I saw her running. Her long sandy blond hair was flowing out behind her like the flowery dress she wore. She was darting in one direction and then another, desperately trying to get away and not knowing which direction away was. Finally her eyes latched onto a gap in the running bodies or a doorway that looked safe. She had sandals on her feet, but that didn’t stop her from running like a track star. My head turned to follow her progress, too afraid to breathe until she was safe. Then I saw the policeman. Saw him, and knew they were on a collision course. If she had been a second sooner, a second faster, she would have been through the doors, and he would have found someone else. I heard myself scream something, telling her to run, or telling the policemen to stop, or just screaming. Screaming. But the full force of his body hit hers and sent her flying.
I watched her in slow motion as she spun toward me, arms and legs pinwheeling. I had time to wish that she’d trip and fall into one of the chairs in front of me, but she only brushed by one of them. Not enough to stop her, only enough to throw her off balance. Another quick stumble and she was beside me. I turned to watch her, putting out an arm to stop or even just slow her down, but too late. Our eyes met as the smooth marble wall stopped her like she hadn’t been moving at all. Pain flashed on her face, and she leaned into me. I caught her in my arms, but her momentum was enough to push me to the floor. I sat down hard, my back against the wall, her head in my lap. Her face was already covered with blood that was slowly making its way into her hair and down her neck. Now that she was up close I saw details that I hadn’t noticed during her panicked run. Some of her long hair had been carefully braided with beads placed here and there in a repeating pattern. She wore beaded necklaces as well, one with a polished wooden peace sign, another with a small wooden cross. Her dress had fine embroidery on the edges, and until her own blood had stained it, the pretty flower pattern had been clean and bright.
She was the opposite of the hippie with the megaphone. Maybe she was shaking an angry fist right along with the rest of them, but from the looks of her it was more likely that she had been raising a pleading peace sign. She wasn’t much older than I was, maybe in her first or second year of college. It occurred to me that in a few years, I could be just like her. Putting on a nice dress, fixing my hair, and joining my friends to… to what? Get in trouble with the police? No, probably not. I didn’t think that the girl had that in mind when she left for City Hall that morning.
I noticed a canvas bag over her shoulder, covered in sewn on patches. Several peace signs of course, one tie dyed, one rainbow. A heart patch, an American flag, a couple that looked like girl scout badges. There was a notebook that had fallen out of the bag. A journal maybe. When I leaned forward to slide it back in the back, the girl’s eyes fluttered and opened. A pretty blue, but with a haze in them like she was figuring out where she was and trying to remember what happened. When she did, the haze turned to panic and she tried to sit up, but she didn’t get far. She winced in pain, clutching my arm weakly with one hand, and then her eyes fluttered closed again.
There was blood. Everywhere.
I remember falling off a swing when I was five or six. I bumped my forehead hard enough to split the skin. Before I could catch my breath, there seemed to be blood all over, running into my eyes, inhaled into my nose when I sniffed in sobs. My father was there instantly, holding me, comforting me, and he finally got me to calm down, explaining to me how even a small cut on the head can bleed a lot. Before I knew it, he’d stopped the bleeding with a handkerchief and a kiss.
With the hippie girl’s head in my lap, I tried to remember that, but there was so much blood. Her hair was streaked with it, the top of her dress covered. Even if it was a small cut, it seemed like that much blood would need to be stopped before too long. I shifted her head slightly so it rested on my thighs instead of my hands. I pulled my sweater off, leaving wide smears of red on my shirt. Lifting the girl’s head again, I found what seemed to be the source of the bleeding and held the sweater there, hoping to at least slow things down.
I don’t know how much time had passed, but when I lifted my head to call for help, the scene in the lobby had changed dramatically. Most of the protesters were gone. Any that were left were sitting in a small cluster with six or seven policemen standing in a loose circle around them. On the far side of the room, a group of people that were clearly not protesters stood talking among themselves. Mostly business suits, with a few police officers keeping them calm and answering questions. Off to their side was a clump of smaller figures. My classmates, with Mr. Flynn fluttering around them.
No one seemed to have noticed me. I called for help, screamed probably, and I heard my voice echo to the ceiling. Heads snapped in my direction, and two of the closest policemen went from a standstill to a sprint in a blink. Maybe Mr. Flynn had realized he was one student short and was already looking for me, because even though he was on the far side of the room, he was next to me a few steps ahead of the policemen. But the relief on his face turned to panic again when he saw me covered in red.
Police were on radios. They were crouched beside me, lifting the girl, checking me and checking her to figure out who was hurt. Maybe there were people hurt outside as well because paramedics burst through the doors in what felt like seconds. There was a tight circle of faces around me, and then the girl was on a stretcher. She was lifted and carried away, while a paramedic knelt in front of me, asking me questions and shining a light in my eyes. He must have decided I was fine because he was gone as quickly as he came and the corner of the lobby was once again empty except for me and Mr. Flynn.
He started to say something but stopped. He tried a few words again but stopped a second time. Instead he ended up sitting down cross-legged next to me. I moved the bag beside me to make room for him and realized that it belonged to the hippie girl, that it had been left behind when she was carried away. I pulled it toward me, wrapping the strap once around my wrist. Then I leaned my head against the wall behind me and closed my eyes.
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