Unrest
Midday Stop

I'm not paying attention to where I'm headed as I bustle across the street, hands full with bags of takeout food from a local eatery. Chaotic noises of city life are easily blocked out once you get used to it, and even the noises of protests become as normal as the hum of automobiles. There's no thick cloud of white, no blue liquid from water cannons staining the pavement, and traffic is at its usual tick, so I assume there's no political gathering today.

"Stop!"

I hear a masculine voice berate my ear but assume it isn't for me – it can't be, I'm just an innocent person jogging in a crosswalk. Then I feel myself run into something. It strikes be across the chest, somehow managing to land on my breast.

"What the fuck?!"

I'm about to hit who groped me – accidental or not! – when I realize the hand is covered in a black glove, said black glove is tucked tidily under the end of a sleeve, said sleeve is part of a uniform – a cop. I'm frozen for only about half of a second before I'm opening my mouth, ready to unleash a fury. My blood is boiling.

But! I don't want to make a situation worse, so, I hold up the takeout bags in my hand and say, "I'm just heading home from work."

They don't listen. I say "they" because before I realize it, I'm being shoved by multiple sets of gloved hands through the crosswalk. I feel their fingertips digging into my shoulders, my neck, the small of back – everywhere. I nearly trip on the small curb when they force me onto the sidewalk. No time for any emotions or thoughts; everything happens too fast to process. I'm overcome with frustration and confusion.

Look, I'm too damn tired to be dealing with this. It's about 14:00 right now; I get up at 2:30 for work. I'm starving. I should be on my way home, not dealing with this bullshit. I didn't even do anything. I was legally walking in a crosswalk!

The rage I had been trying to tame is growing. My teeth are clenched. My breath comes out in short bursts through my nose, like a bull ready to charge. If another hand touches me, I swear to God –

I'm shoved into someone. My face connects with their upper arm and I feel my cheek squish. Looking up, I find myself staring up at a stranger. A young man, a few years younger than me with a smooth face and a plain black ballcap pulled down. There's annoyance displayed in the way he glares and how his lip twitches. But that's soon replaced with something else – his eyes widen for a split second and unexpectedly he's spewing out words a million miles a minute and absurdly loud.

"O-oh! Hey! I thought I'd lost you! I told you to stick close! Are you okay?!"

Anxiety has already taken hold and this weirdo is making it a hundred times worse. I stand there, my mouth opening and closing as I try to find words. He gives a signal – well, I think that's what he's doing when he widens both of his eyes and lurches forward barely a centimeter, like he's threatening me. It's like flipping a switch and my brain starts back up again.

"Uh, I told you to wait up!" I say, unevenly. It sounds fake. I try to mask that by turning to one of the officers near us and saying, "He's such a jerk sometimes. I can't believe we've been together for two years."

I giggle awkwardly; the stranger in the ballcap gives an uncomfortable chuckle. The officer stares at us, expressionless. Wait, this is a cop, isn't it? I've never seen one in what looks like army fatigues, complete with a helmet and shatterproof glasses. There's even a gasmask attached to his vest, which is decked out with even more accessories that are new to me. He looks like he should be heading to battle.

"The fuck is going?!" I whisper to the stranger. My eyes dance past him. I see dozens of citizens lined up on the sidewalk, scores of police officers standing guard around them. It looks like they're checking IDs, doing pat downs, and searching bags. They're so far away and taking so much time, we're probably thirty or forty-five minutes away from being checked, much less let go. I don't have time for this shit!

"First time?" the stranger whispers back, a smug smile on his face. I want to tell him to fuck off. I don't get the chance. He leans in, his eyes staying trained on the cops in front of his, making sure they're not suspecting anything, and he adds, "My name is David. Yours is Maggie. We've been together two years and we need to get home to our baby."

I pull back, a crunched up look of disgust on my face. We have a baby? Getting a little ahead of ourselves, David.

David – or whatever his real name is – steps forward. He gets exactly half a pace in before a cop is rather aggressively pushing him back. His hands are up; he looks completely defenseless, but still several other cops swarm in. They're screaming at him – "Get back! Hands up! Don't move!" all that kind of bullshit – as they body slam him against the concrete building behind us.

I don't know what the hell I'm doing, but the next thing I know I have one hand in between an officer and David; my hand is trying to pry a cop's hand away that's grabbing David's neck; one leg is pushing into the mess and my foot is set between David's feet.

And then my head hits the ground. I don't know when it happened or how, but they've thrown me onto the sidewalk! I can feel someone's knee digging into my back; my shoulder is pulled back, I feel it threatening to tear as they twist my wrist around and around, trying to get it into whatever position they want it in. Bombarded with seemingly a hundred points of pain, my body kicks into flight or fight mode.

For me, it's fight.

"What the fu-mpgh!"

My curse is silenced when they twist my neck and shove my face into the concrete. So much is going on – too much, I can't even concentrate. I know my body is tensing, but damn! Do they have to be this violent?

"Julie? Hey, get off! Get off!"

I recognize the voice. The aggressive barbarians relent. I'm pulled to my feet, my hands still forced behind my back. Hair has gotten in my face; I try to blow it back with directed bursts of air but all that flies out are droplets of blood. Apparently, I bit my tongue. I try to toss the hair away from my eyes by whipping my head. Neither works.

In front of us is an officer in a neatly pressed uniform, his fancy little beret on perfectly square, his black shoes shining despite the grimy streets he treads. All cops look the same to me. The minute they put on that hat and that blue, they become blurs. Individual features like eye shape and nose size never get registered. This man passes by me everyday while I work, but I've never bothered to learn his name. I don't even know his face, despite it being right in front of me. It's only his voice that I remember.

"Why is she here?" he asks one of the cops playing soldier dress up. There's a back and forth between the two. The man in the beret waves off all explanations. "No, no, that isn't possible. She would've just gotten off work. Don't be stupid. You just make our job harder." And then he notices the man next to me and asks, "Who is this? The boyfriend you talk about?"

I talk about my boyfriend with you, whoever-you-are? "Yeeeah," I say, drawing out the word as I contemplate whether I really want to lie about this. Am I sweating?

"Oh," the cops says, as he sizes up the man next to me. A friendly but forced smile settles on his lips. He goes about picking up the bags of food I dropped and even peeps inside to see if there was anything ruined. Suddenly his smile falls. He motions with his head and glares at the riot officers holding me.

They let go, and the first thing I do is inspect my wrist for damage. Redness and light swelling from the relentless twisting is present. It aches, but its dull and manageable. I can only imagine what my face looks like.

The bags of takeout are handed back to me and the officer's smile returns. I take them, trying to ignore the fact that they're covered in that dirty city dust. He says, "We'll just have to take down your information and then we'll let you go."

Stranger in the ballcap makes small twitches and starts to speak but chokes. I can tell he's trying to find words but no doubt this newfound ally is making things a little complicated. It's up to me. I make my plea, "Can't you just let us go? Stop by the booth tomorrow and take my information then?"

Putting his hands on his hip, the cop sighs and gives me a dejected look. "I can't let you go until I at least check his bag," he says. It sounds sympathetic, but there's something smug about it, too. What right does he have to hold us up like this?

I glance at the man next to me. Fidgeting, with his eyes dancing around, no doubt looking for an escape route, he's gripping the backpack strap so tight his knuckles are white. Really, there's no reason for me to help him, but we're in too deep now. Whatever the hell he's going down for, I'll be going down for, too. Might as well get us both out of this shit. Otherwise, none of us are getting out.

"It's bloody panties and pants. I had a – you know – little feminine accident," I lie. What the hell am I saying? "My boyfriend was nice enough to bring me a change of clothes and some hygiene products."

Red faced male officers turn away. The cop in the beret doesn't seem perturbed by the statement. No, his eyes look down at my pants quizzically. "Those are the same pants you were wearing earlier this morning, though."

Shit. "Well, it was before then," I say. Does this guy have some sort of photographic memory?

"He's been carrying around your bloody clothes all day?" the cop questions. "Wow, you're a real gentleman, aren't you?" It sounds sarcastic. Again, he motions with his head; David is freed, the heavily clad men letting go of him after finally getting the okay. "Go. Before I change my mind or my superior shows up."

David puts his arm around my shoulder and protectively escorts me out, as though he really were my longtime boyfriend. Expertly he navigates me through the tight group of riot cops and the seemingly endless amount of journalists that follow them everywhere. The entire time he keeps his head low, his face covered with his cap.

"Didn't know you were a pig fucker," he mutters to me. It's hostile, and suddenly I don't feel so great being touched by him. His arm is heavy on my shoulder, so I shrug it off. He takes no offense, and regrips the straps of his backpack with both hands.

"What the hell does that mean?" I question. For the first time I realize my voice is shaking. The adrenaline from the experience is wrecking my body. My knees feel like jelly. Well, except for the fact that my kneecaps are probably bruised from being bashed into the concrete sidewalk. It's a sharp ache that I feel with every step. Slowly, every single bump, bruise, and scrap starts to register in my brain. Gonna be sore tomorrow.

"No pig lets free meat walk away."

"What are you saying?" I question again.

It appears he doesn't care to explain. He's quiet. We go back to being strangers. Since we're heading the same direction, we're still on the same stretch of sidewalk, but he's a few steps in front, his longer legs propelling him ahead.

Curiosity has me wondering what could be in his beat up, scuffed up, tattered cheap black backpack that nearly turned him into a street casualty. There's no pins or buttons on the outside. Nothing shows any political or gang affiliation. Instead of being dressed in protestor black, he's wearing washed jeans and a light blue t-shirt.

Before I can dare peek inside, he turns. Sneakers step off the curb and touch asphalt; he zigzags through the stop-and-go traffic until he's on the other side, where he blends in with the wave of people. Gone, just like that. In the vast city, full of millions, I doubt I will ever see him again.