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The staccato cough of machine gun fire from the advancing soldiers sent the marketplace swarming. Civilians of every size scrambled past a distracted Glenn Prentiss, surging against her like a tidal wave. She lost her balance and pirouetted to the ground, her limbs splaying like a newborn colt. Her camera bag swung around her neck and struck her breastbone with a thud as she fell. She cussed up a blue streak as her fingers were flattened under sandaled feet. Struggling up, she fought her way to her painfully peeled knees. It was then, glancing up from the pavement, that she saw him.
An olive-skinned youth grabbed the black holes in his chest, and slumped to the road. An aged woman dropped behind him, opening her palms to a pastel sky. Glenn's left hand closed around her lens, as her right raised the camera to eye level. In the seconds it took for the old woman to cry out to her God, the instrument snapped half a roll of film.
A tug on the back of her collar yanked Glenn to safety behind the grotesquely bent umbrella of a melon cart. She curled up, and used her fingernail to harvest grit from the gash in her knee. She clamped her lips tight, to keep from crying out as a pair of dusty black boots hovered nearby. When the soldier finally galloped away, the solid black eyes of her Arab assistant made their inquiry.
"Don't worry," she said. "I got the picture." She made a fist, and pressed it to the center of her cotton blouse to absorb a puddle of nervous sweat. "We're done here."
The assistant helped her to her feet, then took the elbow of a withered old man, and steadied him. "Remember," he said, as he turned away from Glenn. "Meet athotel."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Glenn brushed sand off her shorts. "I said, I'd be there."
She had developed a habit lately of combing her fingers through her crop of sun-whitened hair. This time, as her hand lifted, it was trembling. She swallowed, and surveyed the wreckage littering the street: toppled carts, crushed produce, tattered schoolbooks, and bloody corpses.
She ran her tongue over her parched lips. "I need a drink."
Glenn turned from the carnage, and tried to remember what street the hotel was on; what town this was; what part of the Holy Land she was in. It was impossible. There were too many factions and territories: Arab, Israeli, Moslem, Christian, Orthodox, and a partridge in a pear tree. She blinked her cat green eyes at the desert landscape. It was barren, desolate, a land so empty its flatness was born into the eyes of the children. Was there time for a few more shots? The authorities would be back to make another sweep. She'd have to use a wide-angle lens, no getting around that. That meant floundering through the camera bag. Maybe it would give her time to remember the name of the hotel. El-something. They all started with El-something, or Al-...
She squinted at the retreating figure of her assistant, the man who had just saved her life, as he melted into the horizon. She wet her lips again, and cursed herself for not asking directions to the nearest bar.
Copyright © 2003 by Mae Argilan