Fire tore through the building, blasting out the windows and sending shattered glass showering down on the pavement. Anna watched in dismay, from across the road. It was lucky nobody was
inside, but she knew it was beside the point. She was not involved in starting the fire, but she felt just as guilty as those who were, and it made her sick.
This was not peaceful protesting, and this was not what the wide-eyed twenty-year-old had in mind when she left her family’s farm to fight for her rights in the big city. This was nothing more than a selfish and reckless act of destruction.
Although it was hard to accept, she had a horrible feeling that she knew who was responsible. They called themselves ‘The Push’; A diverse and fanatical group of political activists, who met once a week, on an invite only basis, in the back room of the pub across from Anna’s university. Barnaby Clifton, the son of a prominent Minister of State, was amongst its loyal members.
He had introduced Anna to the seemingly harmless group a few months earlier when they began dating. He was only two years older, but he quickly convinced her of his superiority. She was young and idealistic. She wanted to be part of something that would make a difference and Barnaby and the group seemed to represent that. But the more she listened to them, the more she realised they had plenty to talk about, but little to say.
The group wasn’t for her, but she continued to attend their meetings for Barnaby. But lately, he had become far more secretive about his activities within the group, and Anna had become suspicious. She didn’t know what was going on, but she sensed it was not good.
Now, however, as the embassy building fell to charred ruins, littering the street with fiery remnants, Anna’s heart sank.
As the night drew on, the fierce blaze slowly settled to a smoky haze. Anna could not settle her thoughts though. She needed to confirm what she strongly suspected. Finding Barnaby and the rest of them, in fine spirits, in their usual location at the Bridge Hotel, Anna stormed over to the group.
“Was it you?”
Barnaby tried to evade the question.
“Was it you?” she demanded again.
He smiled patronisingly.
“Was what me, darling?”
“You know what I’m talking about?”
Seeing that she could not be subdued, he grabbed her arm and pulled her into the corner. Anna pulled her arm free from his grasp and stared at him defiantly. He did not like it.
“Just let it go…It’s not your concern”.
“Not my concern? It’s all our concern”.
“Look, it’s not something you could possibly understand” he scolded with harsh belittlement.
“Go home…And I’ll see you later”.
The others tried to avoid looking in their direction, but Barnaby still felt exposed. Her defiance was making him look weak. He grabbed her arm again.
“Go home, if you know what’s good for you, and forget about it”.
“What if you had killed someone?”
He didn’t have to say anything. As she looked at him one last time, the fog of illusion lifted, and she saw him for what he really was. She had her answer.
“You disgust me”.
She pulled herself free again, but before she was able to leave, Barnaby struck her. She cupped her eye at the point of impact. Her face now red. She looked at him in absolute horror, before running out.
The rest of the group had only seen the aftermath of the argument, but they knew what Barnaby had done. They wanted to say something. They didn’t like Barnaby, but they needed him. They liked Anna, but there were more pressing matters at hand.
Anna arrived home to an empty flat. Her flatmate, Eleanor was still out. It was better that way. Anna was not in the mood to explain what had happened, and the fiery Eleanor would not have let it go that easily. She hated Barnaby. She knew he was bad news. “A Pompous Puppet, with a pigeon’s brain” was how she described him. Anna was beginning to agree with her.
She ran herself a bath and tried to forget the day’s events. But the burning sting of her swollen eye kept it fresh in her mind. The chaos and the violence were all too confronting. No one had ever raised a hand in violence to her before. She began to sob uncontrollably. She felt betrayed. Shocked. Eventually she settled down and went to bed. But it was a restless night, and she was feeling it in the morning.
It was an earlier than usual start. She had a class, and she wanted to leave before Eleanor awoke, hoping to avoid her for as long as she could. Looking in the mirror, she noticed the severity of the bruising around her eye. It was going to be difficult to hide, but she did her best to cover it with some of Eleanor’s make up. Anna sighed as she viewed the finished result, but it would have to do.
She left quietly, taking the ten-minute stroll to the university.
Her first class was Philosophy. It was her favourite. She found the subject matter enlightening, and she found her lecturer even more so. In light of last night’s events, it was the only thing she was really looking forward to.