Prologue to Minute of Darkness

January 5, 2015

MINUTE OF DARKNESS

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

       

After dusk Cass Griffith roamed Ankara, torn about what to do next, anxious because she felt she knew what needed to be done, but fearing she didn’t have the strength to do it.  She stepped around a couple and turned the corner. Ataturk Boulevard, a street she traveled often on her walks around the city, now looked like a hurricane-ravished sea.

 

 “Dammit,” she mumbled, turning around to retrace her steps. But the street and sidewalk she had just come down were also filled with marchers waving signs. She’d been warned more than once to stay away from such gatherings in Turkey. And here she was in the middle of one. Listening to others’ warnings wasn’t one of her strengths.

 

Ducking her head, she maneuvered through furious people determined to move forward, looking for the first place where she could get to safety. All around her, the throng shouted. She felt smothered and vulnerable. And just like in the states, even in this mass of thousands, she felt alone.

 

Coming to Ankara had been a mistake. She’d accomplished nothing. And now this.

“Hey, American, stay put!”

 

Feeling panic rising, she glanced in the direction of the voice. A Turkish woman with chestnut hair signaled for her to wait and started her way. Sevgi, the person who had just given her the horrible news. Sevgi, the woman who lived in the same apartment building. Sevgi Arslan, the last person Cass wanted to see right now.

 

But fighting the urge to hurry away, she held her position. She’d experienced a stampede of humanity before—at the end of a soccer game in England when drunken fans became overexcited by victory. Five were killed that day while she had remained in her seat watching the onslaught of screaming people. Fingers clasped into fists, she glanced right to left, waiting.

 

Sevgi now stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her. She had to raise her voice for Cass to hear. “You shouldn’t be here!”

 

Like Cass, the Turkish woman wore a short wool jacket with large buttons, a black and white hat that looked like a helmet, blue jeans, and flat-heeled boots. Their straight hair reached to their elbows. They were the same height—five-nine. At a quick glance they could have been mistaken for sisters. But Sevgi’s skin had a darker, more exotic hue. Her eyes were hazel while Cass’s were green. It seemed odd to Cass that it was now in the midst of this madness that she noticed the resemblance. Once it had been another woman who had seemed her twin, even her soul mate.

 

Sevgi yelled again, but Cass didn’t catch the words. She was busy recoiling as an ice chunk dropped near her right foot.

 

Frowning, Cass looked up. On the second floor, two kids in red and blue pajamas no more than three and six stuck their upper bodies out the window. An adult appeared. The kids vanished and the window was slammed shut causing a pile of snow to fall to the ground. It landed on a large cement flower pot holding a miniature pine tree lit in white lights. The horde around them continued to shout and brandish their fists. A woman in a flowing black robe and matching head gear with only her eyes showing withdrew a pair of scissors from her handbag and snipped the string of lights. Cass wondered if this was an act of defiance against the Christian belief or Western beliefs in general.

 

Inhaling a large gulp of cold air, Cass faced Sevgi who had just stopped talking to a young man and yelled, “What’s this about?”

 

“Government corruption.” Whop. Sevgi rammed against her. “Hey!” Cass glared at the back of another man who was already moving out of sight.

 

In the next second by the force of the human tidal wave, they were swept like debris down the street. Each surge was a struggle to remain afloat. Cass’s heart raced as she battled to stand erect.

 

Only feet away, tripping over a deep hole near a gutter, Sevgi bent over and gasped, breathing heavily.

 

Cass sidestepped to make room for two other women in flowered headscarves and long polyester coats holding a placard in Turkish that she couldn’t translate. A dark-haired man waving a Turkish flag followed.

 

 “There’s over one hundred thousand on the streets in Istanbul. They’re marching in every city. Look!” Sevgi pointed in the direction of the park where just last week Cass had sat on a snow-dusted bench and fed the swans.

 

“Shit!” Cass said.

 

Armored tanks and water cannon trucks, looking like ominous invaders from Afghanistan, rumbled toward them. Suddenly Cass couldn’t move. Nothing would make her feet step forward. She was immobile.

 

Sevgi, apparently understanding Cass’s dilemma, grabbed her arm. “Come on, I’ll get you out of here.”

 

As Cass was dragged, pushed and shoved the tanks ground to a stop. Soldiers directed their rifles at the sky. Shots rang out. Cass locked eyes with a soldier who was aiming his rifle toward the mob. The roar was deafening, terrifying.

 

Her body lifted from the pavement and then went down with a thud. Her breath had been knocked out of her, but she wasn’t bleeding. At least, she didn’t think so.

 

A young man to Cass’s right threw a firebomb. Swiftly, he stepped in her direction, extended his hand and jerked her to her feet before disappearing into the ocean of people. Two men with handkerchiefs over their mouths lit and tossed snake-like strings of fireworks. Others threw stones. Hunkering down, Cass scanned the crowd. Sevgi was no longer in sight.

“Dammit, where are you?”

 

Fighting for balance, a powerful jet of water blasted the crowd and clouds of acrid tear gas covered everything. Taking the onslaught on the side, Cass moaned, coughed and protected her eyes as she dropped to her knees.

 

Another shot rang out. In a protective move, she clasped her chest.  A man with salt-and-pepper hair toppled over and lay beside her. A scar ran from his hairline to his eyebrow. A mustache covered his upper lip. In the madness of the moment, she was sure it was the carpet merchant she’d been avoiding confronting. Desperate, believing death was near, she reached for his shoulder. “I…I’m so...”

 

His eyes popped open and in the same instant she realized her mistake. It wasn’t Umit.

Grateful that she might have another chance to ask for forgiveness, she helped the stranger to his feet. The man eyed her, backed away and ran.

 

“My God, I have to…I must…before…”

A rock struck Cass’s forehead. Her world went black.

 

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