I was so stupid to have thought that security guard was going to do anything. I mean, who listens to a sixteen year old child these days? No, I take that back – when did they ever? The fact I was talking about a bomb here just made things worse. I mean seriously, a bomb? Even I wouldn’t have believed it so easily. But the thing was, this time I had been telling the truth. Of course, making people see that was a different matter entirely. By the time there was enough proof, the market would have long been blown to bits and it would be too late to do anything.
I should have thought about the situation more before I blurted out the whole thing to some random security guard who looked like he wanted nothing more than to just leave his shift and take a nap. Still, he did his job and as a ‘suspicious person’ he tried to hold on to me but I knew I had no time. Instead of trying to get everyone to safety, I needed to take a gamble instead. Yes, gamble thousands of lives on just one chance. As long as I found Lucas and located the bomb in time, everything would turn out alright. I wrestled myself out of the security guard’s grip and raced as fast as my lungs would allow further into the market, averting my eyes away as the guard used the radio at his waist to presumably tell his fellow security to ‘watch out for a suspicious kid’ instead of informing them of a bomb that could potentially destroy the lives of everyone in the square. Still, I raced on. My eyes flickered for a brief moment to my phone.
Not much longer left.
“Come on,” I urged myself, gritting my teeth. I thought my head would dislocate itself from my neck, the way I kept twisting it left and right for any signs of Lucas or the bomb. But still, I had to. When I thought about it, I was the only hope everyone in the market had left of surviving. And they didn’t even know about it.
No pressure, huh?
I was running out of time and still had no leads, no Lucas – nothing. By then, I had reached the middle of the square. There were crowds everywhere, everyone clumping together like dazed sheep to watch their beloved Future Party Leader, Roman Riley, on screen as he gave his speech. What looked like hundreds were lined up at the Party’s free food stalls and now that I was caught up in the whole crowd, it was difficult to even see past the person next to me. These were the very conditions one would need for the effects of a bomb to be seen on a large scale. The bomb should be here. Yet where was Lucas?
There was no time. Now desperate, I laid my eyes on the market clock – specifically, the tall tower it had been built on that would surely have a good view of the area from the top. I turned around and headed back the way I came before making a quick left turn, going straight and then finding myself right in front of the tower. With the speed I was going at too fast for me to control, I slammed into the closed entrance but luckily for me, they were push-doors and I hurtled right in. Not giving myself time to rest, I dashed up the stairs, knowing the elevator would take too long, advancing about three or four steps at a time. Made it.
Now high enough to be able to see the whole market stretched out in front of me, I scanned the streets below from the window I was at. I recalled my memory for exactly what I was looking for. Tall guy, red baseball cap, probably a blue jacket too and I was pretty sure he was carrying his favourite black sports bag with him. Found him. There was Lucas, standing alone to the side of all the queues, away from the crowds and easy to spot. My heart calmed down slightly as I let out a sigh of relief but I knew it was not over – in fact, far from it. I turned to dash down the stairs again.
That’s when the bomb exploded.
Before I was able to even comprehend the loud sound of its detonation, a shock wave of heat and wind knocked me off my feet from behind, all of it penetrating through the tower walls.
I had been too late.
I jumped back up even after being knocked down, as much as all the muscles and limbs in my body were killing me. If the bomb had been of a magnitude so huge, I could feel its effects from way up in a clock tower then I was already dreading what was happening in the market down below. Staggering slightly, I made my way back down the stairs, trying to keep my mind away from the excruciating shouts and screams I heard from outside. An alarm sounded. I knew people would be evacuating by now, everyone rushing to escape from the result of the explosion and the market would be in chaos.
I reached the tower entrance. But I had yet to prepare myself for the reality that was revealed before me.
Greeted by concentrated clouds of dust that choked my throat, I stepped out of the market clock and witnessed devastation. Small fires had broken out, the stalls had been torn apart and who knew how many bodies scattered the scorched floors amongst debris? I smelt the stench of ash and burning plastic. I could feel my lungs burning from the foulness of the air I breathed in. But I could not stop. Amongst this agony, Lucas was there, probably injured or even balancing on the brink of death, alone somewhere. I knew professional help would be coming soon – the police, ambulance and fire brigade, and perhaps eventually the media, but I needed to do something before then. Covering my nose and mouth with the back of my wrist, I plunged into the desolation before me.
The image of where Lucas had been standing had already been imprinted in my mind. Even with the change in surroundings with all the people gone, the notable landmarks destroyed and thick mists of dust and filth clouding my sense of direction, I was able locate Lucas.
At first glance, he was unconscious. I moved towards him, brushing off bits of rubble that had fallen on top of him and slowly lifted his head. Even though he was covered in heat scabs and burns, I had thought he would be fine. The notion that Lucas would die was in itself ridiculous to me.
Lucas wasn’t breathing. I called for him, even when I couldn’t hear my own voice from all the noise. With no response, I shook him, my actions now distraught and frantic even when I’d already long ago realised the truth.
Lucas was dead.
I stood up, knowing it was too late. Everything had been too late. I was a failure.
There was no need to do anything anymore. The police would come soon enough and find Lucas here and take care of him, as they would with all the other bodies that littered the ground.
The dust clouds were getting thicker and I brought out my handkerchief so I wouldn’t breathe in too much of the tainted air. I wandered, lost, through the blinding mist, heading for what I believed to be the exit, until something caught my eye. Movement.
Impossible. I was standing well within range of the bomb’s epicentre. Nobody in the area should have been able to survive the blast. Still, who was I to give up so easily? Somebody out there could still be saved; they could be calling for help desperately if only someone would rush to their aid.
That would be me.
I went towards where I had seen movement and saw, to my amazement, a girl about my age who was virtually untouched. My first impression was that she had somehow managed to survive the blast but then what would she still be doing there? Everyone else had long ago evacuated. No, the answer lay in what the girl was doing. She knelt before a mangled body, a woman wearing a leafy green coat, as she wept bitterly.
“Mum!” the girl cried desperately between coughs. “MUM! Please...”
I realised that the girl had come from outside of the market, who had ventured all the way here amongst an agonizing misery to search for her mother. Rushing to her aid, I crouched next to the woman but from one look I could tell there was no hope.
The girl’s mother was dead.
I was pretty sure that the girl already realised this. I could tell, just from her expression. But the girl seemed to be refusing to accept this reality, her cries ringing painfully as she called for her dead mother. Her coughing became worse as she ignored the dust that was entering her lungs in order to get in as many sobs as she could.
“What are you doing?” I yelled at her. “Why on earth did you come here? It’s not safe. We need to evacuate, come on.”
They were harsh words for someone who had just lost a loved one, I know, but it looked like she was lacking oxygen and was close to following after her mother. I couldn’t have this girl dying on me as well. It was only when I shouted that the girl noticed my presence. She looked at me with incredulity but recovered in order to plead for my help.
“Please,” she begged me, tears running down her face. “You’ve got to help me! Mum is...”
“Your mum’s dead!” I screamed, trying to make her face reality. “There’s nothing more you can do! A bomb just exploded here and she got caught up in it. It’s hard to swallow, I know, but you’ve got to accept the truth!”
I grabbed the girl’s arm and tried to drag her with me but she resisted.
“No!” she shrieked hysterically. “I can’t just leave her!”
“What do you think you can do?” I cornered her. “What do you hope to achieve by staying here? All you’re doing is suffocating yourself to death!”
“I don’t care! I can’t live without her!”
“So you’re planning to follow her?” I berated. “I will not allow you to die! As long as you are alive, you must not die and keep living. Live your mother’s share too and don’t give up so easily. There’s obviously something going on in this country, I don’t know what exactly but someone out there is the cause for the deaths of thousands of innocent people on this day. Can you allow yourself to die, knowing that?”
I didn’t tug the girl again but instead wrapped my arms around her, gently trying to fill the void in her heart, if only slightly, with a bit of warmth.
“Come,” I soothed. “You won’t be alone, I promise you.”
The girl took my hand and stood up. She had stopped crying and allowed me to guide her out of the market to the exit. There, a bunch of security guards were waiting with a whole bunch of evacuated people behind them, many injured severely. The very sight of some made my stomach twist.
The guards ran up to us when we made it out.
“What took you guys so long?” one of them demanded. However, when he took a look at our matted hair, torn clothes and skin blackened with soot, his expression softened. “Never mind. Just join the others and take a rest. Find your parents. Are there any others left in there?”
“I didn’t see anyone else,” I replied. The guard nodded and let us pass.
I found an empty corner and sat the girl down whilst I simply collapsed onto the floor, thoroughly beaten. I watched from where I was as the police came onto the scene with the ambulance and fire brigade in tow.
“Are you hurt?” the girl asked me suddenly.
The girl shook her head.
“Thanks for what you did there, by the way,” she mumbled, looking away with embarrassment. “I was saved by you. My names Charlotte, but you can call me Charlie.”
“Nice to meet you Charlie,” I said, sitting up and grinning. “You can call me Nat. Feeling better now?”
This time, she nodded.
“Anyway, sorry for what I said back in the market,” I apologized. “I know I was harsh. It was bad of me. Also...I’m sorry for your loss. My deepest condolences...”
“It’s okay,” she said quietly. “I appreciate what you did and I’m fine now that I’ve cleared my head. But Nat, what were you doing in the market?”
I didn’t answer for a while. “To tell you the truth...I guess the same reason as you.”
“My friend, Lucas...” I murmured. “I rushed into the market to look for him.”
“What...What happened to him?” Charlie asked softly.
“By the time I got there, it was already too late. He was dead.”
“Oh...” Charlie bent her head. “I’m sorry...”
“No, it’s okay. It’s the same for you too. We’re both victims of the bombing here. I know what it’s like for you and what you’re going through.”
“You’re very strong,” Charlie said. “Then compared to me...” Her voice trailed off.
“I think you’re very strong-willed,” I said encouragingly. “To rush into the centre of an explosion like that to search for your mother – most people would abandon their family and save themselves. I admire that in you.”
Charlie blushed and turned her head away angrily.
“Why do you think there was a bomb? Who was responsible?” she asked, changing the subject.
“Most likely, it was a terrorist attack. I don’t know who was responsible but I’m guessing someone with something against the Government, and to be precise – the Future Party and its leader, Roman Riley. There’s something going on in this country. Something bad.”
I stood up and faced her.
“Charlie. Along with Lucas and your mother, thousands of innocent people were killed for no reason except to selfishly satisfy a terrorist’s need for retaliation. I’m...I’m going to do something. I’m going to find the culprit behind this bombing and put a stop to this madness. Things can’t go on like this. Right now, the society we live in is corrupt, covered in dark secrets with the Government at its centre while citizens like us are discarded like toys. There’s no way Lucas can rest in peace with the way things stand. It’s not so much for revenge now, but instead for a future where there are no more victims. Victims like us.” I looked up at Charlie and our eyes met. “What will you do?”
“Do you really need to ask?” she replied, standing up to be beside me. “You promised I wouldn’t be alone, didn’t you? Now you have to keep it. Our goals are the same. There’s no way I can continue living peacefully knowing that Mum died for such self-centred reasons. I won’t rest until the criminal is brought to justice. I need to...I need to make it up to Mum. I’m coming with you.”
“Then it’s settled,” I said, giving her a small, sad smile as I stretched out my hand. She took it. “I look forward to working with you Charlie – no, partner.”