The Walking Man listened to the rhythmic pounding as he made his way through the warm, late-afternoon streets. He admired the many trees along the way, with their sun-dappled leaves rustling in the mild breeze, and small birds flitting through the branches. Traffic on the tree-lined boulevard was light, but the bars and sidewalk cafes were filled to capacity, and likely beyond. The tightly packed patrons sported garishly coloured sports jerseys. He noted a mix of jerseys that predominantly featured one intricate team logo. The patrons banged simple patterns on tables, floors, and each other's backs, creating the thumping he heard as he ambled along. Beer flowed freely as the fans intently watched big-screen TVs, shouting advice and cheering. Waitresses bustled frantically through the crowd.
It seemed that he had made his way into the city just as its local franchise had reached the sport's finals. Team sports seldom interested him, though he eyed the frenzy of the fans with bemused interest as he strolled by. A few adherents of an apparently rival faction were quietly slinking away or subtly ditching their team gear -- the conclusion must be at hand.
As he waited patiently at a crosswalk, as was his habit, a tan sports coupe of antique vintage roared past. The sounds of the match were blaring from its radio. A pennant fluttered from the antenna mast. The driver held a huge foam "#1" hand extended from his window. On the opposite side, a young blonde woman clad in a cyan bikini bottom and team jersey leaned from the passenger window. As they passed, the woman lifted her jersey, affording him an unexpected view of her impressive bosom. "Woo hoo!" she shouted, dopplering quickly into the distance. Woo hoo, indeed, he thought, and continued along with a slight smile.
The cheering became continuous and reached a fever pitch. Suddenly the restaurants and bars began disgorging jubilant customers. A tidal wave of humanity roared onto the boulevard and engulfed the Walking Man. The multitude were waving flags and cheering. He was high-fived several times and hugged rather crushingly by a large woman whose face had been painted with bright primary colours, leaving a generous dollop of her makeup behind on his lapel.
The Walking Man decided not to wait for any more crossing signals. Vehicular traffic was suddenly at a standstill, with the cars and trucks surrounded by the celebrating throng. A passing fire engine had been overrun and was being mounted by a succession of athletic young men. The firemen had obligingly turned on their emergency lights to join in the fun.
He picked his way slowly along the sidewalk, alternately helped and hindered by the eddies of the crowd. The wind had picked up, and a cool breeze ruffled his hair and made the nearby light-post banners ("Fashion District!") crackle and pop. A remarkably inebriated young man briefly clutched the Walking Man's arm for support, as he shouted "Oh yeah babee!" to no one in particular.
Cast up onto a nearby traffic island, an elderly woman with a aluminum cane stood in apparent distress. She was looking forlornly across the sea of noisy celebrants at what the Walking Man took to be an income-assisted high-rise. He elbowed his way through to her and caught her eye. "May I help you, ma'am?" he shouted. She took in his well-used, carefully mended and clearly unsporting attire, and nodded a bit shakily. He took her arm and guided her carefully across the traffic lanes and sidewalk to her lobby door. She keyed herself in and thanked him for his kindness. He bowed slightly in response and turned away.
As he did so, a pretty brunette bumped into him. "I'm sorry!" she said as she locked eyes with him, "please forgive me!" He started to smile despite himself, but at the same time, he felt a light tug on his trouser pocket. He turned, but saw no one. Turning back, he saw that the brunette had vanished into the crowd. The Walking Man felt for his wallet, knowing it would be gone. It was. Fortunately, the few important papers the Walking Man carried had been sewn into an inside pocket of his coat before he entered town. The pickpocket had gotten nothing but a cheap wallet with a few coupons inside.
Behind him, he heard the fire engine's siren cut loose. He looked that way and saw that the crowd had set to rocking the engine side to side. The firemen were frantically trying to get them to stop, to no apparent effect. He looked around for police, but found that the common wisdom regarding such was all too true today. He had no more than begun to wonder when he'd hear the first pane of store glass break, when that exact thing happened shatteringly. Up ahead a knot of people began looting an electronics store, and within moments, the whole row of storefronts was under siege.
The character of the crowd had changed in what seemed like only moments. The cheering fans had melted away, replaced by what seemed like an equal number of newcomers intent on mayhem. The belated "whop whop" sound of police or news helicopters somewhere above only slightly reassured the Walking Man, who had no interest in being at ground zero of a street riot. Not again, anyway. He walked briskly through the streets now, staying in the centre and away from the gaping storefronts. From back the way he'd come he heard an enormous crash, followed by loud cheering. He suspected this signalled the defeat of the fire engine, as its siren gave a final muffled cry and was silent. He was strongly reminded of the defeated Martians' wail in Jeff Wayne's musical War of the Worlds.
The Walking Man smelled the acrid odour of smoke, but couldn't pinpoint its source. He hoped the city's other fire crews would have more luck than those in the overturned pumper, and would reach the blaze before it got out of hand. He could hear a chorus of sirens and truck horns somewhere nearby. The streets were becoming emptier now and he pushed on hard, with the ground-eating stride of incalculable miles, trying to clear the city center. He found himself forced to skirt a multi-car accident involving a familiar car, the tan coupe. Its doors stood ajar, its occupants nowhere in sight. The foam hand lay on the street in a puddle of coolant. He hoped the occupants had left willingly and under their own power. He hoped that they were somewhere safe.
He turned a corner and suddenly found himself face to face with a line of police in full riot gear. The wall of black-clad men in armour and helmets shocked him as much of anything he'd seen today. He came to a smooth halt and assumed an open-handed, non-threatening pose as two fat-mouthed rubber bullet guns covered him. He had no desire to do that again, either. The police line flowed around him like a Kevlar tide and marched toward the corner to do battle with whatever awaited them. Ahead of him he saw the city outskirts and the solace of the countryside. The Walking Man didn't turn back as the sound of the marching men faded behind him....
turn back ... start fresh ... walk on