The young man woke up in a sweat. Pictures and sounds of the previous day swilled around in his brain, like a traumatic hangover.
Shouting, chanting, cheering, panting, gunfire, explosions, running, confusion.
The faint smell of smoke wafted into his small, bottom level apartment - a humid collection of rooms the young man shared with his equally young wife and small child - a boy of just two-years.
Was the smoke smell from outside? Or was it the residue of yesterday, lingering in his dried-out nostrils? The smell of smoke was tainted with the sweet, dangerous scent of burning gasoline.
Gun powder and flairs too.
He forced himself to stop thinking about it; yesterday’s battle was yesterday’s battle. Today’s battle is one for everyday life.
First the market, then university, then work, then eventually, rest, he thought to himself.
His wife had already laid his clothes out. One clean, pressed white shirt; one clean, pressed pair of black pants. Black shoes, black socks, white underwear.
Today, he would take his bags with him. One with textbooks, the other to be filled. He simply could not come home empty-handed once more.
The market was business as usual, as was most of the city. There was as yet no hint of what was happening nearby… just buying and selling.
The young man bought some fruit for his day from one of the more colourful stores. The almost-toothless woman handed him his change with a gummy smile.
He refused the small coins in return for a rice snack, which he held high to ensure she understood why his change… an unusual act for any market.
He returned her smile and moved on. Next, he met an old friend, another vendor, whom he simply paid, but not without some friendly pleasantries.
The vendor would deliver the vegetables, the rice, and the small amount of meat that the young man could afford for his small family, to his wife in their small home.
An arrangement borne out of necessity and executed out of respect.
As the young man placed his hand on the shoulder of his vendor friend, he heard a noise in the distance. A quiet roar rumbling through the concrete jungle.
An echo of a beast roaming the streets. While most others would be pushed away by the invisible force of fear and danger, he realised he was drawn towards it.
His heart pumped with the anticipation of a soldier marching toward an imminent battle. But a soldier he was not, if only by heart.
Today would no longer be about life, he decided unconsciously: It would be about the future. He left the markets… left, right, left, right. The shouting was angrier, more violent than yesterday.
He cleared his throat in anticipation as he meandered the tight alleys and crowded streets. The beast’s roar grew louder, along with the shouting buzz of the flies which surrounded it.
The crowd was thick and loud. The mass of people began immediately as they stood from building to curb, shouting, protesting.
The young man saw something he knew was coming but didn’t want to see. The snarling beast, in the distance. Then he saw more of them, all in a line, as far as the eye could see.
They beckoned him. They called him.
He slid through the protest, without any protest. No one would ever stop a man from joining the front line.
The strong would welcome him at the front, and the cowards would slink back, relieved their place on the firing line was taken by a more willing participant.
The front line, however, was not his destination. He took a step beyond the human barrier that was the crowd. The combined roar of the people willed him further forward.
He ignored the buzzing commands of the flies. He stepped onto the almost empty square where the beasts lined up one by one.
If he could stop one, he would stop them all.
Ten paces, he took... then a hundred, across wide tree lined roads. He was completely alone. Once again, the crowd willed him even further.
The textbooks and fruit in the young man’s bag seemed to anchor him to the ground like lead weights, though he had completely forgotten he still held them tightly in his hands.
In front of the snarling beast, he stood. It sputtered and smoked. Its snout pointed forward, aimed at the young man, ready to spew fire.
The wolf-jaw fluids it drooled pooled oily rainbow slicks on the tarmac.
The beast turned left to pass.
The young man stepped right in a blatant and brave act of obstruction. The beast turned right, and the young man stepped left, mirroring movements with grace.
The beast stopped and roared in anger... or frustration perhaps… but the young man stood tall and stared down the beast. While the flies buzzed loudly, the beast grew silent.
And for just a moment in history, all the beasts were stopped.
The young man won.
His silence was louder than any gunfire.
Heard, and never forgotten.