by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith
The soul-searching is over. I have been through all the stages: anger, then denial; from there to doubt; eventually to acceptance, and finally beyond that to conviction. I now know what I must do, and that I must act fast. I set off, stopping only to collect the one weapon I will need on my quest. I pass the fires still burning from last night, the broken glass from shop windows, the assortment of charred items strewn across the pavement. This is not a night to be crossing the city, but cross it I must. I am frightened, but I am also bolstered by determination and the hope of redemption.
As I walk up the hill overlooking the Square, I hear the chants getting louder. I get to the top and below I can see the opposing factions preparing for tonight's carnage. On the left, the City Guard is in formation, dressed in full protective gear. On the right, the dissenters with their masked faces shout slogans at the Guardsmen from across the divide. A smattering of small objects fly over the barricades, falling on riot shields like raindrops warning of the deluge to come. It is through this that I must pass, so I can get to the south side of the city - all other avenues have been blocked off by the authorities in an attempt to keep the dissenters under control.
I walk, unseen, down the hill towards the Square. More people join in the chants; their collective voice becomes deeper and louder and drowns out the admonishments coming from the Guard's loudspeakers. I get to the edge of the crowd and take a deep breath. Flanked by riot shields on one side and the rioters' barricades on the other, the divide sits empty and waits - but only for a short while longer. I must go through now, or it will be too late. I hold my weapon in front of me and stride into no-man's land. The chants falter, then stop, and the loudspeakers change their tune.
"Guardsmen, hold your fire!"
"Sir, please turn back and leave the area!"
"Who's that idiot?"
"He's holding a - "
"Sir, turn around and leave the area immediately."
"This is for your own safety, sir."
"What the - "
"What's he doing?"
"Can you see what - "
Some whistles, some cheers, a lot of swearing.
I walk about half way along and the first hurdle of my mission is over. I now must walk through a mob of masked men wielding knives and homemade explosives so I can get to the bridge that will take me to the south side. I turn to look at the nearest masked face. The man understands; he holds out a hand and helps me clamber over the barricade and into the dissenters' space.
"What are you doing that for?"
"He's not one of us!"
"Hang on now - he's not one of them, either!"
"Oh just let him through!"
"Yes, I mean look at him - "
"Get on with it, they'll be on us in a minute!"
"The sooner you let him go by, the sooner he'll be gone - "
Dissenters move aside to let me in; as I walk towards the back of the crowd, masked men clear a path that I can pass through and stare at me as if I'm mad. Perhaps I am - but my madness has a higher purpose and I walk on, leaving the rioters behind me as I head to the bridge. They have already forgotten me, and the chants grow louder again.
There is nothing now that is holding me back. I cross the bridge running like my life depends on it, because it does. I run and run, holding my weapon steady as I go, along avenues and across alleyways until I reach my destination. My lungs hurt, I have a stitch in my side, and my nerves are shot - but all these symptoms are quick to subside. It is my heart that feels like it might burst, when she answers the door and I see in her eyes how much I have hurt her.
"Forgive me", I say, and hand her the rose.
5 days ago