I wake up to morning light shining through my window. I slowly rub my eyes and sit up in bed to see my covers on the ground. It has been uncomfortably hot for the past few weeks and today will be no different. I get up for a stretch and make my bed. Even though I’ve never been a morning person, I feel energized by a sense of power. In just a few hours I will be protesting for what is right. I almost leap down the stairs and across the kitchen where I find my parents and brothers already eating cereal and peanut butter toast. Marc is twenty-one and Oliver is almost eighteen.
“Morning sis,” says Oliver barley looking up from his food.
“Morning,” I reply as I head to the cabinet for some cereal.
Marc looks up, saying, “So are you ready for today?” There is a hint of rebellion gleaming in his eyes.
I return the look, “Of course, should we get the posters out?”
My mom and dad listen with approving grins, “You still have some time to get them ready,” says my dad.
My mom adds, “Maybe we’ll see the posters on tv.”
Marc, Oliver, and I smile at the thought of our parents proudly watching us participate in the protest on television. The three of us couldn't be more different, but do agree on today. It is Diada Nacional de Catalunya, the National Day of Catalonia, held to celebrate the history and identity of Catalonia. To honor Catalonia’s identity this year, we plan to do something we have never done before-protest for Catalan independence from Spain.
My uncle shakes me awake with a contagious smile.
“Today is the day,” he yells joyfully.
I can’t help but smile back with the same enthusiasm. Today is the day I get to cover my first story.
I quickly get dressed and start towards the hotel lobby to meet my uncle and his coworkers for breakfast. My uncle is the founder of a humble newspaper, the Know Now. But today we are not just a small company from Rhode Island covering local news. Today we will cover something huge, the National Day of Catalonia.
While this celebration usually includes political demonstrations, concerts, parties, and honoring historic figures, this year will bring much more. Hundreds of thousands of people plan to attend a protest for Catalonia's independence, and our team will be there front and center to record and report the action.
“I can’t even imagine what a group of hundreds of thousands of people will look like,” I exclaim.
The crew members nod in agreement and my uncle says, “I bet you close to a million people will end up protesting.”
Harold, one of the older members smiles greedily, “That may just be too crazy but then again that works in our favor.”
The others grin, excited for the big event, but the thought of a million protesters gives me chills. I am terrified of something this big getting out of control.
Footsteps of kids thundering down the hall and the low purring of my cat wake me up. I rush out to the kitchen to help my husband, Luca, with breakfast. We decide to start today’s celebrations off with our kids’ favorite, cinnamon French toast with extra whipped cream. Carmen, who is seven, and Leo, who is four, have been asking for French toast with whipped cream for days.
“This is so good,” Carmen says with whipped cream now smeared across her mouth.
I smile as I grab a wet cloth to wash her face and say, “I am glad it lives up to your expectations.”
Leo pauses between bites long enough to say “Is there more?”
Luca laughs and says “Finish what you have now and I can make more if you are still hungry.”
He looks at me with a proud smirk. French toast has always been his specialty. All I can do is smile back and roll my eyes.
After breakfast I announce that I plan to run errands early to avoid the protest’s chaos. The celebrations for Catalonia Day have turned into wild protests for Catalonia's independence from Spain. While a large part of Catalonia fights for their independence, Luca and I do not feel the same. We moved here because of our jobs, but we are both from other parts of Spain and have family roots throughout the country. If Catalonia gains independence from Spain, it will add uncertainty to our lives.
“Be careful and whatever you do get back before one,” Luca warns as I gathered my bags and the list for much-needed groceries. “I wish you could just wait until after the protest.”
“Me too but the stores will be closed by then. Don’t worry I won’t be gone long,” I answer as I slide out of the apartment and down the building’s hallway.
I am beaming with excitement. Marc, Oliver, and I each carry a sign with neon colors and bold statements. We park somewhat far away from the protest to avoid some chaos and start to walk towards the crowds. We are a little less than half a mile away, but we can already hear the cries and shouts of people bursting with Catalonian pride ready to make a point.
“Alexis!” a familiar voice yells. I turn to see that it belongs to my cousin, Lucia.
Lucia is just two months older than me and has loads of energy. She carries a sign similar to mine, colorfully decorated.
I answer Lucia joyfully and say, “I was beginning to worry your parents wouldn’t let you come.”
“Well they didn’t exactly let me,” Lucia says with a devilish expression.
“Are you saying you snuck out?” asks Oliver.
“Are you surprised?” says Lucia.
We all break into laughter. It is not the first time she snuck out, and it won’t be the last.
“We’re almost there, we need to stick together,” says Marc with a warning expression.
Everyone is buzzing around except me. I had been looking forward to reporting an important story for what seems like forever, but I am nervous now that we are in the crowd.
“You ready?” my Uncle asks.
“Absolutely,” I say, with some sarcasm.
“Hey, try not to worry. Everything will be fine,” my uncle answers.
People are swarming around me. Signs are everywhere. Shouts and chants fill the air. I sit in my car, completely stuck. I can’t believe the numbers of people. I thought I left early enough to avoid this exact thing. Now my only choice is to wait.
The protest is in full swing. I am marching for what I believe in and think nothing can ruin this moment. Lucia and I walk arm in arm closely behind Marc and Oliver, proudly chanting. Then I hear something, a distant roaring. In less than a blink of an eye the screams start. Screams of pure panic replace screams of passion and pride. I don’t understand what is happening at first, and then I realize the sound is coming from an engine.
I am caught up by the crowds and in my world of writing. Everything quickly changes when people begin to scream and bolt around in so many directions that I lose track of the rest of the newspaper crew. I realize people are jumping to the sides of the road, so I jump too.
It happens so fast I don’t see it coming. A bright red car tears down the street, zig zagging rapidly. People dive out the way and scream for loved ones. I watch in horror as people search for grandparents, children, parents, and friends, but so many are gone, gone, gone.
Marc, Oliver, Lucia, and I are suddenly caught in a sea of people pushing and pulling to get out of the road. Danger has awoken a beastly desperation in us. I hear Marc and Oliver scream at me and Lucia to move. We manage to find our way to an alley where were the four of us huddle together in fear. We slowly realize a car has ripped through the protest, killing as many people as possible. We stay together trembling as we wonder if we know any of the names that will be on the news later that night.
I land with a thud and quickly pull myself up to keep running. A car races right past me. I feel myself shaking as I fall into a haze, but screams fill my ears bringing me back to the moment. People lay in the street surrounded by pools of blood. Their awkwardly positioned bodies lay still. Nausea and unbelievable terror overtake me when I see my uncle among them.