Our eyes lock, and for an instant, I can’t breathe. I avert my gaze to the floor. Keep walking, I tell myself. Just. Keep. Walking.
I walk past. I can no longer see him, not even out the corner of my eye — my hood is up, my peripheral vision obscured. I continue and hope he has too. Blind hope.
The rain is relentless. It’s a deluge.
I shove my way into the market square, where miserable vendors sell miserable wares. The stench of fish and body odour assaults my senses, but this is nothing new. I pray I don’t see his features in the sea of strangers. I push and I am pushed as I navigate the throng of proles.
The universe answers my prayers. I scan face after face as I cut through the crowd; none of them is his.
I exit the other side of the market, and for a split second, I give in to the urge to glance over my shoulder. A hiccup in the rhythmic thud of my heart — was that him? It’s hard to tell. There are too many people. They swirl around like dust in a storm. The rain droplets blur my vision. God, I wish the rain would stop. I wipe the water from my eyes with the back of my hand. I look again, but he’s not there. He was never there. I’m paranoid. I’m not.
I press on.
The crowd thins out the further from the square I get, and I start to feel exposed. Every balcony threatens, every alleyway lurks. I sense eyes on me that aren’t there.
A drug peddler startles me from out of the shadows. He asks if I want something to numb reality, and I scream. Against my better judgement, I break into a run.
Footsteps quicken behind me. I do not look.
I run through the rain, the neon of glow of brothels and tattoo shops reflected in the puddles before me. I splash through them, glassy surfaces rippled. Dirty water sloshes up my legs, grey and cold. I pay it no mind; I’m already drenched.
I come to the T-junction and my brain shoots rapid-fire questions at itself. What if they know where I’m going? What if they know where I live? What if they’re already there?
I take the right turn and skid to my knees on the slick concrete. My arms flail and I crash into the metal barrier of a closed storefront. As my hands and feet scramble for purchase against the ground, I steal a glance around me.
There he is. He bursts out from the market crowd and knocks several people to the ground. There are screams. He runs. He has seen me.
I get up, slide and land on all fours. I stand and slip again. Get up! My mind screams. Get up! Get up!
My body cooperates. I stumble to my feet and hit the pavement at a sprint. My ankle hurts — I’ve twisted it. I try to put more of my weight on the other leg.
I can see the building already and I know it’s too close. I’ve not got enough time to lose him, but there is no other choice. Either he catches me in the street or corners me in my apartment. I’ll have time to shut the door on him if I’m lucky.
My hand gropes in my pocket for my keys. It comes up on my left. I hope the main door is open.
I can hear him close behind me. His ragged breaths. The thud of his boots.
I pull the keys free from my pocket, fumble and drop them. The metal ring skids across the floor in the rain.
The keys come to a stop under his boot.
I can see him. And I can see him. And I can see him.
“STOP,” he says, from several places at once. His cold, soulless voice scares me beyond all reasonable fear. There’s a warmth in my crotch, and I know it’s all over just as sure as I know my bladder has let itself go. “YOU ARE UNDER ARREST. DO NOT RESIST.” He sounds robotic, but I know he’s no android.
The march of a thousand boots fills the street. I spin in a full circle. Wherever I look, he is there. Some of him have batons. Others have cattle prods. Some have weapons at their sides but clench their empty fists with pleasure.
In seconds, I’m surrounded. I stand at the centre of the ring — the odd one out. None of him moves. He stands there as the rain falls without reprieve. The city is silent except for the roar from the heavens.
I look from face to face in the ocean of uniforms. All features the same. All expressions the same; contempt, anger, an insatiable lust for violence and pain.
I lock eyes with one. “Please,” I whimper, disgusted at myself for the way my voice sounds but unable to help it. I didn’t know I was crying, but apparently, I am. “Please,” I stammer again. Before the rest of the words have escaped my throat, I know it’s a mistake. “My daughter—”
“CITIZEN RESISTING ARREST.” Every mouth opens in unison.
And then, the rumble of thunder as a thousand police officers stampede towards me. A hurtling train of merciless muscle. Batons. Fists. Sweat. Steel-capped boots. Unflinching faces. Empty eyes.
My final moments are neither swift nor free from fear.
I do not even get a final glimpse of the night sky — he occupies every space. He pummels every inch of my puny frame. Every one of him jostles for a piece of the meat. The pain excruciates, the claustrophobia suffocates. As he grinds my skull into a fine powder, as my brain splatters the pavement like snot, my final thought: No escape.