The crowd was quiet now, shuffling uneasily before the enormity of the gates and the dark-clothed, plastic-shielded, bright-helmeted wall defending them.
Hesitant quiet, pregnant quiet; the drumming and whistles had petered out, the cheerful shouting and chanting was extinguished.
As one, the police line stepped forward, locking their shields together. Mark thought briefly of Roman legionaries, Lena thought about tortoises but wasn’t sure why. Lena was a seasoned demonstrator, Mark had never demonstrated about anything before, and was not sure why he was here, or how Lena had persuaded him. She had been angry and passionate and it had been hard to resist, but in the uneasy quiet in front of the gates, he wished quite hard that he had not come.
The banner at the front of the marchers drooped a little as the people holding each end turned in towards each other, conferring in whispers with the stewards and spokespeople up the front. A child grizzled and was hushed by her father.
But I want to … the voice rose and faded rapidly in shushing.
Everyone had been spoken to, everyone understood the rules.
We do not raise our fists in anger, we raise our voices.
We do not cast stones, we cast votes.
We do not come to create damage, we come to create dialogue.
Is that a gun? Lena murmured, pointing. Mark looked. It did look like a gun, pointing out from the roof of the building across the way. He scanned the edges of the parapets of the white stuccoed, respectable buildings. Now that he was looking, there seemed to be a lot of shapes up there moving about, cameras and yes, guns, pointed down in to the crowd. He pulled Lena against him.
A persistent distant mechanised noise broke into his consciousness; it took a moment for his brain to decode it. Helicopter, no, not just one, three or four, flying low, in formation.
I don’t like this, he said, looking back up the wide street. People had gradually shuffled closer in, there was barely room to turn round, for as far as he could see, there were protestors, banners raised defiantly, a subtly shifting, breathing, mass of bodies, and no way out.
Some way back someone started clapping, not slow, not fast, just a steady clap-clap-clap, clap-clap; like a sort of flamenco rhythm. Around the clapping other people took it up, clapping and stamping to the same beat, in perfect unison. Lena joined in, Mark joined in, the grizzling child joined in. People started adding staccato triple beats, and slow heavy claps. There was something epic and jaunty and defiant and not to be argued with about it. Lena could see the policeman nearest her almost itching to beat his baton on his shield, to join in. You could hardly hear the helicopters over the racket of hand striking hand, foot beating ground.
And someone laughed, and the cold rigidity in Mark’s shoulders eased. It was going to be all right. Wasn’t it?
Cherry Potts is the author of a novel, The Dowry Blade, two collections of short stories, and many stories in anthologies and magazines. She runs Arachne Press, and edits poetry and short story anthologies including Saboteur award winning Weird Lies. She runs the annual literature & music festival Solstice Shorts and is a visiting lecturer in Creative Writing at City, University of London.