By E. A. Hansen
The students laugh at this reference to the monthly animal control
practice whereby police guards – the ones that we are
soon to learn are rioting – drive though neighborhoods
on a truck shooting all the stray cats and dogs in sight.
MRS. N.: Enough!!!
The students quiet as the Principal enters the classroom once
more, pressing his right index finger toward the teacher with
a slow force masking urgency and fear.
PRINCIPAL: A word...
The Principal and Mrs.
N. engage in a secret whispered conversation as students look/don’t
look. Mrs. N. retreats back with the cooperative grace of a
sergeant giving way to the general.
PRINCIPAL: Okay children, listen up, we need
your cooperation. We all have to leave school early today, so
we’re all going to Room 18 where your parents will come
and get you. We’re going to line up outside on the balcony
and I’ll give you instructions from the track field down
below. Let’s be as calm as possible.
The Principal opens the
door and we hear a LOW-HOVERING HELICOPTER.
WHINEY STUDENT: I
have to get something out of my locker.
A THUNDEROUS HELICOPTER
flies overhead; it’s so intense it rattles your body a
MRS. N.: We
don’t have time.
WHINEY STUDENT: But…
MRS. N.: We don’t have time.
Students in various states
of concern, fear, and excitement gather their belongings and
file out the door in a single file line. The HELICOPTER SOUNDS
increase. Disorientation sets in.
So, it’s mid-morning and my brothers and I are in school,
my mom is running around the neighborhood fetching a neighbor’s
daughter from daycare, mistaking the whizzing noise of flying
bullets for birds, and soon to be retrieving her kids from school.
My dad is in his downtown office where a secretary learns from
an uncle in the government that a city-wide curfew is going
to be announced. Everyone in Cairo is to be off the streets
by 1:00 PM because the army has been called in to quell the
rioting forces and now, also, round up escaping prisoners. My
dad is eager to get home and gets into his car to make the twenty
minute drive home. But word is spreading about the curfew and
the streets are already filling up with panicking civilians
who have no way to get home. The bus and train schedule at this
hour can’t accommodate rush hour proportions and thousands
of people are afraid they won’t be able to hoof it in
time. Pedestrians start pounding on cars and buses, trying to
get a ride. When this fails, they start dismantling precariously
built flyover bridges, removing bricks from the pavement, whittling
the lanes down to one, trying to slow traffic so as to be able
to forcibly hitch rides. This chaos creates gridlock. My dad
is stuck not far from where he started and turns on the BBC,
hoping for an update, worried that he won’t get home before
1:00 PM, wondering what’s happening with wife and kids.
It’s not stated outright, but the implication is that
anyone on the streets after curfew will be met with the end
of gun. And then he hears a report that helicopter gunships
are shooting at people in our neighborhood…
EXTERIOR – SCHOOL BUILDING - CONTINUOUS
POINT OF VIEW E.:
E. walks out of the classroom.
CHOPPER SOUNDS increase.
E. lines up outside on
the balcony and looks to the far left and right, dozens of students
from other classrooms are already stiffly lined up with their
backs glued to the wall behind them. Everyone is eerily focused
despite the choppers and drama. The shot widens to reveal three
stories of rigid children lined up and pressing up against the
brick wall behind them.
THE PRINCIPAL stands on the track field in front of the
building, addressing the children on high.
(yelling over the noise) We’re going to go to
Room 18! I want you to be careful, but go as quickly as you
can! We’re going by floor. I want the 3rd Floor to come
down first. Start now!
3RD FLOOR BALCONY
The line-up on the 3rd Floor starts its descent down the
external staircase. Children book it down the stairs passing
the rows of other overly rigid and cooperative kids.
POINT OF VIEW E.:
E. looks up at the HOVERING GUNSHIP. Her eyes and mouth
widen. E. looks down at children running across the field and
feels the onset of adrenaline rush. The mad dash combined with
the intense helicopter presence makes her excited
E.: Holy cow.
PRINCIPAL: (yelling with even more urgency)
Okay! Second floor! Come down now!
The second floor group
starts its descent down and across. E. gets very focused, calculating
each step with quickness and precision. She’s down the
stairs and looks up as the helicopter starts making its way
across the track field she’s about to cross. The noise
is loud and disorienting
E. VOICE OVER:
Be better than in P.E.! Run! Run! Run!
E. sprinting and panting alongside other kids – Chariots
of Fire style.
So, B. and I correspond electronically. He seems like a really
nice guy. It turns out we both live in Los Angeles. I tell him
more about my current life, which I paint with forced optimism
and enthusiasm, “I love my life and job!!” He keeps
narrating memories and remembering people from, what is becoming
clear are, to him, the good old days. He makes his website and
there indeed was a day where the entire school cross-dressed.
He says he has a picture of me from that day looking like a
boy Hitler owing to my short hair and painted on square mustache.
I vaguely remember this. He says he’ll get these negatives
processed soon and burn me a CD of them. But, looking back,
there’s one photo on the website that could have been
read as a foreboding foreshadowing, he has titled it, “Liz
From Afar” and it’s a grainy close up of me shot
from a long, safe distance. I’m standing, hands stiff
in pockets looking distractedly down to the ground, it’s
not clear what I’m doing, I look kind of sad – it’s
definitely a private moment of contemplation, one I’ve
never seen in the mirror.
So, we make the mad dash across the track field to Room 18,
the lower school multipurpose room where the rest of the elementary
school is gathered. The music teacher, tickling away at the
ivories, has been enlisted to soothe fear and uncertainty by
leading us in an Andrew Lloyd Weber sing along until frantic
parents arrive to whisk us home. Everything has happened so
quickly and now that there’s time to just sit and wonder,
emotions start to rise. Some kids are crying in corners, others
look around frozen in a daze, then kids who aren’t crying
see the ones who are crying and they start crying. Some kids
are oblivious to the sub-musical drama of the room and participate
in a manic American Idol-like singing competition, belting out
Skimbleshanks, the Rum Tum Tugger and whatever Lloyd Weber,
Lionel Richie or song from Fame is being offered. The scene
is surreal – Cats? Fame? In the middle of rioting Cairo?
After a couple weeks of emailing, B. and I decide to meet for
coffee. But for some unknown reason, once this meeting is agreed
upon, I realize I don’t want to meet him. What good will
it do? We’ve said everything there is to say in what is
becoming a forced email familiarity. I put it off a bit longer,
but B. is persistent with his long-winded emails, he reiterates
his gratitude about being able to share with me and his memories
continue spilling forth – details about peers, memories
of teachers, locations – any common ground we might share.
Finally, it’s unavoidable, I can’t keep postponing.
Sunday morning we’ll meet in Burbank for coffee, at a
place he says “makes just a wonderful latte.” Wow,
I think, what a dull romantic he is finding such wonder in a
latte and all. But I’ve already decided that I don’t
want to do this.
Parents start collecting their kids from Room 18, but the energy
in the room does not decrease, there is a growing buzz –
eyes darting across the room in continual curious sweeps. Moms
and maids arrive with hugs and immediately exit with kids in
tight tow. The piano drones on with that slow song from Cats,
“Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I remember the old
days, I was happier then…” The tone of the music,
appropriately dramatic, gives voice to the urgency of the potential
danger outside and suggests that we’ll be able to lament
at a later date, this event as passed, concisely bound in a
song such as this one, and we already are; our job is to give
life to “Memory.”
I drive to the coffee shop in Burbank, I have brought what photos
I have of Egypt – family snap shots and my own tourist
photos taken from my disc camera. B. is already there, sitting
outside. It’s January and unseasonably hot – mid
80s, the sun is burning into the concrete making it even hotter.
B. has brought with him the climate of our past I think to myself.
He is a man, he is filled out in the ten year high school reunion
kind of way. He looks like any casual-Friday-clad suburban dad,
he is neat and clean. We greet each other warmly and with some
sense of relief – that we’re actually real or something.
I shake his hand and detect surprising tremors beneath his neatness
– he is vibrating inside and the force of this hum, that
he is obviously trying to mute, is disconcertingly strong. However,
his nervousness puts me at ease as I sit down and use the photos
as light-hearted conversation starters. Remember him? Remember
her? Did you ever go there? Oh wasn’t that fun? I remember
that! And so on. We reminisce and laugh and agree upon a similar
past for about two hours. It’s a fine time.
Finally, my mom shows up – full of pep and purpose in
her morning jogging outfit. I grab her hand, with a pressure
that conveys fear, she tells me later. We walk home at a brisk
pace as she tells me about taking our two giant dogs to the
nearby desert for their morning exercise and how she saw the
prisoners running away. My brothers are already home and we
go to our apartment building’s roof to check out the city.
We see helicopters hovering and flying all around. And my mom
makes this fun, not scary, as if living out a National Geographic
photographer type of fantasy.
Meanwhile, my Dad has been
stuck in traffic for several hours. It’s moving at a snail’s
pace, but luckily the curfew continues to be extended hour by
hour– allowing people sufficient time to get home. He’s
getting closer when he spots a neighbor, an engineer who is
stranded on foot after being dropped off by the company van
he takes to the jobsite. My dad calls him over and gives him
a ride. This continues all the way home, spotting engineers,
cramming them and their mini-cooler lunch pales into the mid-size
sedan until there are seven super-sized American men laying
all over each other with their lunch accessories spread about
– the bottom of the car scraping the road, but they make
it home safely.
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