Prejudice, Silence, Injustice.
Gabriella hates Mankind. Today her heart sees its evils and recoils from the sting that pierces it. Today she watched a man fall to the ground – and in that moment, she heard not a sound.
She walked the streets relishing in the warmth, not only of the recently darkened sky, but also the carefree banter with friends.
"You know you love me, both of you." Jordan said, a sly grin playing across his lips.
"That's what you think," was Gabriella's sarcastic reply.
"Oh really, is that how it is now?" Jordan challenged, still grinning.
"Yeah, we only put up with you." Antonio said, placing his hand on Jordan's shoulder in mock sympathy.
Gabriella had only met Antonio earlier that day, but she had enjoyed his company from the moment that they had met. For a seventeen-year-old, he was rather tall and extremely well built. He had very wide shoulders and big muscular arms – the body of a warrior. His hair was jet-black, though she could tell that it was not his natural hair colour from the ginger-blonde tone of his eyebrows and the tiny triangular bit of hair directly under his bottom lip. He had blue eyes and an easy smile, which made him comfortable to look at.
"Exactly, couldn't have said it better myself Antonio," she said, genuinely enjoying the moment.
It had been a long while since she had been able to leave behind the worries of everyday living – to stop for a second and to enjoy simply existing. It was at times like these that she was most grateful for her friendship with Jordan. She didn't see him often, in fact, they spent a few days together twice a year at most – if they were lucky. As strange as the nature of this friendship was, even stranger was the way it had begun. That however, is a story for another time.
Now Gabriella stood between the two young men, the image of 'a rose among the thorns'. She looked up at Jordan, but not for longer than a second, because she had long ago committed to memory his short dirty-blond hair and ice-blue eyes. He had changed dramatically since she last saw him. He was more muscle than she had ever seen him – he certainly looked different to the senior she had met in high school. He was also much 'goofier' now, than he used to be, and his absurd and uncanny behaviour always made her smile. The streets were not completely void of other living beings, but not too many other souls wandered about. As they headed toward the store, they passed a man sitting on the pavement on their side of the road. Gabriella paid him very little attention, until the man mumbled something loudly, which she did not really understand. She felt no fear of the man – why should she, when she had two well-built young men on either side of her?
"Oh, shut up." She muttered fiercely, barely loud enough for anyone else to hear.
"Gabriella really hates those men," Jordan said to Antonio in a 'matter-of-fact' tone. "She can't stand them."
"I don't hate them, it's just so damn irritating to have to live with that," she said, her tone clearly alluding to the man's reaction to her walking with her friends; the fact that they were male; and the way that she was dressed.
It angered her that she could never leave her house without having to steel herself for the inevitable catcalls and whistles that would soon follow. It might not bother her so much on a day like today – when she was all dressed up. She had worn her favourite black pair of jeans with a grey waistcoat and the bulkiest pieces of jewellery she owned. It all starts to get too much on every other day though, and for this reason, she had become a master at the art of giving the 'cold shoulder'. Though she was not vain, she knew herself to be a beautiful girl.
"It's to be expected though, hot girl like you," Antonio said smirking, "It's not like they can help it."
"Oh, please," she exclaimed, "it's so typical of them to treat women like that.
"You know my sister and I get so pissed off at them that we loudly say things like: 'is there a dog around here somewhere? I think this man may have lost it.'"
"That ought to get them thinking," Antonio said, his voice dancing with laughter.
"It's not funny," she said, hitting his arm lightly with the back of her hand, "and I swear it only happens to me with the men in this country."
She was not a native of this land and though men in her own country approached beautiful women on the street all the time, hoping to get to know them better, they tended to do it with a lot more class and charm. They didn't whistle or shout 'hey sweetie' from across the street, they walked right up to her and boldly introduced themselves and in a slightly old-fashioned manner, made clear his intentions. Antonio had made her laugh though, and she continued to smile and the light-hearted atmosphere that had been the tone a few minutes before, began to settle in again.
"Oh, yeah," Jordan suddenly said as if he had just remembered something. "By the way, she only dates Latin men, so we don't even stand a chance with this one," he said jokingly.
"I don't know what you're talking about Jordan, 'cause I am Latino, so I definitely still have a chance." Antonio chipped in before anyone could say anything else.
Gabriella could not help laughing at Antonio's witty reply even though she did not know what to think of it yet. Antonio came from a multi-cultural background.
"I don't even know what I really am," he had joked earlier when they had been getting acquainted with each other.
By now, they had reached the store. They headed straight for the frozen foods section in the back of the store, where they could get the meat that they needed for their meal later tonight. The striking differences between Gabriella and her two friends, had heads turning to watch the trio as they passed. They all pretended not to notice and continued to joke and laugh as though the history of the land had nothing to do with them.
They made their own rules; set their own norms.
"Just because I'm such a nice person," Jordan said slyly, "I'll let you choose the coldrink for tonight."
"Fine," said Gabriella, making her way to the fridges. She stood in front of them for a few seconds deliberating.
"I have made my choice, and it is final," she declared in a highly dramatic voice, when she had finally decided.
She opened the third of four refrigerators and pulled out a two-litre bottle with a blue cap and green liquid inside it. The paper wrapped around the bottle was a bright green with the words 'Spa-letta' printed on the front.
"You see, I told you she's not normal," she heard Antonio whisper at Jordan, as she walked back towards them.
He intended her to hear every word.
"If she were normal, like the rest of us, she would have taken a bottle of 'Coke'," he said grinning.
"Whatever," she said, while she pretended to give them both a stony, disgusted glare and made her way to the pay counter.
She saw Antonio whisper something else to Jordan and smiled at the idea of having met someone so fun and entertaining. She also wondered why it was only at times like these - when she was with Jordan and his friends - that this crazy, witty side of her personality shone through.
They paid for the goods and left the store.
"So I do still have a chance, don't I?" Antonio asked, falling back into their earlier conversation easily.
"You might, but Jordan's not completely right. I don't only date Latinos," Gabriella said, playing along. The truth was that, though most of her boyfriends had been of Latin decent in one form or other, she did not really care whom she was with as long as they turned out to be decent and entertaining human beings. She was just about to elaborate when Jordan stopped short and held his arm out to restrict her.
"There's trouble," he said suddenly.
Still preoccupied with their conversation, both Antonio and Gabriella stopped and looked around, confused.
"What?" Antonio asked.
"There's trouble," Jordan repeated, pointing slightly ahead of them, to a place across the street.
The sky had now darkened fully but it was clear enough to see that a man was attacking a woman. She tried to fight back.
"Fock off!" she kept saying, her voice loud and insistent.
It was ragged and her breaths were short and sharp. She struggled to fight him off.
"Fock off," and again, "Fock off."
Another woman stood very close to them with her baby wrapped securely to her back. As the struggle intensified the baby began to cry, terrified. Gabriella didn't know exactly when it happened, but as she looked on, a third figure appeared and joined the struggle. The figure was of a man. He had a weapon with him. It was a Taser – a hand-held electronic device used by the police to incapacitate dangerous and violent criminals. The sight of the sharp blue sparks immediately sent adrenalin coursing through her veins.
Only arms and legs could help Gabriella to identify the ball of mass rolling violently on the ground, throbbing and thrashing, as three human bodies. The baby on the onlooker's back was screeching now. Its ability to seek help depended on a limited vocabulary – the name of the only protector it has ever known: "Mama."
The man had freed the woman of her attacker.
"Jordan, let's just turn around and walk home in the other direction," Antonio suggested, concern clear in his voice.
"No, I'm not leaving," Jordan said after a second of thought.
I'm not leaving, Antonio," Jordan said stubbornly interrupting Antonio.
Shocked as she was, Gabriella found room for anger in the jumble of emotions that already overwhelmed her.
"Why do you have to be a hard-ass, Jordan," she demanded, glaring at him. "Why can't we just leave?"
He ignored her. Ahead of him, five or six other men appeared, crossed the street and joined the man who had helped the woman. They began to push the attacker around and kick him while he was down. Gabriella saw one man kick the attacker in the face. She had seen enough.
"Guys, please do something," she pleaded, tears filling her eyes. She was sure that they would kill him.
"What do you mean, 'do something'?" Antonio asked her gently.
"I don't know;" she said frantically, "call the police. Something."
"The sad thing is that even if we did call the police, they wouldn't come here."
The more she thought about it, the more helpless it made her feel; it was true – the police wouldn't do much, if their record of accomplishment was anything to go by. She had lived in this country long enough to know what was likely to happen. She could see it now; how it would all go down:
'911, what is your emergency?'
'A man is being beaten up on the street, by seven other people. It started out as someone trying to help someone but now I think it is a race thing. It's really bad. Please, please hurry. '
'Ma'am, calm down. Where are you?'
'At the corner of 5th and 7th, in Montana View.'
'A dispatch car will be on its way...' (In the next century!)
Much as she hated to admit it, Antonio was right. There wasn't anything she could do about it.
"Let's just go and get out of here," he told her softly.
"I'm not going there," she said, terrified. She had realised just then that she would have to pass very close to the scene to be able to leave in the direction he was suggesting.
"We're not going there. We are going to walk right past it, ok. Onlookers usually get pulled into the mix if they stick around too long."
She did not know which to trust – her instincts, or those of a stranger she had met only hours ago.
"Let's go," he said softly, urging her forward.
She followed him. She could not help looking to see what was happening.
"Don't look there," he told her firmly, "just keep walking and don't look."
The seconds stretched, deliberately trying to sabotage her in this moment of chaos. Twice she turned her head to the side, and saw how they still had him on the ground, weak and losing consciousness. Twice Antonio told her "Don't look. Keep walking"
They turned the corner and that world of chaos fell away behind them. Inside her, a tornado was beginning to gain momentum, ripping the foundations of all her dreams and beliefs and ambitions to shreds.
Gabriella and Antonio walked in silence. They could no longer ignore the realities of the people around them. They could no longer pretend that the country's history and its cultural differences had no effect on them. The events they had just witnessed made certain of that.
"That black guy was trying to rape that woman, just by the way," Jordan's voice came from behind them, "And I'm the hard-ass." He finished in a sarcastic tone.
Gabriella walked faster. She was already so angry with him, but what he had just said was hurtful and so infuriating.
"Jordan, just – before you go getting all 'high-and-mighty'..." Antonio began.
She did not hear much more than that and was glad to be left to her own thoughts.
'That black guy,' he'd said.
Had it slipped his mind that she, his so-called 'best friend' was black too? And what difference did it make that the attacker was a black person? Surely, they would not have thought it acceptable if he were a white man. It had been too dark for her to see if the woman was, in fact, white; but again, why should it have mattered to them? Had she been black, would they have simply turned a blind eye and pretended that they did not see? 'Leave them to their own.'- would that have been their attitude?
She was burning to throw those questions at him; demand that he answer her.
'If I, Gabriella Estréla Solaris, were the one being attacked, would they – would you, Jordan – rise as quickly to my defence?' She ached to ask, but she didn't.
She continued to walk in silence. Antonio and Jordan joined her a few minutes later. Like before, they stood on either side of her and together, they walked toward home. Now there was no carefree banter or smiling. Now the weight and cares of their world lay heavily on their shoulders. To anyone who may have seen them passing by, they still looked united, though a lot less spirited. They knew that with every step they took, a brick was being laid to each respective wall – building a boundary between them and cutting away at the trust that once bound them.
For three years, Gabriella was able to trust and rely on the idea that Jordan did not see just race. She had trusted that not everybody returned to that ignorant and imperious way of thinking. Was she naïve and stupid to think it? For the first time since the start of their friendship, Gabriella resented the differences that made her friendship with Jordan interesting. In part, she also resented Jordan for being a member of the 'superior' race; 'the chosen race'. It hurt her even more to think that she had not tried hard enough to influence the situation. She should have called the police regardless of what she might have thought – then at least she will have tried to do something.
The man had been wrong to attack the woman.
The 'rescuers' had been wrong to take the law into their own hands.
Jordan had been wrong to defend their misguided and opportunistic actions.
Antonio had been wrong to discourage her from trying to call the authorities for help.
She had been wrong to let herself be silenced, and simply walk away.
It made her no better than any of them.
She had seen a man fall to the ground, and in that moment, not even from her heart, did she hear a sound. Today she hates Mankind. Today she absolutely loathes Mankind, because today she may have been one of the last people on earth to see a man alive.