It's time for Willis to be on lunch, and like I promised, I'm at the hospital.
Well, the circumstances are a little different than I had imagined. Instead of scarfing down a lunch in the commons, Willis is in surgery, still. Or is it again? I have no idea. Police officers surround the hospital and mingle about throughout it's many wards. Blue dots saunter around looking as menacing as they can. They seem to be gathered in one spot in particular, and that's where Willis and the other victim are.
"They say they'll be pressing charges," I hear one of Benny's protest buddies say to him.
After Willis was shot, the police descended onto the street and began mass arrests of everyone present. This little show of force delayed the ambulances. Journalists live streaming the event counted the minutes out loud as the police forced the unconscious nameless man into those plastic cuffs. Having slipped into shock, the man appeared as good as dead. Mics from the journalists picked up the quiet, fading groans of immense pain from Willis, until he grew too weak to utter any noise.
As for me, I don't actually remember any of this. I went into my own state of shock. Benny and his pals worked to clear out the street in a fashion to save as many protestors from arrest as they could. Me, being seen as a victim, was given a proper escort away from the commotion. Once it was safe to do so, Benny and a few of his friends took me to the hospital. As the minutes turned to hours, I slowly became aware of myself once again.
"What do you mean they're pressing charges? Against who?" Benny asks, upset.
"Her boyfriend. Resisting arrest and interfering with the duties of a peace officer."
"A peace officer my ass!" Benny shouts, properly expressing my exact thoughts.
Justifying the officer's actions isn't difficult if you want to try. I'm aware of that. He was a lone cop against dozens – maybe hundreds – of agitated people in a city that has become world famous for its violent clashes between citizens and police the past year. The approaching protestor was threatening to him, so he felt the need to defend himself. Then Willis approached without a thought, and no doubt the officer felt like Willis was going to physically intervene.
But, what the fuck? No one was armed. Willis didn't approach in a threatening manner. He's a nurse, for fuck's sake! It was obvious he wanted to help the injured man. The cop didn't even give him a chance to explain or identify himself!
"Is the site safe?" Benny asks one of his friends.
The man nods. "Yeah. Police left about two hours ago. They're already moving in gear and Ella is down there coordinating things."
"We should get going then. Hey," Benny slaps me on the shoulder to get my attention. I must've been zoning out, but he gives me a few seconds to readjust before he speaks again. "We're doing a sit-in on the street where your boy got shot. Would be pretty cool if you stopped by at some point, but I totally get it if you can't."
I'm shake my head. Not as a way of saying no, but to rid the last remaining cobwebs that are inside my empty brain. "What? What's a sit-in? Is that like a type of riot?" my ignorant ass asks.
Benny laughs. "Nah, it's safe. Until the cops show up. Come with us."
Apparently still in some sort of daze, I agree. The sun as long set. Darkness paints the heavens; the city lights block out all stars, and scrape at the edges of the heavenly abyss. Summer nights like this can feel unbearably hot, as the breeze is blocked by the never-ending sea of steel and concrete buildings. Stillness in the air creates a suffocating dead zone in an otherwise seemingly living organism. Tension from the shooting hangs over the city. It feels as though it's on the brink or either reform or revolution.
Taking the metro, we stop a few blocks from that little streets crowded with vendors and niche shops. I can hear the rumbling of a massive crowd, the hundreds or more murmurs all reverberating together into a white noise. A platoon of young men and women dressed in black buzz about, setting up some sort of street barricade made from bike rack, traffic cones, and even garbage bins.
As we get closer, I find they are outfitted with helmets – some hardhats, some bicycle or motorcycle helmets – and padding on their knees, elbows, and shins. Gasmasks and respirators are secured on their face or around their neck, ready to be used at any given moment. Shatterproof googles protect their eyes. Some wear gloves.
Greetings are offered to Benny and his crew as we stroll up. I realize he must be a regular at these gatherings. Unfortunately, I'm recognized, too. Various shouts of encouragement and solidarity are sent my way. They even applaud and holler like I'm someone important. One man in particular is incredibly bold. He swoops in and looks as though he's about to hug me when his arms redirect at the last second. Strong pats on my shoulders feel oddly familiar.
I see the sad hound dog face behind the googles and realize who it is. "Jocko!" I cry out. This is my first friend I've seen since what happened to Willis. So moved am I that I decide to hug him, whether he wants it to not. Hesitantly he returns the gesture. It's the first proper hug we've shared in our friendship. He's good at it. Instantly I feel a sense of relief and calm.
"Oh, you know Jocko?" Benny asks.
"He's my roommate! But why are you here?" I ask Jocko, who refuses to answer. Releasing me, he gets back to work, assisting in the assembly of the barricade.
I get a little push from behind and I'm moving onward. Half of a block up is where the back of the growing crowd is. They're all facing toward the middle of the street, where the newspaper booth is. I hope Eddie and Kimchi are okay. What if something happens to them?
"Henry! Henry!" Benny calls out to someone.
A man, appearing to be about ten or fifteen years my senior, in a nice button up shirt tucked into perfectly ironed slacks, turns to see who said his name. A pair of googles resting on his forehead pushes his short dark brown hair upward. Wrinkles under his eyes and sharp laugh lines mark his otherwise handsome face and betray his age. Something about him looks overworked and underpaid.
"Oh, Benny, you're here," Henry says with an easygoing smile. Then his eyes find me, and his expression slowly morphs into one of pity and care. I'm getting so sick of seeing that face! I'm not a victim!
Benny puts his hand on my shoulder and says, "This is the girl from that video and her boy was one of the guys shot today. Julie."
"Yes, of course," he says with a nod, as though he's known me his entire life. Extending his hand, he says, "My name is Henry. How are you? How is your boyfriend?"
Upon accepting his hand, his other hand immediately engulfs mine, trapping it. I can sense a type of fatherly love, like I am someone immensely precious to him despite having never met. There's nothing creepy or unnerving about it. It feels genuine and I embrace the sensation.
"We'll be okay," I say with a forced smile.
His own smile grows in quiet understanding. Positivity is what keeps people going. Hope allows us to move forward, no matter what awaits.
"I feel like I've seen you somewhere…?" I ask hesitantly. I assume he is one of our regulars at the newspaper stand.
Henry chuckles. "You probably have. I was on the ballot the last election. Can I thank you for my victory or did you vote for my opponent?"
Sheepishly I admit, "I didn't vote."
Another laugh from him. It doesn't feel condescending. It's friendly. "That's fine. I can't be mad at young people who don't vote. Politics is a parasite. You already have so much you have to face everyday just to survive in this dying city."
Stopping Henry, Benny puts a hand on the older man's shoulder and says, "Henry has been a councilmember for a bit, but he's a damned good lawyer." Henry takes the praise with a straight face. Benny says to him, "You think you could help her out? With either the sexual harassment or with her boy?"
Henry nods enthusiastically, "Of course. I was planning on reaching out. This is perfect. Here…" he digs into his pocket, pulls out his phone, unlocks it, and hands it to me. "Enter your info."
I hesitant to take the phone, and with my hands up says, "Sorry, there's no way I could afford it. Besides – "
"Julie," Henry interrupts me. He puts his hand on my shoulder – is this some sort of shoulder fetishizing cult? Why is everyone touching everyone's shoulder when they talk? – and looks me straight in the eye. Twinkling within his dark brown eyes is the spirit of an adventurer, a troublemaker, an activist who took a more concrete path in politics. I feel as though I understand him, but he says with a half-grin, "You already pay me. My salary is all taxpayer funded. I get paid so much money my wife stays at home and my kids get to see new movies every week. The least I can do is take care of you and your boyfriend. Pro bono."
The cellphone is wagged in front of my face and I have no choice but to take it. Carefully so as not to accidentally drop his phone, I input my contact information and hand it back to him. He accepts it with a wink and shoves the device back into his pocket. Before anymore can be said between us, someone else calls for him and he's off to the next task.
Turning to Benny I comment, "I thought you guys were fighting against the government? Why have a government official here?"
"Oh, no, it's not like that. The streets are only a part of the struggle. We need guys on our side in government, too. That's its own battlefront and we need people that understand it in the middle of it," he explains. I give him a confused face and he sighs. "You really don't know anything about the movement, do you?"
I shake my head. "No idea. Never cared about politics."
"Do you care now?" he asks, his tone strangely hopeful.
Thinking back on the past few days, I realize I can never go back to being uninvolved. Even if I try, there are undoubtedly court dates in my future over recent events. My boyfriend was shot in front of a dozen journalists, his near-death broadcasted on the internet for all to see. Wen-sheng was hauled out of our apartment in an arrest where plain clothes officers produced no warrant. And my face is seen as that of the victim, a poor, defenseless girl who was sexually harassed by police abusing their power. But I'm not a victim. I refuse to be.
"I feel like I don't have a choice."