It was a calm Saturday morning as Maria walked slowly through the market, browsing at the stalls before deciding what to buy. She stopped and pulled her phone out to take a photo of an attractive picture for sale that caught her attention. Unexpectedly, there was an aggressive shout from across the street,
‘”What’re you starin’ at?”
Maria was shocked. The man shouting was tall, thick set with a shaved head and a hard expression that frightened her. She quickly put her phone away and rushed down the street, mingling with other shoppers, hoping for anonymity. This market was usually friendly and a relaxed place to visit. The town had always been a peaceful place where the only controversy was the introduction of parking charges. This morning the mood was different. What had caused this? Why was that man so angry? It’s frightening. Her relaxing outing felt tarnished. All she wanted to do was go home as soon as possible.
As Maria walked away gunshots appeared to come from nowhere; the noise was deafening. What had happened? Time seemed to slow down as Maria stood transfixed, terrified by what was happening. A man from a nearby vegetable stall rushed over grabbing Maria by the arm and quickly pulled her behind the stall, scattering potatoes. He whispered, “Are you OK?”
Maria’s heart raced, “Yep. What’s going on.”
“Dunno, but seems there’s dangerous thugs looking for trouble.”
Maria was shaking and her ears were ringing; the sounds of people screaming and sirens were muffled, but close by.
“Sorry about grabbing you,” the stall holder whispered. “The shooter was coming your way. We must keep low down. You will be safer here than in the street.”
Crouching behind the stall Maria trembled in fear in the midst of the mayhem, surrounded by emergency services, tending to the injured and trying to calm people while cordoning off the area. As the pandemonium increased the events she experienced earlier that morning seemed minimal, irrelevant. Now it was tragic. How many people were injured, or worse killed? The thought was too awful. How could this happen here?
Recently in the news Maria had heard rumours of increasing extremist activity, but she had felt that was happening in another chaotic world, far away from here. She had always felt safe here, insulated from outside events; nothing awful would happen. But it had happened and everything felt different now.
Over the next few days the police took detailed statements from Maria, the stallholders and other people who were there. There was a massive search for the gunman and people believed to be part of the far right organisation he belonged to. The town was thronged with journalists and photographers, keenly trying to talk to everyone they saw. Maria stayed at home, but a week later she forced herself to go out shopping, nervously looking all around her. The street looked the same as usual, but felt different. She hurriedly went to buy vegetables and to thank the stall holder, whose quick actions had saved her.
“Hello, thank you so much for helping me. I can’t describe how grateful I feel; I dread to think what would have happened…. ” Maria was fighting back tears.
“Yes, it was an awful shock for us all. At least you weren’t hurt. None of us could have ever expected that to happen. I’m hoping things get back to normal, but I don’t know; it’s really hard.”
“I know, I’ve always felt secure here, but it no longer feels safe. I’m realising there’s a fine line between our normal civilised lives and mayhem.”