I’ve spent my life searching for silence.
It’s not difficult, when you’re born with a hearing impairment. Cochlear implants helped, but I can’t trust the sounds. They’re fuzzy, atonal, and sometimes hurt. I was in third grade when I realized that I didn’t know what anything actually sounded like. It could all be a lie.
An ambulance screamed past, its sirens splitting the air like jagged glass shards. In the driver’s seat was a teenager, his eyes wild over the mask covering his mouth and nose. There was blood on his face. He screamed at me, but I all I heard was the raw shriek of the sirens. It’s all gotten so twisted, out of hand.
The sneaker store on the corner was a hollowed-out mass of black smoke, choked with embers. Someone was leaning out of a window three stories up, waving a flag. I couldn’t hear him, either. I wondered if the sky ever choked on the pillars of smoke from our city. We burned, and the sky burned with us.
I remember. To quote the American, ‘I was in the room where it happened.’ A frigid night, cold enough to freeze the breath in your lungs. Faceless people jostling in the square, some holding signs, filming with their phones, holding hands and singing songs I couldn’t quite catch. A new piece of legislation, passed at midnight when the cameras were turned off, brought us out in the cold, when we should have been home with family. A peaceful protest, a gathering of people standing in solidarity. The police were wearing riot gear. Now that I look back on it, I see. Why were they wearing heavy gear for a planned peaceful protest? What did they know, that we didn’t?
The noise is building behind me, a steady rising wave. It’s fuzzy, atonal. It’s fragmented and beats with many hearts. Did they exist, or was I imagining them?
An old man, hunched and holding a little girl by the hand. His face was creased with the imprint of a million smiles. She walked up to the police, sticky fingers outstretched in curiosity, reaching for the brightly-painted shields. The first time, no one saw what caused it–but we all heard her scream. We all saw her, lying on the ground and holding her arm, crying. It was the first time I felt it; the kind of electricity that binds a group of people into one. One moment I was clutching a lamp post, trying to decide if the song was real or a circuit board’s lie, and the next I was two of a thousand eyes, watching the old man. Our hearts beat as one.
“No!” He shook his cane, brandishing it at the black-clad monster. He didn’t need it for this. “No! No!”
We muttered with a thousand mouths.
The girl got up, shaking. She should have gone back to her grandfather; so much would have been different. But she was a just a kid. She reached out again, babbling slewed apologies, like her mother might have taught her. The second time, every one of us saw it. Saw the riot guard snap his shield outward, into the little girl’s hand. She screamed, but her scream was lost beneath the old man’s.
He screamed, and we screamed with him.
It started then, four days ago. Four days of fighting, worse every hour. We had a hundred thousand eyes, now. A hundred thousand ears. We were a monster, now, too.
I could see them through the smoke. A wall of blacked-out visors and shields, marching down the street. They lobbed tear gas in front of them, careless of smashed cars and windows. To them there was only the Riot, the people that needed to be crushed beneath their heels.
I thought of the old man, and his screaming. Behind me, the noise is building. A hundred thousand mouths. Tomorrow it would be a million.
I’ve spent my life searching for silence, but there is none here. Someone started running, and we all started running. Someone started screaming, and we all started screaming. These sounds were real, these were no lie.
The gunshots roared like thunder.
Photo Credit: Jim Young