Nicole watched the heaving mass of protesters, made soft and organic by the privilege of the tinted glass as the car pulled up to the concert hall. She checked her reflection, then stepped out as the door was opened. Her stomach roiled with ambient anxiety. Tonight was the first charitable function she had organised since taking over her family’s foundation.
The crowd began their chant, home made banners bobbing in the constant shifting of their mass. She sought out faces, surprised by the gleam of angry zeal and the pinched, pale faces that confronted her. Protesting against the austerity measures put in place by the politicians who had paid three hundred dollars each to listen to opera and eat off fine china, the money going to help the poor of the city. Nicole had no desire to point out the irony within such circular logic.
She focused on one in particular. The red hair had been hacked off into a manageable blunt crop and the glasses were fixed with tape but it made her stop.
The woman frowned with confusion as she squinted.
Nicole let the flush of confused excitement propel her forward as the protesters around the woman steeled themselves.
‘Hello Nicole. ‘
When she smiled, Nicole saw the raw red flesh of her gums and how her hands trembled involuntarily but the light in her eyes was there.
‘I didn’t expect you here.’
Nicole flushed and looked away.
‘Dad’s foundation. I’m running it now.’
The gown, the jewelery all evidence of a crime that only Nicole and Tapp were privy to. Tapp’s passion had abated in the presence of the woman. Tapp came forwards, Nicole tried not to look at her yellowing, ragged nails as she folded her own at her abdomen. French tips which were still salon fresh sent the wrong message. The student in Professor Tapp’s Media Studies class, whose discussions on the racial disparities in faculty and student numbers alike had started the whole thing.
‘That’s great. I always knew that change would take time. That it would come from within, right?’
Nicole nodded but was careful not to say anything. Tapp kept attempting to move past the barrier.
‘You’ve been busy?’ Nicole said.
Tapp nodded vigorously.
‘Oh god yes. They fired me, you know?’
Nicole grimaced and put her hand to her throat.
‘We protested. Faculty meetings, James went on CNN about it. Just awful, what happened to you.’
Tapp grinned and raised her fist to her shoulder. Nicole tried to mirror the gesture but the flash of a camera unsettled her so she nodded quickly and gestured to the doorway.
Tapp held onto the grin as Nicole blurted out a hasty non committal farewell and scampered into the centre. James had behaved in a similar fashion, silver in his beard and the softening of his jaw. Both of them, in their time, passionate and inspiring about the issues on campus. Tapp was kept warm during the worst nights, when the shelter was full, by the whole sweeping, roaring call to arms it had been. Manifestos, the night with Nicole, both of them agreeing that it had been high spirits and even though it had failed, it had been a high point for her.
Hitting the reporter had been a mistake. Not apologising had been doubling down on it but they had all been so certain, so empowered by the right-thinking of their actions then.
Nicole did not look back, but the teacher that Tapp was knew that was forever the glory and tragedy of education. She looked about her, wondering if the spirit was present enough to provide for a floor, a meal, a bit of change.
No one met her implored gaze so instead she threw her fist up and began to chant.