Confusion surrounded Jim like a storm. He heard someone shout, “Tear gas!” He saw a pillar of cloud rising from the ground, but he couldn’t see the canister. Moments later, he couldn’t see anything from the smoke in the air and the burning in his eyes.
Time began dripping slowly. Jim was disoriented. There was shouting and screaming and pushing and crying and coughing and noise noise noise. He felt his body being pushed from different directions, but he just couldn’t find the motivation to move.
Panic rooted Jim where he stood.
He thought his face was going to catch fire. It burned. His hand holding the picket sign burned. He dropped the sign. He imagined it exploding into flakes of ash.
Releasing the sign seemed to awaken Jim. He squinted his watery eyes, choked on the urge to vomit, and began making his escape. He wanted to follow the other protestors; perhaps there was a pre-arranged meeting place in case things went sour. But there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the surge of protestors that dispersed like pieces of thrown confetti.
Jim knew he couldn’t remain there. He could hear the cops beating protestors. The thud of human flesh being pounded with a club, the crack of bones breaking were unmistakable sounds.
A hand suddenly seized Jim’s right arm. He feared he was next to receive a beating. Before he could swing at his assaulter, he was pulled forcefully—but not roughly—away from the human herd he had been following.
Through the hazy miasma and the tears, Jim looked at the person leading him. Howard Rand’s graying afro was unmistakable, even in the haze. It appeared through the cloud like a buoy in a foggy sea. Howard started running, pulling Jim, stumbling and still disoriented, with him.
Eventually the two emerged from the chaos relatively unharmed. They reached an area of clear air. Jim let out a gasp as his lungs almost burst with excitement to inhale clean(er) air.
Howard and Jim weren’t alone. There were other protestors there. Some had cuts and scrapes on their faces and hands. Some had green or yellow vomit stains on their shirts and jeans, splotches on their shoes. One young man sat against the wall, his knees up to his chest, and just stared straight ahead with intense, red eyes above the bandanna that covered his nose and mouth.