Up, up and up it flew. The emerald projectile span as it rose into a scarless, blue sky. It twinkled as it reflected sun-flakes in a shower of sparks as it reached the zenith of its gentle curve. It gathered speed as it adhered to that oldest of laws. Down and down, quicker and quicker. Black smoke billowed from the blazing rag someone had hurriedly stuffed in the top.
Joshua barely registered the faint reflection of himself in the window he was looking through, mouth gaping open, eyes as wide and expansive as the blue beyond. The bottle neared the end of its arc. The line of riot police it was aimed at dropped to one knee and shoved their thick plastic shields towards the sky as if they were defiantly showing the heavens the company emblem emblazoned upon them. The bottle smashed against the phalanx, showering the policeman cowering below with flaming liquid. Where it had hit, the much maligned emblem had puckered and blistered black. Behind it he thought he could just about glimpse a helmet and a face. A split second after the explosion the blast rocked the bus on its suspension. Suddenly he felt like more than a spectator.
‘Did you see that?’ Anthony whirled around to look at Joshua then whirled back to look out of the window. Excitement lit up his face with a childlike glee that was at odds with the shirt and tie he was dressed in. ‘Those bug munchers are throwing petrol bombs at the plastys!’
The police pulled in closely together, nervously watching the sky. A second petrol bomb seemed to signal a new stage in the violence, an escalatory gauntlet, thrown by one side but reacted to by both. The bus driver needed no prompting, the engine revved and the bus inched forwards, nervously crossing into the no-man’s land between police and protestors.
On the top floor there was an even mix of impeccably dressed school children who nervously peered out; mothers who held soft young faces away from glass windows; smartly dressed commuters, like them, who watched with interest as though their attire was somehow a shield of civility that the mob below couldn’t tear through.
‘What is it those idiots are kicking off about this time?’ Anthony said. Joshua began to reply but he spoke over him. ‘Ah, who cares anyway? Fucking bug munchers.’
Joshua grinned and shook his head emphatically. He undid the top button of his shirt and relaxed his tie a little.
‘This isn’t on.’ Anthony continued. ‘You can’t tear up the country every time there’s legislation passed that you don’t agree with.’ The police line was on Joshua and Anthony’s side of the bus. Even as they passed slowly by, more blue and red vans arrived, their sides bearing the G4ITAS logo. The back doors opened the moment they stopped, more and more policemen fell out and ran to bolster the line. A steady, menacing rhythm vibrated the bus as they beat their shields.
‘I thought you didn’t know what it was about?’ Joshua said.
‘This lot are going to get their arses whipped!’ Anthony gleefully nodded his head towards the opposite side of the bus. Joshua stood up to look. On the other side was the furious crowd who snarled and chanted and waved placards that read ‘Resist Rebuild’, or ‘Freetopia for power’. One stood out to Joshua, it said: ‘Who will feed my child when I can’t?’ A lot of people in the crowd had covered their faces with bandanas and grotesque Halloween masks. Some were dismantling their placards to reveal sharpened poles.
‘G4ITAS will find these lot after today.’ Anthony said. His voice had lost its power as if it had spent its venom. Joshua glanced at his friend. Anthony stared intently at the crowd, examining each face as if he would find those he was looking for; lost in a fantasy of unsated rage.
‘How are you feeling about the dinner?’ Joshua asked.
Anthony shrugged. ‘Same shit, different year, I do it for Beth really. If we didn’t all meet up for these anniversary dinners then I’d never see her.’ He didn’t take his eyes off the crowd as he spoke.
An old woman sat on the seat opposite. She wore a threadbare jacket and clutched a handbag on her lap with hands which trembled as though she were cold. She saw Joshua looking over and shook her head sadly. ‘Those poor people down there.’ She softly sighed the words as though their passing hurt her.
Joshua started to reply as he sat down but Anthony spoke first. ‘They’re gonna get what they deserve love, a bloody good pasting, just like they did at the election last year.’ He cackled nastily.
‘Come on, Anthony. Leave her alone.’ Joshua frowned.
The woman shook her head again. ‘It was like this for your people once, laddie. I remember when I was a girl in the 1980’s and the riots in Brixton…’ Outside, the tempo of the banging increased. Joshua found himself nervously tapping his foot in time.
Anthony stood up, the low roof of the bus made him hunch over, making him look bigger than he was. The old lady shrank in her seat as if he had physically threatened her. ‘My fucking people, lady? I’m as English as you are. Are you trying to say that I’m not welcome here? Why don’t you just call me a darkie and get it over with? Old cunt.’ The woman looked away, out of the window, refusing to turn back towards them. A middle aged man wearing a suit nervously looked at Anthony and licked his lips. ‘What?’ Anthony spat at him. He too looked away. Anthony sat back in his seat and looked around the bus defiantly, daring someone to challenge him.
‘What did you have to do that for? She was only talking to us.’ Joshua said.
‘Ah come on Josh, don’t get all pissy on me. You’ve got to play the race card every now and then. It’s the only way to keep you white folk in check.’ Anthony winked at him.
Joshua laughed. ‘You’re real dick.’ He looked out of the window again. The banging had grown louder and the police had been joined by what looked like a militarised fire engine. ‘Here we go. The plastic police have brought in the reinforcements: water cannon.’ He said with interest.
‘Ah, I’m tempted to get off so I can stay and watch.’ Anthony sounded almost wistful.
‘It could be arranged, baldy. Those Freetopia people would rip you to shreds.’
‘Nah, I’m a minority, the lefties love a good minority.’
‘Not one as privileged as you.’ Joshua laughed. Finally the bus reached the far side of the no-man’s land between the warring factions. They stood so that they could follow the action. Necks craned and people pushed towards the back of the bus to get a better view. The two sides, now facing one another properly, held still as if unsure of the etiquette that governed such a situation.
‘Privilege is in the eye of the beholder.’ Anthony replied loftily. ‘My parents worked hard to leave me an inheritance, you bug muncher.’
Joshua’s face reddened, he went to retort but the battle cries behind the bus silenced him.