We’d been planning it for a couple of weeks, since the protest at Ranaclois station where they’d managed to cause quite a lot of disruption and then get out quickly when the scum [the Royal Buentoilliçan Police Force] turned up. I say we but to be quite honest I wasn’t much involved in the planning, I got the message just like everyone else and turned up. It’s funny, at the time I didn’t see myself as an anarchist or socialist, like those who organised it. I didn’t dislike them, but it always seemed a bit extreme to me; all I wanted was the King gone. Even a different king would have done for me back then. It’s funny how quickly that changed, how looking back I see myself as some great dissident, when really I wasn’t. But I did have my connections; I had known for some time that something was going on; Derrik was more agitated than normal in our chemistry lessons, and that always meant he was up to some kind of mischief.
It was this day in 1905 that many historians have identified as the point when the Buentoilliçan Revolution became an inevitability. Others say that it was the first day of the Revolution itself, although that day is generally accepted to be tomorrow by most. Others still point to events before this, the protest at Ranaclois station on August the 17th, for example, or to the self-defence classes organised by Edith Trouvier before she was murdered in 1902. Whenever the true beginning of this momentous struggle, which has determined the course of Buentoille ever since, was, the events at Benetek station were a pivotal moment of history.
We all gathered at rush hour, so it was less obvious to any spies what we were up to. I remember the concourse was particularly full, and it was very hot, too hot for the Benetek Savant [the University Streetball team] scarves we all wore to identify each other; there must have been about two hundred of us in all, loads more than I had expected. We forced open the turnstiles and barriers, breaking quite a few, letting everyone through for free. It was pretty exhilarating, the feeling of power it gave, I remember I got quite carried away. The LEPOMO [League of Elderly Persons in Opposition to Monarchic Oppression] folks had gone over to the station guards and knocked them out, one seemingly kindly old lady distracting them with questions whilst another came up behind them with a bottle. There were quite a few guards because the station was owned by the King himself – he made a lot of money off of students trying to get across the City. The old folks tied them up and locked them in the ticket booth.
Today thousands of people will flood into Benetek station, most wearing Benetek Savant scarves, or some other symbol of the revolution. The crowds spill onto the streets, filling up the surrounding roadways, the Benetek Bridge, even reaching into the squares and social spaces of Benetek University itself, where special seminars and speeches will be held all day. The usual methods of remembrance, the pouring out of tea into the streets, will today form rivers, whole pots poured out, not a drop drunk. Just like on that fateful day 112 years ago, entry to the platforms will be free. The gathering begins at about 4:00, but the ceremonies do not properly begin until 6:32, when the massacre began. Over the tracks hundreds of flowers are piled up, laid like the dead into a mass grave. Photographs of the deceased line the walls, brought by descendants and relatives.
I’ve often wondered whether I would have come if I knew he was coming down the line. Part of me thinks I would have, that what he did was so unexpected and brutal, but I think I know I would have been too scared. I cannot hate the organisers, but I cannot think of them kindly either; they knew that the Traitor King was going to visit the station that day, but few of the rest of us did; they knew most would be too scared to come if they told us, and word would have got out about their plans too. I know that without the sacrifices made that day we may not have this wonderful world we have now, but do not ask me to say that it was worth it, that it was necessary. I still see their faces contorted now.
Most of us had moved down to the platform when the gilded carriage arrived, led down there by Derrik and his comrades for a reason then unknown to us. We almost went quiet when we saw it round the bend down the line, and for a moment you could hear the rails sing beneath our excited chatter, chants and songs of dissent. It was still quite quiet when the train pulled to a halt, and he was there, looking surprised behind the bullet-proof glass. We had tied up the guards and RBPF scum who were supposed to ensure everything was safe at the station, and whilst there were certainly some King’s Finest [paramilitary, monarchist secret police] there, they obviously hadn’t had a chance to get word to the signal boxes to tell the royal carriage not to stop. Or perhaps the King was so stubborn he knew we were there, but he wouldn’t have his schedule disrupted.
Perhaps he thought we were there to welcome him at first, but then the placards came out and the chanting began in earnest. Someone started taking photographs to publicise our great moment of dissent later. You can see me in some of them, towards the back. My face is half covered, but it’s me. I look bewildered, scared, not angry as I should do. I think the photograph was taken just as the gas started spurting out of the train carriage. Nobody noticed it at first; it wasn’t a green fog like in the murals, but invisible, not even like steam. Folk must have thought it was something to do with pistons or breaks, the noise, I mean, but I knew it was something wrong, something bad. When I saw folk started covering their eyes and mouths I knew what it was, and I knew the only way to survive was to run. It is to my shame that I only shouted ‘run!’ when I had got clear of most folk, but I do not know whether I would be here now to tell this tale had I yelled earlier. As it was, four of us managed to get into a cleaning closet, stuffing our clothes and the rubber gloves we found there under the door to stop the gas coming in. I think a little still did; Julie still has trouble breathing today. But we survived. When it was over and they came to open up the door I saw the twisted faces and scorched flesh, the dead lying in piles, but I made certain not to look down at the person who had been outside the door, rattling the handle, trying to get in with us. – Excerpt from an interview with Jarem Keralla, survivor of the Benetek Atrocity.
At 6:31pm, everyone goes quiet, standing shoulder to shoulder, back to chest, packed in to that space once so dreadful, sweating in their scarves and the last of the summer heat. And then, as soon as the clock hits 6:32 the song begins, low and slow at first, the bass notes resonating person to person like ripples in an ocean. By the end of the first verse, people begin to cry, singing through the tears. When the Birds Return is a sad, bittersweet song, but one that is hopeful for the future. By the last chorus, folk are shouting out the words, wracked with tears, feeling the lungs of those all around them resonate together. And when the dawn comes, they will sing, and the sun strokes your face, you will see them there, returned amongst the birds.
There are no other festivals happening today.