The last thing his mother told him when he left for school was, “Stay away from the demonstrations.” She’d been telling him the same thing for a week.
He didn’t mind the extra ten minutes the detour added to his walk. He had no interest in watching police in riot gear face down a herd of hooded demonstrators armed with paving stones and Molotov cocktails. He’d seen it all before and knew what tear gas smelled like. After all, he was eleven years old.
The Athens back streets edging around the battleground central square area stood quiet. Businesses stayed tightly shuttered during demonstration hours, at least those that might attract a rock through their windows and a quick grab and snatch by an opportunistic self-proclaimed champion of the long-suffering Greek people.
As the boy approached an intersecting narrow street winding back to the square, a slim figure burst around the corner and ran straight into him. The runner wore the standard demonstrator’s uniform of running shoes, jeans, and a loose fitting hooded sweatshirt covering all but the eyes.
The boy stumbled but stayed on his feet until knocked to the ground by two husky men in black charging around the corner close behind the runner, their faces covered in black balaclavas. Like the runner, neither stopped to look after the boy.
Looking up from the pavement, the boy watched the two men hound after the runner around the next corner. He knew where the chase was headed. Everyone in the neighborhood knew. For decades now, whenever demonstrations in the square turned violent, perpetrators fleeing police ran for the university grounds three blocks away, a place of guaranteed sanctuary from arrest under Greece’s Constitution.
He stood, wiped his hands on his pants, dusted off his shirt, and resumed his walk to school. It wasn’t supposed to be like this anymore. His favorite teachers had told his class that all would be different once the new government was elected and assumed power. There’d no longer be any reason for demonstrations.
He caught a whiff of tear gas and heard spikes of shouting in the distance.
Maybe his grandfather was right. If politicians are involved, there’s no hope for change. They’re all alike.
© Jeffrey Siger