He looked a moment at his "unsteadfast footing," then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream! Ambrose Pierce Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
It was so cliché, but all I wanted after two weeks in Belfast was some fish and chips. Two weeks and not one fish fry. It could have been the six or so pints at Lavery’s that also made some greasy food a good idea before we made our way back to our flat.
As Erin and I walked into the shop, the sounds of Simple Minds Belfast Child intertwined with the harsh accents of those also attempting to quell the Guinness from their nights. I chuckled to myself because it was that song that I listened to over and over and over while writing my screen play. And there I was, in Belfast, in a chip shop, listening to that song.
My mind also wandered to the lovely lad that I’d been seeing for the past week. It was nice to be seeing someone taller than me, that never happens. As my mind wandered between Simple Minds, Brendan, and the Guinness, the counter girl was pretty fed up with me.
It was the best fish and chip I had ever eaten to that point in my life. Erin and I chatted about the night and about our work that had to be done the next day. We were both interning at a Northern Ireland civil rights office. We were both two naïve girls who were drawn to Northern Ireland and its strife. We were going to save the world and, of course, end 800 years of oppression.
Happy with our greasy consumption and ready for some sleep, we left the shop and headed towards our flat. Maybe we were feeling too confident, forgot where we were, recessed several incidents over the past two weeks into a corner of our mind, or were let our guard down. We both sensed it quickly when we turned down our block.
Our street, mind you, was only one block. However, when we turned the corner and felt the presence of two men following us, the one block became the length of ten football field plus the distance to the moon. The pin prickly feeling kicked in as we both agreed in whisper to walk faster and don’t look back.
They walked faster.
I could only hear the sound of feet and breathing. The entire city of Belfast had seemingly melted away. The only block that existed was this block and seemed to take forever to get even a few feet. My mind wandered but everything around me slowed down.
It still seems like this took an hour to run to my door. It was only about 30 seconds and now we were running. They too were running behind us. They did not yell one thing the entire time and neither did we.
I fumbled for my keys, but this too felt as if my body was in slow motion. Up the steps and I prayed I could unlock the door before they reached us. Damn it. I dropped the keys, and while still kneeling after picking them up, I unlocked the door. Erin and I feel in and then propped ourselves against it. The second door, with the key code was in front of us, but we didn’t want to move.
They slammed against the door. “We know you’re in there.” They banged their fists against the door over and over. We were afraid to breathe. My mind finally caught up to my body and I realized how scared I really was as every possible scenario flooded my brain as we were caught between two doors.
In two weeks, I had been chased, hit with a whiskey bottle crossing the street, fled three bars because of bomb threats, almost walked right into the barrel of a soldier’s gun as he crouched in a crevice in a bridge, was stranded because riots closed roads, thought we were going to get thrown into the bonfires on July 11th had it not been for an angel, and the fact that there was a pledge to kill Catholics. Why not top it off with torture, assault, or who knows what else.
It was our mistake.
Everyone knows everyone in Belfast. They know your comings and goings. Who you are. Where you come from. They know who you work for. We put ourselves in the position of letting our guard down. We walked the same path every day. We walked the same path through centuries of lines drawn in the sand. We worked for the minority.
Silence. We both eyed the second door. I knew they would be able to see me if we moved so it had to be quick. What was the code?
Sure enough as soon as the beeps of me entering numbers began, the banging began again. Same thing. We fell in and held the door shut with our bodies, pretty certain we would stay there until morning when someone else in the flat went to work. We quickly assessed that they couldn’t get in any other way and felt a little more relaxed to move away from the door. Looking back, the funny thing was, we never mentioned what had just happened.
From that night on, we always walked different routes. We never walked without a local escort (or Brendan). We never, ever talked about what could have happened in the violent summer of 2001 in Belfast.
To this day, I dread when people walk too close behind me when it is not warranted. It takes me back to the time between those two doors when the world seemed to slow down and melt away except for our street in East Belfast.