‘Stand out!’ yelled stiff-legged Jack.
Through the amplifying harshness of the megaphone, he sounded like a dictator. He turned to me. ‘Stand out, brother,’ he said, in the melodious yet gravelled tones of his natural voice.
In his day, stiff-legged Jack was a national leader and a balls-to-the-wall activist. He was our hero, really. Even in retirement, he is on the news every couple of weeks – agitating, pushing our interests. People around noticed he had singled me out, and a hand patted my shoulder. I felt important.
A chant rose from the front and it spread like a Mexican wave. Missing the first word, I broke in on the next. I could hear my voice, clearer than those around me – making me self-conscious. I wondered if the other chanters experienced the same effect. A fat man with slick hair and a business shirt leaned against a traffic pole, shaking his head and clapping his hands slowly. He yelled at us to ‘get a job’. Two police
motorcycles barricaded the intersection and a string of cars waited. A horn bleated.
A half-full plastic water bottle swung in my hand. Lifting the bottom of my protest shirt, I eyed the padded bulge in my pocket. And I shivered under the biting sun. You’re not going to chicken out, I told myself. The chink-chink of clap-sticks gave rhythm to the chant. The hypnotic metallic ring echoed off the shop facades and the townhouses facing the street. I bounced along on the balls of my feet for a few steps, looking over the banners and bobbing heads for the dancers I knew. Streaked in elemental paint, they broke away from the front and, bent low to the footpath, wove their way back through the opportunistic spectators, with their phone cameras and takeaway coffees. One of the dancers, from my hometown, carried a spear and feigned a throw at an old Chinese couple, who clutched at each other and giggled, not wanting to lose face.
A short woman with a jowled face approached me from the side. I knew her through the community. She was from up the coast. I had been observing her as she started conversations with other marchers. She was uninterested in the protest, but she was there. She was a number…
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