Screams and Sirens and Scampers

Max Stainton
October 21, 2019

“So all of you are in favor of independence?”

They nod, then one qualifies, “Well I’m not really for independence, but the Spanish gobernment, es… the gobernment it’s, crap. Is crap.” 

Another seconds, “It’s not really about independence it’s about—” the boom of fireworks interrupts— “it’s about democracy” he says with timid pride. 

I look at the group of teenage boys who’ve huddled around me. The cloth covering their faces has dropped around their necks, their hoods pulled off their heads, revealing pimpled faces, not excited, or angry, or scared, just vigilant. 

Police vans siren past once more, and the crowd that had been throwing stones and bottles indiscriminately a moment ago begins to run, slowing after a few yards to launch a series of insults instead. The presence of flashing lights seems to both unsettle and bolster confidence. 

The tallest boy mutters to his crew then turns to me, “We should go.”


The protests began around 7 pm. My parents and I had been rushing to get to a mass at Santa María del Mar that started at 7:30, bumbling into the sanctuary five minutes till and halting with an audible gasp as the enormity of the sanctuary unfolded around us. Plain stone walls, plain stone pillars, plain stone ceilings, save for a fading mural around each central crux of the smooth slopes above. Flying buttresses protruded in every direction, pressing the pinnacle of the ceiling higher, higher, into the heavens. Darkness descended down, down through the handful of eery windows that flanked the upper walls. 

We found the chapel behind the main altar where the daily service was being held. As usual, it was entirely in Catalan, so I couldn’t understand scat for 95% of the mass— none of the hymns, none of the liturgy, one sentence from the Our Father, none from the surprising number of greetings I was offered. The few sparse lines I could interpret came during the homily: respect, democracy, liberty, Christian unity, responsibility, respect. During this cataclysmic political moment, Christians are called to act like Christ, to live and die for the poor, the meek, the forgotten, to love those who persecute, to respect, honor, and offer grace to those who harm them. The pews were silent, loathing the command but submitting nonetheless. 

As we left the daunting sanctuary, my father announced his unfathomable hunger and asked me if I thought all this ruckus would disrupt the family travel plans to Parc Güell, the Picasso museum, or Saturday’s train to Valencia.


The first flame has been lit. Seconds earlier, three cube-shaped garbage cans were rolled over and dumped in the middle of the street. A pair of black hoods fumbled around with a lighter near the paper section until a small, red glow began to dance, leaping across strewn pieces of trash, illuminating the destruction. Chants hang in the air, reverberating off the urban walls that line the intersection, “Li-ber-tat! Pre-sos Pol-itics! Li-ber-tat! Pre-sos Pol-itics!” Bystanders stand speechless, stuck between curiosity and fright as they peer through locked glass doors, down open balconies, behind closed curtains. 

Thin, yellow, metal barricades are being tossed across the street in bunches, shutting off each vehicular route to the sprouting fire. A few anonymous freedom-fighters are walking around to each fallen section, attaching zip-ties to the ends of every barricade. 

More sirens. More running. 


My house mother’s son was one of the first victims of the police brutality this week. According to Alex, he was attending a daytime protest, watching and cheering, smoking a cigarette with a friend. For reasons unknown, he was grabbed, thrown down, kicked, and beaten with clubs. The Spanish police smashed his phone, broke his ribs, fractured his tibia, bruised his face, and scraped his wrists. For thirty full minutes, he was attacked as his friends looked on helplessly, whimpering and sobbing while he gasped and screamed for mercy. The officers told the ambulance that he’d fallen. Alex agreed to the story, even after his assailants had returned to the streets, fear of punishment lingering in his mind.


A block behind, a firetruck has just arrived and is working diligently to suppress the first fire as another is being built. The crowd rushes around an industrial-sized garbage dump, the metal kind always seen near construction sites. Forty outstretched arms push and yank the enormous bin inch by inch, banging it off the curb, scraping it across the asphalt, and finally toppling it over onto the newest makeshift blockade. Applause. Followed by flames. Followed by screams and sirens and scampers.


Students are advised to avoid involvement in any activity or behavior that could result in personal harm.

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Max Stainton

<p>I'm a nerdy adrenaline-junkie with a guilty conscience. I love reading dusty books and practicing piano, I don't count it as an adventure unless there is a possibility of death, and I volunteer compulsively. Oh, and I'm weirdly good at foosball.</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
Wake Forest University
Cincinnati, OH
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