It Fell From The Window
She scrunched up her nose. “Back at the U. We were lab partners for the last couple of weeks in chemistry, weren’t we? Your name’s Corbin, isn’t it?”
That’s it. Now, what what her name? “Oh yeah, that’s right. I mean, yes it is. Are you sure?”
“I mean about being my lab partner.”
“You don’t remember me? I’m hurt.”
“It was that chem for medicine majors, right?”
“And we had that bald professor that always smelled like fish.”
“That’s the one. Do you remember me now?” She arched her eyebrows.
“Ok. It’s not that I don’t remember you at all, it’s just that I don’t remember much about you. I had seven lab partners that semester. There was single dad, angry feminist, the crazy one with the boots, goth girl, pot head, sandwich guy, and the cute one. I’m pretty sure you were either goth girl or the cute one.”
“Goth girl or the cute one, huh?” She raised an eyebrow in a mock scold and folded her arms. “What if I’m still the angry feminist?”
“Couldn’t be, that was a guy.” Something sparked. “Wait a minute, did you play on the soccer team?”
“So you do remember me.”
“Yeah, you were definitely the cute one.” I smiled again. “I mean you are the cute one.”
She rolled her eyes and smiled back. “That was the lamest line I’ve ever heard. Ever.”
I decided to take a chance. “Even so, you want to get some breakfast?”
She lowered her eyebrows and cocked her head. “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t, I’m married now.”
“Not really. Let’s go.” She laughed and grabbed my arm. She pulled a little bit, but then turned back. “Um, I guess I don’t know where we’re going.”
I pointed in the opposite direction with my thumb. “This way.”
I asked what she had been doing in the area.
She told me she had just finished her morning run and her dad had hauled her there with him. She pointed out two men next to The Four Brother’s Market. They were shouting at a uniformed soldier. She explained that one was her dad, and the other her uncle, and they were two of the four brother’s after which the store was named. They were trying to get the army to let them open it up again.
“Dad’s the one doing less yelling. He’s a little less passionate than my uncles.” She almost looked embarrassed to say it.
About half a block down sat a tiny cafÃ© sandwiched between two large office buildings. It had been my favorite since I started working at the hospital. The food was nothing spectacular, but I guess it just felt like I was helping support the little guy.
The cafÃ© was empty except for us. I had never seen that happen before. Everybody in the area had swarmed to the hospital to see what was going on. We sat at a table next to the television in the corner so that we could keep up to date if anything exciting happened. The owner came out and took our order.
We talked a little about our school days. She had dropped pre-med for business and I had finished my nursing degree. I got the job at the hospital right after I graduated, and she had started working her way up the family company.
The family company was the Four Brother’s collection of holdings. They owned four grocery stores, a couple of sporting goods stores, three department stores, a bunch of pawn shops, gas stations, apartments, and other stuff, about a third of Oasis all in all.
We were getting along famously, but I still couldn’t remember her name. I could sense it in the back of my head somewhere, but I couldn’t quite get a hold of it. By this time we’d been talking for half an hour or so and I was too embarrassed to come out and ask her. I tried to lead the conversation so that she might reveal it, but found no luck.
My attentions were drawn to the TV as the some kind of commotion started. The news crew was watching a group of soldiers race into the hospital. What is going on in there?
“Something’s up.” I was now staring at the TV.
“I’d better go find my dad.” She was staring, too as even more soldiers went in.
I was about to respond when we heard the distinctive sound of gunshots. I couldn’t tell if they had come echoing down the street, from the television, or both. A weak “OK” is all I could manage to say for the moment.
At length I found words again, and turned back to her. “Let’s get you back to…”
She was no longer at the table. I caught a glimpse of her athletic body darting past the front windows. Beth. That’s it. Her name’s Beth. It figures that I remember now.
I don’t know why, but I felt an intense responsibility to make sure she found her family out in the crowd. I dug around in my bag until I found my wallet, threw a couple of bills on the table and sprinted for the door.
More gunshots were going off. The massive crowd was splitting, with one group trying to get away from the situation any way possible and another pressing toward the barricade, trying desperately to see what was going on. The two groups were colliding with, pushing and cursing each other for being so incredibly stupid. Utter pandemonium reigned the moment.
I felt my stomach drop as I scanned the scene for Beth. I hope she’s OK. I was so focused I hardly noticed the sea of people flowing past me. I plowed toward the place I had seen her father and uncle arguing.
The crowd was much thinner on the grocery store side of the street, but no less chaotic. People were running in every direction.
I finally caught sight of her bouncing ponytail. She was flanked by her family and they were making their way around the back of the store.
I was immediately struck by the calm, direct manner way they walked whilst the world around them was bedlam. Wow, there’s a family that can handle pressure.
I had little time to contemplate the merits of staying calm and collected, as the screaming increased from across the street.
I must have been stupid, brave or just too plain curious for my own good. I had to know what was going on. I dodged the still fleeing crowd as best I could. In a heartbeat, I had climbed up on the bench at the bus stop.
The crowd quieted down enough to tell that the shooting at stopped. The military transports in which the soldiers had arrived were lining up at the main entrance. The hospital fire alarm went off. Patients and nurses began to pour out the front door. Everybody was being loaded as fast as possible.
As the first transports were pulling away, something new excited the crowd. A number of people were pointing to a window on the third floor.
I strained, but from where I was I couldn’t see anything through the windows. I couldn’t even be sure at which window everyone was pointing.
That is, I couldn’t tell which one it was until one of them shattered. A man in a white lab coat fell with the shards of glass into the bushes that lined the front of the hospital. The crowd, whose noise had reached a fever pitch, fell silent.
I glanced up at the broken window.
A soldier with some kind of rifle was looking down to examine the grisly scene below. He turned back inside.
Movement from below stole my attentions.
The bushes were moving. The fallen man was still alive. Even so, no one among the crowd, the soldiers or the hospital staff made a move. We all just stared on.
The man emerged. Blood stained much of his coat. His arms hung dead at his side. He did not look around, brush himself off or even say anything. He just limped away from the building. There was something definitely wrong with him.
I was paralyzed. My eyes were wide, I held my breath and I clenched my jaw. This cannot be happening.
In fact, the entire crowd seemed to hold it’s breath as the man made his way toward the barricade. Everything about the way he moved seemed unnatural. He made it halfway to the crowd when a soldier who had been keeping the onlookers back took two steps toward him and raised his gun. The man in the tattered, bloody coat just stared blankly straight ahead, and kept walking.
The soldier fired. The shot hit the man square in the chest, and he was knocked flat on his back. No sooner had he hit the ground than he began to rise. The soldier fired again as the man got to his feet. The bullet caught him in the left arm, which swung back, but he did not make a sound or even seem to notice. The man just kept coming toward the barricade.
A few other soldiers finally regained presence of mind. The sound of gunshots once again split the uncomfortable silence. The man finally fell motionless to the ground.
I could do nothing but stare for a time. The whole scenario had shaken me to the very core. I had no idea what to do next, where to go, or even what to think.
Apparently most of the crowd felt the same way. They just stood, awe struck and staring. No one knew what to do.
I suddenly felt like an idiot for wanting to see how things were going to pan out. I noticed that the assemblage of onlookers must have been steadily increasing since the panic had subsided. I was now surrounded by people attempting to see the action and figure out what was happening, and it worried me. When it hits the fan again, I’m going to be stuck right in the middle. I could feel the tension building all around me. I just didn’t want to be the one to start a stampede.
The crowd grew increasingly agitated. The faces of those around me showed only fear and uncertainty. Most were fidgeting or holding their breath, some were slowing backing their way to the edges. It was as if everyone was just waiting for some kind of signal to make a run for it.
More shooting within the hospital awakened us all from our stupefied trances, and all hell broke loose.
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Oasis is copyright 2006 Bryce A Beattie. Ads In association with Amazon.