The back lane was strewn with garbage overflowing from dumpsters long overdue for emptying. She kept close to the walls of the buildings and moved quickly toward the station.
The street at the end of the lane appeared empty except for the occasional person running past. She heard chants and shouts but where was the demonstration?
A bullhorn crackled. “...commands all persons ... to disperse...guilty of an offence...” A swelling chorus of “boos” and catcalls drowned out the loudspeaker. Glass shattered.
Freyja’s hands shook. She reached the end of the alley and stepped into the street. On her left three lines of army reserves in full combat gear, rifles in battle ready position. On her right a line of protestors, regular men and women like herself, holding banners and placards. They were separated by twenty yards of pavement, light years in ideology, and her.
Freyja turned to run back up the lane but stopped. How would Robert Capa react? What would James Nachtwey do? Elbows tight to her body to minimize the camera shake, she photographed the line of troops. She caught a soldier staggering, hit on the shoulder by a brick. She turned toward the demonstrators and focused on WORKERS HAVE RIGHTS – GOVERNMENT HAS RESPONSIBILITIES, a long banner held up by several people in the front line. From behind them bottles and rocks flew toward the line of soldiers. She cringed at what sounded like shotgun blasts and saw cylinders trailing lines of white smoke arc toward the demonstrators, exploding before they hit ground.
Shouts, screams, the banner fell, the crowd retreated, Freyja along with them. A hint of the noxious fumes wafted toward her and immediately her nose and eyes burned and watered, her throat itched. But the troops were downwind of the brisk breeze and the gas blew back towards them. Their front line faltered and fell back as the gagging, blinding cloud enveloped them.
The demonstrators regrouped and advanced. Freyja wiped the tears and mucous with her sleeve and regained her position at the front on the extreme left of the marchers. Part of her couldn’t believe this was happening, here, in her city. Another part of her couldn’t believe her luck.
The advancing surge jostled and swept her along. She needed a vantage point. A cluster of newspaper boxes anchored to a lamp standard split the human tide. She hoisted herself into a sitting position on the end box, swung her legs under her and stood up. With an arm wrapped around the lamppost she steadied herself and the camera. She aimed to where the line of government troops had been, now invisible in the fog of gas. The wind blew, the toxic mist partially dissipated and the second echelon appeared, rifles at their shoulders in firing position.
Freyja pressed the shutter button and held it down. The camera began capturing images every three and a half seconds.
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