Chapter 1 - Luke
I jump back in panic when a smoke bomb lands close to me, and the smoke reaches me with surprising speed. The recording equipment almost fell off, but I grab hold of it at the last minute. Phew. Raphael would kill me if anything broke.
“Paul!” I shout at my photographer, even though he’s right next to me. The Crowd is growing louder around us. He put his hand on his ear like an amplifier, trying to hear me through the commotion.
“Let’s get a little farther away!”
I barely make my way through the crowded mob, trying to keep notice that Paul is still behind me. We need to find a good place to stand to see what happens.
‘No more war!’ The shouts are coming from all around us.
‘Do not be silent!’ I see a sign of one protester when I pass by him. There are more people here than I expected. This protest is out of control. A second explosion, this time more distant. I suddenly hear screams of panic near me, slowly increasing. Approaching. People start running everywhere, and I am worried someone will trample to death. Damn it. What’s going on?
Paul and I stand on the side of the road, and I climb on a small rock to figure out where the yells are coming from. I must not miss the action, this is the reason we came here after all.
I stand on my tiptoes, stretching all of my 6"2′ inches, trying to figure out where the screams are coming from. Paul by my side, doing the same.
“Do you see anything?” I turn and shout at him. He shakes his head in denial.
There is a group forming in the distance. A movement.
“I think it’s coming from there!” I point in the commotion’s direction. “Let’s move!”
I put one leg forward, ready to go down the rock, and in the next second, I find myself on the floor, lying down. What just happened? Did I fall? I hear screams around me.
It seems for a moment that time has stopped and everything is moving slower as if the air is thicker. The breathing is harder. Then it hits me. The penetrating and inconceivable pain that comes from my shoulder area. Fuck! I probably fell on my shoulder.
Paul’s face appears in front of me. He looks worried. Why? Everything’s fine, I just fell, I want to tell him, but it’s hard to talk.
“Do not move!” He shouts at me, “It will be all right!” He puts his hands on my shoulder and squeezes. It’s obviously going to be okay. What is he doing? It’s fucking painful!
He gets up and shouts something obscure, his hands stained with blood.
How do I spend another 48 hours doing nothing?
I stare at an old piece of cloth tied to the opening of the air conditioner mounted on the white wall in front of me. The movement of the fabric in the wind tells me that it is still on.
My finger hesitates on the TV remote. I’m sure the images from the protest yesterday are running in a loop, as always.
In the cellular age, someone probably also captured exactly the moment of me getting shot, of me falling to the ground.
I put the remote back hesitantly. I’ll see it on another occasion. Not now.
The endless monotonous beep in my ears indicates that I’m still alive, but what does it matter if I’m alive?
Everyone here can go fuck themselves.
After all, my life is over anyway. The journalist group that goes out tomorrow to cover the war will fly without me. Fucking without me. And that was my initiative to begin with.
I was supposed to win a Pulitzer for this article, to win an award before the age of thirty. And now this ridiculous and smug Thomas dude is going to fly and win my fifteen minutes of fame.
For the last two years, I worked to reach this exact moment, to be at the head of the delegation. And in one bit, one careless moment, they denied me that right.
Why Thomas? Everyone knows I can not stand this son of a bitch. Couldn't they find someone else?
Maybe I’ll run away. Board the flight anyway, despite the doctors’ warnings.
My shoulder screams in pain as I try to get out of bed. No, I will not survive the trip despite my wish.
Fate knocked me out.
Hearing my name shakes me back to reality.
“Hey, did I disturb you in your beauty sleep?” John smiles at me from the door. I know he’s joking like that when he’s stressed. He approaches and raises his hand to pat me on the shoulder, as always. I close my eyes, ready for the pain, but he stops at the last minute, realizing what he is about to do.
“Son of a bitch. You were dying to be as beautiful as I am. Did you come to see if I survived?” I try my best to smile back. “They gave me some wonderful drugs here. It was worth coming here just for that.” I say in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
He grabs the chair from the corner and drags it to near my bed.
“I see you survived. Your fucking sense of humor is still here. So what exactly happened?”
“Paul and I, you remember Paul, right? The photographer? We went to cover the protest yesterday, and it got messy. You must have seen the news.” The news I was not a part of. He probably knows better than I do what happened there. I do not even dare to watch.
“I saw.” He pauses hesitantly, and I wonder what else he saw. “there were some deaths in this demonstration, it deteriorated fast. You were really lucky, you know? How did you get hurt?”
“Do not know. I didn’t understand what happened. Someone shot me, hitting my shoulder. At least according to the doctors.” I try to explain, “It’s weird, but it took me a few moments to realize that.”
“So you do not know who shot you?”
“No. They think maybe one of the cops who tried to shoot in the air accidentally hit the crowd. But it’s not clear at the moment.”
“And how do you feel?”
“Like someone shot me.” I grin at my blatantly hilarious joke, but John remains completely serious. “It’s painful. But I take all the pills they offer me.”
“Do not exaggerate. You know you can get addicted to this shit.” He says seriously.
Come on. Is now the time to scold me? In the hospital? It’s not that addiction to pills is inherited. I think.
“Yes, yes, of course.”
“Are you sure you got shot?” He tries to joke, “Or maybe your hair was electrified?”
I try to raise a hand to brush my hair, but the pain stops me. Fuck, why does my other hand hurt too? Somehow in the movies, all the heroes never stop running, and I’m shot in the shoulder, and I’m unable to move.
“Bring me a mirror,” I ask him.
“Where will I get you a mirror from? What am I, a woman?”
I stare at him frowning.
“Do not worry, you look the same Pretty Boy. You can still charm the girls with your blue eyes. Just stay calm.”
Am I not calm? Well, maybe not. Hospitals tend to do that to me.
“And when are you going to start dating again? And stop preaching to me? You never told me what happened to Barbara.”
“She’s just not for me. She was a good fuck, but not for me.”
I shake my head. Know that this is a sensitive issue. But at least he’s back in the market. After six years with one woman, he deserves some freedom.
“And what about the flight tomorrow?” He asks.
What about it really?
“Thomas will replace me. They will go according to the original plan.” I try, but it’s hard for me to hide the resentment emanating from my voice.
“Can’t they postpone for a few days? Wait for you?”
“It’s not a few days. The doctors told me at least a month of rest. Ha. Do you see me resting for a month?” The words come out from me more like a bark.
“A month?” Now John grins. We both know this will not happen. “What are you planning to do?”
“I don’t know.” The melancholy lands on me again like a heavy cloud. “I don’t know. You know how much I worked for it, it was my chance and I missed it. What’s the point?”
"Well, there will be more opportunities. After all, it didn’t just come down from heaven, you made it happen. So do your hocus-pocus and create another one.”
Yes, I worked for it. But this kind of opportunity, covering a war zone, is not something that happens every month, not even every two years. Which is excellent for most of the planet’s population, but less so for me. Who said there would be another such opportunity during my career? Maybe I should work for National Geographic. I will lie in the grass all day to photograph mating snakes.
“Yes, maybe,” I say in conclusion, knowing fully well that my chance is gone.
“Where is your father? I didn't see him here.” He glances around.
“I did not call him.”
“What? So he does not know you are in a hospital? You must call and tell him.”
“Why? Why do I have to? It’s not that he’s going to come here from Thailand. His new wife is more important. So what’s it good for? To hear his apologies on the phone for not being able to come?”
“I’m sure he will want to come. He will be worried.”
“If he was so worried, he would call more than once a year.” I turn my head towards the window. No one really cares.
It’s okay, I’m used to taking care of myself.