and chow down, and relax for a half hour until I had to get back to work.
I must have a had a lot on my mind, because I didn’t really notice that the whole Octagon was a whole lot busier than usual. When you’re all bound up in your thoughts, sometimes that happens – the world could turn purple, and you wouldn’t notice. Or I wouldn’t.But today people were shoulder to shoulder. And I didn’t pick up on it until I was right in the thick of it, and by then it was too late.
Next thing I knew, I had hippies to the left of me, hurling bits of brick and rock. I thought those guys were pacifists? Obviously not.
There were some suited up guys too, and a girl with a megaphone, bawling out the usual protest crap.
To the right of me there were a whole lot of cops, in that riot gear you usually only see on the evening news, with plastic shields and nightsticks and all, and they were coming towards me mighty fast with mighty ugly expressions on their faces.
And I realised, with a hollow crunch in my stomach, that I was right in the middle of it all, without even having noticed how the middle had even happened, or even seeing an edge, or a beginning to the crowd. And my sushi was right in the middle of it all, and my Coke. And unless I hightailed it out of there real fast those ugly expressions were going to get way too close to my personal space – way closer than I wanted.
“Hey Mike! Mike!” I heard a voice calling through the crowd. It was my flatmate Daniel, at the top of the lower Octagon stairs. I could see him towering above the crowd, and waving his hands wildly. “You bloody idiot! Get up here, quick!”
I pushed through the crowd up towards the steps, shoving against shoulders and moving as fast as I could shuffle, away from that line of advancing riot cops, through a throng of angry looking hippies. There was a heady mixed smell of armpit sweat and unwashed hair and incense, together with a bit of weed and tobacco. Hippies are the same, every country you go, I thought to myself, as I pushed my way through the crowd.
I’d just about got to the steps, and out of the thickest part of the mess, when – crap! – I was pushed forward suddenly, and lost my footing on the bottom step. And those steps were coming up real fast to meet me. Next thing I knew, my face hit someone’s knee, then mashed the concrete, full of blood.
If I’d ever wondered how people get tramped in crowd situations, I didn’t wonder now.
The whole mass of people around me was moving back and forth, and pushing and pulling like they were all attached to one another by a big long string.
And I suddenly had the feeling like I was being dumped by the biggest wave you’ve ever surfed, and the tide pulls you down, and all that blue and mass and weight is above you, and you try to grab at something – anything – to pull yourself up to the air and the light that you know is above you, but all there is that you can find is grit, and pressure, and panic, and a lack of air that presses down on you like lead.
I couldn’t get to my feet. The air seemed thick and gluey, like someone had pumped jello into it and condensed every particle of water vapour into a thick slimy mess that held me down. And one guy stood on my leg with his full weight, and I actually heard it crack, and I felt nothing. Then something in my brain told my it was my leg. And then the pain hit, all right. Then my brain did the smart thing, and knocked itself out.
I’ve got no idea who got to eat my sushi, but it wasn’t me. Some bugger got free vegetarian sushi. Avocado and egg rolls, with extra wasabi. I bet whoever it was got my Coke too.
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