Black Flag

Half of the hostages died. Lucie read that in the newspaper, afterwards. She’d been held in another part of the building, and no one with her was even injured. She keeps asking herself, Why didn’t he kill us?

Lucie’s husband had bought the ticket. But that afternoon, he’s unwell and suggests that she go instead. She wrinkles her brow. They have such different tastes in music…but leaving the seat empty seems ultimately worse. So Lucie opts to go.

As she imagined, Lucie dislikes the music. It’s thunderous and echoing and makes her temples throb. Around her, raucous concertgoers swing their heads and punch the air. Lucie definitely doesn’t fit in, and gets up to leave.

Pop, pop, pop. Pyrotechnics? Lucie turns back with a thrill. But the horrific nature of the sound is clear when she sees the band run off the stage and people falling. Then Lucie spots the Kalashnikovs. Her heart beats erratically.

She runs to the upper lobby, but then retreats to the balcony, thinking she’ll be shot if she comes face-to-face with them. She flattens herself between some seats, pulling her wrap tight. She’s oddly calm. From there, Lucie spies him, waving a gun.

“Get into the corner. You, close that door and get in front. The rest of you, stand up against the windows. Put your hands at your sides.”

Zahid places his finger on the trigger as he calls out the orders. He has one overriding thought, Now, they will listen, and stop the bombs and airstrikes.

He hasn’t always thought like this. Over the years, he witnessed his community tyrannized and crushed and slaughtered; his father, his best friend and so many others slain. In response, he protested, convinced violence was not an answer.

Losing his little sister changed him. Shortly after, he told his mother he was joining the fighters. She begged him not to, saying he was all she had left. She hugged him. But by then, the call to arms was more compelling.

From his pocket, Zahid pulls out a black flag and gestures to one of the hostages to hold it against the glass. His message needs to be absolutely clear.

Zahid dials 911.

The conversation is short. Zahid wants the government and its citizens to know that their actions are hurting families. Innocent men, women and children are getting killed.

The police negotiator will pass that on. But first, the hostages must be freed. Zahid hardly listens; he feels he’s heard it all before.

He hangs up.

Explosives lie underneath Zahid’s vest. He pats them, ready to complete his mission. Just then, his eye catches that of a woman about his mother’s age with similar skin tone and features. Her expression is soft, almost resigned. She even has a similar shawl. He wants to look away, but can’t. He remembers his mother’s hug.

Telling the hostages to gather into a corner with their heads down, Zahid withdraws to the stairwell.