It was to be a day of festivities. Parade Day. We had not had one in “centuries” according to the old man sitting on the park bench. “They were always quite a thing – music – wild regalia – singing – drinking and much happiness.” Made me wonder why it had been so long. I never remembered such an event.
Rumor had it the parade was to march all the way through town, including Shopper’s Fair all the way to High Crest, where anticipation was festive. People of High Crest were milling around in all their 7th Day finery, reserved for events and rest day. Not that their 7th Day clothing was so much more impressive than workday attire. After all, these were the landies; those that owned. They were not shopkeepers or wagers. They lived in High Crest not down below in Shopper’s Fair. Then again, I guess everyone is deserving of a Parade Day.
In our community, like all over, the dispute between wagers and landies is nothing new. They claim the world and life is unfair, we believe life is right – in balance, I guess. I might enjoy working, I don’t know. I am certainly bored by school. Some nights I’ve snuck out with friends to see all the doings in Shopper’s Fair. There are small dwellings, small lives, quiet, non-offensive colors. A few nights, there were protests watched by picture shooters, we even got in a few of the shots; running out and standing among the crowd, yelling and sticking our faces in the camera lens, laughing and drinking. Frivolity fueled by the bitter wines you could buy in the shops for little money.
The nights of protest felt like parties. Often, the shoppies and wagers would open their dwellings. Their friends would walk in and out, talking loud and drinking, spitting and cursing the “Oppressors”. Hard to believe they would let them just spit on the floor. The food and drink were always tasty, until they caught you lingering and sent you out.
“What you doing here, Sol?” They would say when discovered. Sol – Son of a Landy.
“I’m here to protest.”
“Sol, you don’t even know what we’re arguing about.”
“Sure I do, you want more money, want to own your home or your shop, pay less to the government.”
“Boy, go back to High Crest and suck off daddy’s teat. You don’t know dick. You’re just here to get shit faced and maybe see yourself on the newswires” and literally booted me out the door. Cute daughter, though. Tight curled, dark hair. Even in the wind it moved little and never spent too much time in her face. High Crest girls had straight hair, mostly sandy colored, that would become unkempt in a wind and always needed tending to make sure it was perfect. That was the other thing; here there were many colors of hair – auburn, red, gold, grey – tones rarely seen up top, except among the new ones, like my folks and me.
We were newly landed. Saved enough to buy land and a building or two in town, when the shopkeeper or wager disappeared. It was like getting a promotion without the necessity of work, I suppose. It was life anew – better clothes, better restaurants, help around the house, which my mother adored. However, it came with a new sense of disconnection from our old life. We left our town; it would’ve been a hard transition there. Here, we just arrived with a sense of snooty.
“Ne’er mind him” a bit of a lilt infused in her speech. “What you doing down here, anyways?”
“I came for a kiss.” and she laughed, big, joyful, not a titter of laughter, like I was so used to hearing. I broke up. In turn she grabbed my shirt and pulled me full force mouth-to-mouth, arm wrapped tight about my neck, tongues dancing together.
“Now, take that back with you to explode your shorts tonight. Come again and we’ll see what happens. Go, before he comes out and finds you still here and gives you fist instead of boot.” So much life in this world amongst the drab.
There was a sudden public upbeat, with all those around me beginning to mingle their way to line the streets. “The parade is coming soon, murmuring through the High Cresters. It was hard for them to stand so close to one another. They were used to handshake distance, not a close grasp, mind you, with a reach out. If people stand closer, you might smell their sweat, not their perfumes; the unselected scent they try so hard to keep hidden.
They gathered in lines, prepared to cheer whatever passed before them. To get to High Crest, as you can tell from the name you had to travel up a long slope. So, while we could easily hear sounds from below, it could take a long time to see anything. I remember waiting for my Granny to visit. Rustling around, up and down, looking from the train station down the long slope without seeing her train until it was almost upon the town. Then the belch of engine smoke was clear and she would be with us soon. Of course, the train station is in High Crest, you don’t expect us to go all the way to Shopper’s Fair to catch a train to elsewhere.
Then we could begin to see it of in the distance, it felt like the parade was emerging up through the clouds. You could just begin to discern the tops of heads or hats. They walked in lock step, almost like they were tied together – bonded at the hip. A clear rhythm to the walk. It looked from this far away as though each one was carrying another. Maybe fused to another, is a better term. From a distance it appeared as if there were hundreds of these two creature features moving forward, each step ringing out on the pavement.
At first, you could hear the High Cresters cheering in anticipation. Who was coming? It must be someone of importance. But, as quickly as one group cheered, the one before was hushed to silence. It was a Parade in reverse. When the cheers should be growing louder, they were instead diminishing. People on either side of the roadway were quieted, in reverence, as if was a great funeral of the leader come to High Crest or a papal progression bringing with it sorrow and change. It was becoming chilling and fearful. The crowd grew frightened as they did not know and could not fathom what was coming. I would have left, except the press of the crowd made it impossible. No one was leaving!
As the parade grew closer the odd picture came into focus, not one fused to another, but hundreds of carrying all their possessions on their backs. Each suffering alone while together in their combined ordeal - missing eyes, twisted limbs, hobbled with a chain at the ankle and moving in unison.
The clacking was the sound of bare and bloodied feet slapping in unison steps on the bricked and wet street. The High Cresters’ faces changed from panicky to peaceful, as if a mutual thought passed among them “I can’t believe I was afraid of this. These are mere prisoners or a chain gang or the huddled masses, yearning... so to speak.” There was nothing intimidating about them or their rhythmic motions. In fact, the rhythm was lulling as the thump of a bass drum in an orchestra.
As we stood watching them move to the cattle pens by the train station, those around me began to glory in their plight – schadenfruede – “it’s not me with this rabble”. They must have done something horrible to be brought so low. I heard an old neighbor say, “they must be the troubled ones, glad the government is finally getting them out of here. Look how silent they are. Clearly they know they are bad and shouldn’t speak.”
Speak - the voices were in their eyes, some downcast, others raging, all pleading hoping someone would say stop or offer water or respite. Around them they heard only blame, curses and dismissal. Every ten feet on each side of the parade walked an officer, with bright uniform and shinny buttons. Clean cut, pure face. “Look how upright they are. How clean. They must be the upstanding ones. Do you know who they represent?”
“Not me”, said the somber man next to her.
Not me – that was profound in so many ways. It wasn’t “me” in the throng or at its side. It was also not me asking the reason or seeking an answer. It was certainly not me protesting as they were led through town. But, it was me shrinking back from the edge and beginning to look at the long train sitting at the side yard, doors of the cattle cars open and waiting like maws prepared to consume.
We all stood, in silence, waiting for the procession end, but it seemed not to come. I could crane my neck and look back. I could see lines of the shiny-buttoned men off in the distance. Every now and again, it looked as if an armature would reach out, like deus ex machina and snatch someone from the sidelines putting chain to ankle, then from ankle to ankle next and ahead and prod them into lock step. I could see people pushing others to the front – push front – snatch and clamp – push front – snatch and clamp, all without noise.
Now fear grew. Every one of us in mutual wonder, “Am I a pusher or a snatched?” Who stood behind me? Who in front? Why were no voices raised? Would I yell out? Then I saw the snatch included a jolt, that took away the voice, the spirit, but it shouldn’t cow the crowd, why were they saying nothing. These marauders were thinning the herd without sound and fury. I saw the curls girl go by, so much worse for wear. Her frothy locks bedraggled and her powerful lips faded. In her eyes a vacant stare without a contact point. I tried to catch her eye and stopped mid-stride. What if that brought attention to me?
I looked for my parents or anyone else I knew. That I had not seen them felt like a good omen.
They drew closer, the snatch and grabbers. Around me the crowd was pressed tight, no room to breathe, no space for noise. The parade of the grabbed grew better dressed, less disheveled as those like me were added to the throng. In that instant I was pushed, grabbed, jolted, snatched and silenced. It was me added to the drift. No voice was raised, not the old somber man, not the judgmental woman. I was taken. I was added and diminished at the same moment. I could hear the refrain ringing in my head – they came for those before me and I was silent, when they came for me I could say nothing. My world ended not in a bang, not in a whimper, but in a complicity of silence.