A Moment in Time
By Xiu Hau
Even though it was a sunny spring morning, the smoke barely left room to appreciate the sky. The protests had been going on for weeks. They usually began past 6:00 PM but this time, the chaos started earlier. Something felt different that day: the violence against the protesters quickly escalated. The Venezuelan military targeted everyone, charging into residential zones like wild animals. They shot canisters of acrid tear gas; I could hear the snapping noise the guns made and the rattling of cans as they hit the ground. My cousin, Vanessa, was trapped by the fear and unbreathable air outside my grandmother’s house. The tear gas in the street made it hard for us to breathe. My grandmother’s house was only a block away from my own; luckily, my grandma was staying with my uncle so she called me to go pick up Vanessa.
The tears began to blur my vision while I kept gasping for air. I yelled at Vanessa from the front door to hurry — to leave everything and run. As I turned around, I saw people sprinting away and down the street; my heart began to race. My grandma’s tiny white house was in the corner of the street, which was already concealed by smoke. I could barely see inside the house and with every minute that passed, the air felt thicker.
At last, my cousin ran out the door, a small purse in her hand.
“We need to run as fast as we can — I already hear sirens,” she said. I could hear her brittle voice tremble, and her dilated pupils made an alarm go off in my mind.
As we started to run, I felt the metallic taste of the gas in my mouth. The skin of my arms blushed and felt itchy. When I suddenly turned to check on my cousin, she stood with her hands covering her mouth and horror in her eyes. This confused me, so I ran back to her.
“What are you doing? You gotta keep running!” I yelled. At that moment, I realized why she was paralyzed. Our neighbor’s son, Oscar, was lying on the ground while a group of people surrounded him. His head was bludgeoned with streaks of bright red running down his right temple. Both his knees were scuffed and parts of his arms were burned. I froze at the grotesque scene: the air was dense, and it felt like swallowing cotton. The screams of people around us perforated my ears. The taste of iron in my mouth grew stronger — I couldn’t distinguish if it was from the tear gas or my mind playing tricks on me. Somehow it felt like I was tasting Oscar’s blood.
As we regained awareness of the situation, we raced straight to my house without looking back. The keys in my pocket incessantly jingled as I struggled to get them out. My hands were shaking, and my face felt like it was on fire. Finally, I managed to open the door, and run straight to the kitchen to spray water on our sweating faces. Our clothes reeked of smoke, and my mouth continued to taste like blood. I looked at my cousin: she was emotionally wrecked and so was I. The tension in her face made her soft features wrinkle in worry, and her green eyes kept darting everywhere. That day marked me and the way I view the world forever. One instant in time made me realize how ruthless and cruel the world can be, and I only experienced a small taste of it — nothing compared to Oscar’s fate.