An innocuous sound like firecrackers popping stopped the action like the pausing of a video, freezing a frame, sound and motion. A loud ping and a hot sting near her hairline started the action again. The front line of advancing demonstrators crumbled and within seconds the human wave washed back upon itself.
Screams mixed with commands, people collided, fell, crawled, disappeared beneath the sea of arms and legs. Freyja watched transfixed as a woman limped towards her clutching a protest sign for support. She slumped against the newspaper box.
Bodies lay abandoned on the pavement. Two lumpish forms, knees drawn up under their chins, lay in death as in birth. Charred holes ruined the orange safety vest worn by another man, his arms and legs splayed like a starfish. Moments before the hood of a parka had protected another victim from the cold. Now it clung sodden to the side of his head as he pivoted on hands and knees, a windup toy missing a wheel.
A woman, her back to Freyja, sat on the wet pavement and rocked back and forth cradling someone in her lap. Freyja wanted that shot. She climbed down off the newspaper boxes and stepped into a puddle of blood. Dead eyes of the female propped against the metal boxes stared at her. Freyja studied death in the viewfinder – blue lips, white face, vacant eyes. A strange sense of detachment came over her, as if the camera lens separated and protected her from this terrible reality. She backed away shooting all the while, then calmly turned her camera toward the retreating protestors. Moving to the center of the street she photographed people carrying their bleeding friends into doorways, on their knees praying, on their feet hurling stones.
Mouths open, feet running, windows breaking, all silent. The same presence that paused the action now muted the sound. The air smelled like nail polish remover.
The woman looked up as Freyja approached. Focus and shoot anguish. “My daughter. Help my daughter.” The audio was back. “She’s bleeding.” Focus and shoot bewilderment. “You’ll be okay, Heather.” The mother stroked the young woman’s hair. “We were going shopping after this.” Focus and shoot disbelief.
First aid attendants moved forward from the crowd and knelt beside the victims. They need help, Freyja thought. I should be helping. Instead she turned towards the soldiers and began photographing young reserves, some standing at the ready, others walking around aimlessly, talking among themselves looking for someone to take charge. Focus and shoot fear. Focus and shoot confusion.
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