“I was day dreaming, I wasn’t asleep.” Irais insisted.
Antonio laughed, short bursts like hiccups. “Sí, pues. Eyes closed. Snoring—”
“I don’t snore!”
“I know bet—”
A flash of light and triple explosions. Irais turned so quickly she lost her footing and grabbed Antonio’s jacket to keep from falling off the low wall. He pulled her upright with one hand and grabbed his pack with the other. Along the boulevard, closer to the Zócalo where most of the demonstrators had congregated, shouts—warnings—became screams. “They’re attacking! –tacking!-tacking!” reverberated against the Centro Historico’s seventeenth century walls.
Before they could reach the intersection flashing reds and blues striped their faces from police pickups’ revolving lights. The surge of fleeing demonstrators—students, teachers, ambulantes, amas de casa—reversed directions as armored police and soldiers clanked out of the vehicles. Again explosions, then the gagging smell of tear gas. Irais turned just as half-a-dozen men clutching handkerchiefs over their faces crashed against her. She stumbled, caught her balance, fell again. “Toni!” she called but her shout was lost amid hundreds of others. Knees bruised, purse missing, she clutched a signpost for support. Through the smoke, the tear gas fumes, she could discern the lumbering forms of the Robocop-armored police grabbing persons who’d fallen, who were trying to hide in doorways. “Toni!” she called again but her thin voice was drowned by shouts, explosions, sirens around her.
Gasping for breath, unwanted tears half-blinding her, she let go of the pole and started after the others. A sizzling flash, then another, and the explosive pop! of casera skyrockets. But not fired into the air, fired towards the oncoming police. Like night animals—wolves, hyenas—human forms rushed past, paliacates across their faces, tube bazookas on their shoulders. An arm whipped past her and flames swirled across the street. Again the sound of shattering glass and again flames erupted. In their afterglow the wolves, hyenas, became jeans, jackets, masked faces but obviously people her age, some younger—teenagers, street kids, shouting, firing skyrockets, hurling Molotov cocktails. A young mother, black hair swirling across her shoulders, stumbled past, baby clutched in a blanket against her breasts. Irais lurched forward to help her as the young mother thrust the blanketed baby against the sidewalk. Not a baby but pieces of brick, cobblestones, hunks of broken curbings. Protesters scooped them up, lunged through the thickening smoke and fumes to hurl them at the shield-wielding, tolete swinging Robocops.
“Más! Get more!” hands shoved her shoulders. With the woman she’d thought was a mother she stumbled through the shouting, stone throwing protesters, coughing and gagging on smoke and fumes. From a side street more police hurtled towards them. Caught between attackers from two directions, she and others—youths mostly, but also teachers, taxi drivers, albañiles—veered into a narrow alley. “No hay salida! Dead end!” she heard shouts. A hand grabbed hers. “Aquí!”—one of the rock hurlers gestured towards a fire escape above them. “Qué—?” Instead of answering he grabbed her by the waist, hoisted her to where she could grab the lowest landing of a fire escape. Panting, crying despite not wanting to, she scrambled higher, screaming as Robocops grabbed the youth who’d thrust her upwards and pummeled him to the pavement.
“Cabrones!” she screeched and in desperation kicked the window beside her. Glass shattered; she booted jagged remnants away and squeezed inside. A bedroom. She grabbed a lamp, lunged back through the window, hurled the lamp at the Robocops, heard it crash against a helmet.
“Puta!” a voice beneath her cried. And another, “Later! You’ll get yours!”
Before ducking back through the window to find more to hurl, “Later I’ll get even! We all will!”
And tomorrow, she promised, tomorrow I’ll replace that lamp.
Robert Joe Stout has published work recently in Pinyon, Blue Lyra, Prick of the Spindle, Chamber 4 and America among other magazines and journals.