• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 04
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A broken vase

She's old enough to be a grandmother, this little old lady standing before you, the one in the shabby fur coat. The two of you are squashed together like sardines, the tip of her nose just inches from your shatterproof visor.

Behind her, a sea of outraged citizens is yelling slogans and banging pots and pans. The protesters hurl insults with abandon, along with the occasional missile. But the woman isn't yelling, and doesn’t seem like she’s insulting anyone. From what you can tell, she's speaking in a normal voice.

You can't make out a word she's saying, but the look on her face is enough to give you the gist. It's one of stern disappointment — the kind of expression a woman her age might assume when forced to admonish her favourite grandchild.

Not you, her face seems to be saying. Not you as well. I’ve learned to expect this kind of behaviour from other people, but I never expected it from you. You want to answer back, defend yourself. It's not my fault, you want to protest. None of this is. I'm only doing my job. But that would be ridiculous — what would your fellow officers think? And besides, you'd be going against orders.

Your orders, according to the briefing that your detail received at 0800 hours, are not to provoke, retaliate against or otherwise interact with the protestors, but simply to keep them away from the large, marble-clad building behind the rows of cops. Inside the building, on the other side of a tall spike-topped fence, a group of men in expensive suits are dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's on a new set of economic policies. These policies will impoverish half the country. The poorer half, of course, the half that's already strapped for cash. Teachers, street-cleaners, factory workers, shop assistants: the kind of humble, unimportant people whose jobs are necessary but far from lucrative. And pensioners, too, like the woman standing before you. The woman in the shabby fur coat.


A broken vase

She seems to have given up trying to reason with you. She's just standing there now, shaking her head of brittle, dyed-orange hair. For a moment or two, you're transported back to your childhood, to the day you broke your grandma’s favourite vase. You were seven years old, a clumsy, inconsiderate boy. She’d warned you time and time again not to play in the sitting room, which was crammed with treasured knick-knacks. She used to talk about her antiques as if they were priceless, and you believed her, realising only when you grew older that the things were mainly junk. Still, that vase had sentimental value. It had been passed down through the generations, the jewel of her scant inheritance.

Your grandma cried when you broke that vase, but you knew without needing to be told that she wasn’t crying for herself. She was crying for you, for the shame you felt, and the person that you’d become.