There’s a strange calm before it all begins. You’d think it just builds up and up until it finally erupts, but right before it goes off, there’s always a moment of quiet. It’s like everyone’s taking a deep breath and steeling themselves, maybe even praying. It’s almost eerie. How do I know this? Well, this isn’t my first one. I’m a veteran. I’ve been doing this for years. I was doing this before I was old enough to drive.
People often ask me what it feels like to be right in the middle of it. Exciting? Frightening? Well, I say, it’s both. But what I feel more strongly than anything else is the solidarity. To my left, to my right, and behind me, my comrades stand tight, like bricks in a wall. It’s a powerful feeling, a wonderful feeling. We’re no idiots. We’re organised this time. No man will be left behind.
Some people disapprove. They say we’re thugs who simply crave violence. They accuse us of having no proper understanding of the political issues, the injustices, no comprehension of the real reasons behind and need for resistance. But truthfully, I don’t give a damn what they think. It’s no crime not to be political. I’ve never really wanted or needed to be. You can have views and opinions without being interested in parliament. That stuff bores the shit out of me.
We didn’t want to get caught out like we were before, so we studied this time. We watched footage from riots all over the world. We really got some inspiration – take the French, for example. Now they really know how to have a riot. Like everything else, they’ve practically turned it into an art form. We English are too timid.
It’s beginning to kick off now. The helicopters are lower, much closer, louder; I can actually feel the thumping of the rotor blades reverberating in my bones. They’re watching everything from up there; got to be careful. Best not to show your face if you can help it. My heart, like the helicopters above, is pounding. I feel it in my throat.
Near my left flank, about twenty feet away, a Sprinter is edging through the crowd. There is a splat of red paint across the windshield and the steel grille covering it. Coins rain down onto the van… thunk, thunk, thunk. From somewhere comes a shoe. It bounces off the roof. A man with a patterned scarf round his face jumps up and repeatedly punches the passenger window with a gloved fist. The passenger doesn’t react, the driver doesn’t react. Those windows are tough. The van doesn’t change its speed but simply ploughs onward like a slow, white armadillo. Now people are spitting on the windows.
Plastic bottles containing liquid are flying through the air. Turning around once more, I look at my companions’ faces. Some look frightened, but most look like excited children. They are actually smiling. I am smiling too. The noise levels are building up now. The shrill whine of the megaphones battles with the noise from the choppers above and the chants from the crowd.
Then without explanation, the noise dies right back down again. Even the sound from the choppers is muted. For a few seconds, there is something close to silence.
“Here we go, boys”, shouts one of our group. “It’s on!”
Whoops and cheers surround me, elbows jostle. My feet are hardly touching the ground, but I am moving. We surge forward as one. Then my feet find the ground again. The moment we’ve been waiting for has arrived, at last. Snapping down my visor, I step forward and enter the fray.