SLCC's Premiere Art & Literary Magazine

An Active Manipulation

Michael Smith

The crowd moves forward almost as if someone has instructed them to do so. The emotion that rolls off of them is almost visible. Well, it's visible to me, but to anyone who is not me or something like me, it would be almost visible. To me it looks a bit like a sandstorm, it billows and shifts yet moves ahead with a determination that borders on the unstoppable. But that's the thing, why would I want to stop it?

There are those members of our, "species" would be the word that translates the closest, who see themselves as keepers of the peace. I don't consider myself as a keeper of anything. Our lives are so long, that the idea of stewardship bores me no end.

The breeze, what breeze there is in this hot and terrifically humid place, causes the flags held by some in the crowd to flutter. Such pretty things, flags. They cause so much feeling and passion to erupt. Oftentimes the same flag can cause different people to have a whole host of emotions. Emotions that I use like an artist would use paint upon a canvas. And that's what I am, an artist.

Next to the flags there are the signs. Some are held in the hands of members of the crowd, and some attached to pieces of wood and held aloft so that others who feel the same can cheer and whoop. The signs say things like "Keep Alabama White" and "Race Mixing is Communism". And as far as any of the people in the crowd can tell, I am like them white and angry. At least to their untrained eyes.

From some distance away I can hear the keening wail of police sirens, the direction they are coming from is a mystery because of the way the sound bounces off the buildings around us and echoes down the alleyways. A smile creeps onto my face, sirens bring more feeling and rancor to an atmosphere. A bit like adding spice to food, it enhances it so well, I've found.

As I make my way forward with the crowd, a man links his arm with mine, and we begin to march down the middle of the street together, as another man links his arm to my other side. The chain of angry men (for it is mostly men in the crowd, which adds a dash of competitive ego to the roiling stew of feeling) begins the short trek to the center of the town. The main thoroughfare where we walk is lined with shops.

There is the barbershop, where a man smoking a pipe in a short white coat adds his voice to the clamor and tumult. There is a store selling radios and the new invention that lets them see moving pictures in their own home, where a woman is holding the door open and trying to usher her two young children inside. Next to the moving picture shop there is a restaurant that offers breakfast all day. I smile as I see that the proprietor seems to have misspelled the word "dinner". I've never seen it spelled with one 'n' before. But however you spell it, the "fresh biscuits made daily" sounds interesting.

As we round a corner and head down another street, we can see a line of black and white cars, with spinning red lights on the top. Just behind the cars stand a group of men in light blue shirts and black hats. Each man holds a small club across his chest diagonally, and a few of the men have a dog on a leash, which is attached to their wrist. The leash, not the dog. About fifty paces behind the men in blue shirts, another group has assembled.

They are different from the group I am with only because of what the signs they hold up say. Their signs say "segregation: morally wrong" and "We walk for human dignity". Where the crowd that I march with are shouting disparate phrases and vitriolic oaths, the crowd on the other side of the blue-shirted men are, singing. Of all things, they are singing.

The man beside me stumbles a bit as I slow my pace in surprise. I have seen this before but I never get used to it. In the face of scorn and verve, the response should be to meet it with equal scorn and verve. Sometimes, when things are not going as you expect or want, you have to take an active role in making them change. I unhook my arms from the men on either side of me and I look down at the ground.

A clear bottle with a brown liquid is by my feet as the crowd surges around me like river water. I wrap my hand around the neck of the bottle and I lift it from the hot asphalt. The weight of it feels good in my hand as I start walking with the crowd again. The men in blue shirts have nervous looks on their face as the crowds near each other.

 If the emotion of anger looked like a sandstorm, then nervousness looks like fog. It hangs, immobile and uncertain with no real purpose to its existence. It is actually interesting. They started as if on cue, and now they stop as if on cue. The group of angry men and the group of people singing face each other across a small distance, the thin row of blue-clad men and their dogs.

Their singing intensifies and the shouts from my group seem to quail a bit in comparison. Anger begins to be mix with uncertainty, as I look down at the bottle in my hand. The temperature of this heady concoction is just right, so is the timing. The timing is right to add the final ingredient. It does not take much to send any concoction boiling over, just heat.

The bottle I throw adds that needed heat.