18 days

The cop sirens were wailing above the noise around that vast stretch of land that was to be immortalized forever. I stood there behind the barricades watching her and another 12 people walk out slowly. The military had backed off after the worryingly short gunfight. The cops were holding the people back.

Time had frozen for me. One of those moments of eternal silence. She had been captured and kept away from me for 18 days now. 18 days! She had been holed up along with a dozen people for 18 days of hell. Negotiations had been like nothing heard of before. The abductors had constantly returned with no demands. They didn’t want anything. They promised no deaths and just needed 18 days. An absolute state of anarchy had followed when relatives of the abducted started taking things into their own hands. With an angry father running across the barricade with a hand gun, only to be shot down by a cop. The ensuing media frenzy that followed led to the cop who took the shot, becoming a public hate figure. The cops were branded as cowards and the authorities convinced of a hidden agenda.

Looking at her walk out, I saw an eerie calm on her face. The cops asked us to pull further back due to fear of the abductors using them as a shield to get out. There did not seem to be any sign of them. An amateur video taken from a building a couple of hundred of metres away the day the ordeal began seemed to show the presence of the 4 abductors.  A sniper positioned on the rooftop of that building reported 6 abductors three days later. This led to further furore amongst the media and the public. How could they not know how many abductors were there? I sat and watched these news reports in a daze. We both had been married for just a year and life had never promised anything better. The honeymoon refused to get over until the day she didn’t return from the supermarket.

18 days later, I stand here looking my wife in the eye and I’m not sure if she can see me or not but for a person let free after 18 days she sure seemed unaffected. She seemed disinterested. Then I saw her eyes and I’m sure she saw me. She betrayed nothing. I managed to get my eyes off her and look at the others. Were they drugged? Immediately this thought began to echo around the hundreds standing there. The cops seemed puzzled and the military took their position. I tried to move back but war had left me with one leg and the years spent in counter insurgency had taught me to locate the snipers. As I hobbled back I saw one of them take aim at her. Or it could have been any one of them. The cops kept screaming out at the abductors to surrender themselves.

Suddenly the balding man who looked all of 30 standing next to my wife, began chanting something. He stood his ground as the others continued walking towards us. Something was not right. At the same moment a couple of cops behind us seemed to kick into action. They pushed us aside and ran towards the hostages. Guns leveled. The crowds began to scream and I collapsed to the floor as everyone began to jostle. One of the men had a gun pointed at my wife. She did not stop. The remaining cops ran towards the house. There was a collective hush. They clumsily broke in and they all walked in. I was expecting a couple of shots, some struggle. Silence.

I was on the floor and between their feet I could see her feet. She did not have the ring anymore. Her feet were stuck to the soil. Full of intent. The cops stopped screaming out instructions on the PA system now. They waited, bated breath, sweat on a cold winter’s night, the taste of mud in my mouth.  And then the cops came out, dragging 4 bodies. Each body was covered with a black cloth. The cops had obviously not killed them. The bodies looked terribly deformed and mangled. I looked at her again. She turned and looked at the bodies of her abductors and then so did the remaining 12. I got off the floor and dusted myself and looked up. The entire crowd was in stunned silence. The cops tried to prod the 13 of them to move. But now, just a couple of yards away, they just stood and looked at us, at the cameras, the reporters, the mics, the news network vans, the cop cars, the armoured vehicles, the snipers on the roof. They looked in disdain at the cops who tried to help them. They looked possessed.

The man who was chanting started walking towards us. He came right upto the barricade. He didn’t seem to have any family waiting for him. He looked us all in the eye. Each one of us. He walked back to the other hostages, who huddled up as he walked into the centre of the group. The cops watched dumbfounded. There was muttering, then I saw her break down along with the others. They hugged and when they moved away, he had a gun and before any cop could react – he had shot himself.

The ordeal was over. All 5 abductors were dead. The honeymoon was over..

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18 days