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She’s on the Ground; Maiden in Distress

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Screams and shouts rang out at Exit #1 at the Tianhe Stadium. That day, there weren’t enough fans to fill the stands. But the Guangzhou Esports Association still had a broadcast to air. So they’d gathered everyone together in one section, right between Exits #1 and #2. The former was the fastest way to reach the car park and also to get to public transit, and it was also the exit through which the players left. So when the day’s matches came to an end, everyone coalesced here.

Fans hurried off the grass into the exit hallway. From up the stairs, the second group of fans flooded Exit #1. And then there were also the players from 18 teams looking to leave. They pushed into the hallway and crowded it. People couldn’t walk normally anymore. They had to slow down, speed up, jump aside. Their discomfort quickly grew into annoyance, small outbursts of aggravation happening left and right.

“Hey! Watch where you’re walking!”

“Stop pushing me!”

“Coming through! Coming through!”

“Calm down dude! Can’t you see how busy it is? Just stop shoving me!”

“My bus is leaving in five! Let me through please!”

“STOP PUSHING ME!”

Chu Fang looked over his shoulder at Tang Bingyao and Zeng Rui, then back ahead at Lin Feng and An Xin. Fuck! We’re getting split up! This is going to be annoying! He shook his head and rushed after Lin Feng, shouting, “LIN FENG! LIN FENG!”

Lin Feng scrunched his eyebrows and stopped. Two people bumped into him from behind, cursed at him and pushed past him. He ignored them and looked over his shoulder. Who’s calling my name?– Oh! Chu Fang!

“What a mess!” Chu Fang complained. He reached Lin Feng and An Xin and said, “Come, let’s go back and find the others. I don’t want to lose anyone in this big mess and we’ve already lost them! Whose brilliant idea was it to lead everyone to the same exit?”

“Yeah, there really are so many people!” Lin Feng exclaimed. “And they all look so annoyed! At us?”

An Xin rolled her eyes and replied, “Because we’re standing still in the middle of the exit. How about we do what Chu Fang says and find the others?”

“There you guys are!” Zhang Hao exclaimed. He pushed past a few more fans and then stopped next to Lin Feng before he continued, “You two were suddenly gone! It was impossible to keep up! I saw Lin Feng’s birdnest hair stick out here and…” He paused to breathe and then concluded, “that’s how I found you!”

“Hey!” Lin Feng blurted. He ruffled his hair and said, “This isn’t birdnest hair! It’s fresh out of bed!”

An Xin looked at Lin Feng and raised her eyebrow, smiling. She said, “Really? Huh, who knew! Anyway, it’s really packed here. Zhang Hao, do you know where the others are?”

Zhang Hao nodded and replied, “Yeah, they’re a bit back there.” He waved in the direction he came from.

Chu Fang looked at the trio and said, “Let’s go find them.” He then took the lead, pushing against the flow of people.

The members from Team Guangzhou were also trying to leave the stadium through Exit #1. But just like everyone else, they were caught up in the jam. The coach yelled that they were the players from Team Guangzhou and to please give them some space. But everyone was screaming and complaining and no one was listening.

Goalie looked at all the people around him. I hate this. There’s too many people! He tapped on his interpreter’s shoulder and told him to walk in front of him, and to have his other teammates walk around him. They did what he asked of them, creating a small space in the crowded exit where he could walk freely. Good. This is more like it.

While the three Chinese players from Team Guangzhou were helping Goalie, Seo was off on his own grumbling. He hated it that random strangers were touching him and were bumping into him. After a particular hard shove in his back, he cursed in broken Chinese, “Get the hell out my way! Assholes!”

“Piss off, idiot!”

“You move away!”

“Hurry up already! My god! So fucking slow!”

Seo shook his head in frustration. Everywhere he looked people looked mad and annoyed. And the more he looked, the more it felt they were mad and annoyed with him. As if they were all glaring at him. The hell is wrong with all these people!? Can’t they tell it’s too busy? They should let the teams leave first and the fans come after! What idiot came up with the idea to let the teams exit with the normal people? We’re better than them! Fuck it! Fuck it all! I don’t care anymore! If they wanna shove me, I’ll shove them! He picked up his speed, broadening his shoulders and preparing for impact, and yelled, “Move! Walk faster! Legless!”

A couple of people in front of Seo were the trio Tang Bingyao, Zeng Rui and Su Xue. They were struggling to keep their feet on the ground, the wave of fans nearly lifting them off their feet and carrying them through the exit. Tang Bingyao was struggling the most with this. Everyone around her was taller and bigger. She wasn’t anywhere near strong enough to stand up to them. The best she could do was expect the push or shove and react to it in advance.

Zeng Rui glanced at Tang Bingyao every couple of seconds and asked, “Tang Tang, are you okay? Is there something I can do to help?”

Tang Bingyao looked up at Zeng Rui and nodded. She said, “Mhm! It’s fi–” A sudden shout rang out from behind her. Then she felt two hands firmly press against her back and push her forward. Huh!? Her upper body moved but her legs didn’t follow. The ground was getting closer. She reached out with her hands and they hit the stone tiles. They scraped over it as her elbows buckled and she fell. Her head banged on the ground, but it was a burning sensation on her palms that she felt first. Then came a sudden shock from her pinky finger–first from a foot standing on it and then from that foot pushing off of it.

Tears appeared in Tang Bingyao’s eyes. She pulled her hand back and caressed it closely to her chest. Another foot hit her, this time against her shoulder. I’m going to die! This is it! I’m going to die! They’re… I’ve seen this on television! People fall in a crowd and they get trampled! She instinctively wrapped her hands around her head as thick, large teardrops rolled down the side of her face onto the stone tiles on the ground. I never did tell Lin Feng…

Zeng Rui jerked his head to the side when he heard the screams. He saw a push and Tang Bingyao falling to the ground. He stopped dead in his tracks, three people bumping into him. They cursed at him, but he didn’t hear it. He pushed them aside and forced his way back to where Tang Bingyao was lying on the ground. “TANG TANG!” He reached down and grabbed her by her arm, then lifted her straight up. He said, “Tang Tang! Come on! Help me here! Stand up!”

“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ALL OF YOU!?” Su Xue screamed. People finally paused. They looked at her and then at Tang Bingyao. It was as if they only now realized someone had fallen. Su Xue pushed her way to Tang Bingyao and yelled, “Are you all fucking blind? Can’t you see she fell? What the fuck are you all doing? Help her up! Jesus! What’s wrong with you people?” She then turned to look at Tang Bingyao and asked, “Are you okay, Tang Tang?”

Tang Bingyao wiped away the tears from her eyes and mumbled, “I-I’m fine.”

Su Xue looked Tang Bingyao up and down and said, “How is this fine? Your knees are open, there is blood all over your face, your hands are a mess… This isn’t fine!” She grabbed Tang Bingyao and felt around her face. The blood came from a small cut on her eyebrow. She then moved down to the hands and knees, checking everything and making sure Tang Bingyao really was fine.

Zeng Rui let go of Tang Bingyao and turned his attention to the crowd that was gathering around them. He shouted, “Who did that? What idiot pushed her? Where did he go?”

“Sorry. I’m sorry,” a man apologized. He rubbed his back and continued, “Someone hit me in the back and I stumbled on my feet. I didn’t mean to shove her to the ground. It was an accident, I swear! It was the guy behind me. He shoved me!”

Zeng Rui knitted his brows. I did hear someone scream before Tang Tang did. That could be… He looked past the guy who’d just apologized and narrowed his eyes. There he spotted someone who was looking around with wide, round eyes and trying to push his way through the crowd and away from Tang Bingyao. That’s him! Zeng Rui shouted, “Hold it! Don’t even think about slipping away after what you did!”

Seo met Zeng Rui’s eyes and bit on his teeth. Dammit! SHIT! I just got a bit annoyed! It was just a little shove! This was nothing! I didn’t do anything wrong! It was just that stupid bitch’s fault for being so tiny! Fuck it! FUCK THEM ALL! I don’t deserve this! I did nothing wrong! Right. I did nothing wrong. He straightened his back and broadened his shoulders. Then he snorted. Stupid Team Shanghai. They got what they deserve.

Zeng Rui had locked onto Seo and recognized him right away. He narrowed his eyes and he said in English, “So it was you, Seo.”

“What do you want?” Seo asked in English.

“What do I want? What do I want!?” Zeng Rui said. He looked at Seo and continued, “You just pushed someone! Tang Tang here could’ve been seriously hurt! And you just want to leave?”

Seo briefly paused, considered his options, then shrugged and replied, “Did you see me push anyone? I didn’t. It was busy, very crowded here. I was just trying to stay my ground, like everyone else. Are you telling me I can’t do that?”

The man who bumped into Tang Bingyao glared at Seo and shouted, “Dude! You were literally just behind me! You fucking pushed me! What are you lying about? It was clearly you! Everyone here saw you do it!”

There was a growing group of people who’d stopped trying to leave the Tianhe Stadium and had gathered in a circle around Tang Bingyao and the others. They started whispering, murmuring, growing louder and louder as they tried for their voices to be heard.

“Isn’t that guy they’re pointing at the ad-carry from Team Guangzhou?”

“He definitely is. I think he’s the only one with that colour hair!”

“Can’t you see? He’s obviously Korean. There are like only two in the entire tournament!”

“And he shoved that girl? Jesus! What a fucking asshole!”

“Some people…”

“Can’t believe he won’t even admit it. What a piece of shit!”

“It not my fault!” Seo shouted in his broken Chinese. He didn’t understand the language perfectly. But the fingers pointing at him and the tone in which the people were talking said plenty. He knew they were blaming him. He shook his head and said in broken Chinese, “Someone push me! From behind. Not my fault. Accident!”

Zeng Rui snorted and replied, “That’s why you were trying to run away, right? Because you are innocent. That’s what all innocent people do. They run away from the crime.”

Seo glared at Zeng Rui and said in English, “I told you, it was an accident. I can’t help it if you don’t believe me. That’s very much a you problem. Now piss off!” He flicked his hair and smiled at the people who’d gathered around him in what he believed to be a show of his innocence. Why does this guy have to make such a big deal out of it? Nothing happened! Plus it’s her own fault for not eating enough. If she had just a bit more meat to her bone, she wouldn’t have fallen there! Or she could’ve gone after the initial group of people left! Yeah, this isn’t my fault! It’s her fault! She shouldn’t have been there!

Zeng Rui took a long, deep breath. He then looked Seo in the eyes and said, “I want you to apologize to my friend.”

Seo snorted. He asked, “Apologize? For what? I didn’t do anything! It was an accident! I told you that! Or is your English so bad that I need to repeat it for you? Maybe you’re just deaf! Go back to school or something!”

“Seo,” Goalie said. He’d finally arrived with the rest from Team Guangzhou. He continued in Korean, “What’s going on?”

Seo nodded at Zeng Rui and replied in Korean, “This idiot is bitching about an accident. Says he wants me to apologize. I told him I didn’t do anything wrong, but he just keeps bitching about it!”

Goalie listened and then shrugged. He turned to his interpreter and said, “Tell the coach he can handle this. It’s not worth our time.” He then looked at Seo and added, “Those kids are just scared of how good we are. They know they can’t beat us on the Rift, so they’re trying to get us disqualified. Don’t let it get to you.”

Team Guangzhou’s coach listened to a quick explanation from the interpreter and then turned to look at Zeng Rui. He said, “Seo explained to us that it was an accident. It was crowded. Things happen. No one meant it. How about we just drop this and move on?”

“An accident?” Zeng Rui asked, laughing incredulously. He continued, “Did you see it happen? It’s like me punching you in the face right now and then calling it an ‘accident’!”

“Hey, that’s not how you talk to me,” Team Guangzhou’s coach interjected. He said, “Seo explained what happened. He wouldn’t lie. I say we put an end to this charade and move on with our day.”

Su Xue had been standing to the side, tending to Tang Bingyao rather than arguing with Seo. But she’d heard it all, and she’d had enough. She pointed at Team Guangzhou’s coach and yelled, “Put an end to it? What’s wrong with you! Your guy screwed up! He pushed her to the ground! All we asked for is an apology and that’s too much?”

Team Guangzhou’s coach looked at Su Xue and said, “Seo is a special guest from Korea. Are you really going to do this? Make his first experience in China terrible by accusing him of something he didn’t even do? He got pushed, lost his balance, and in the process your little girl fell. Boohoo. Now let’s all be civil here and stop making a scene.”

Zeng Rui stared at Team Guangzhou’s coach, incredulous. Boohoo, be civil? What…? Anger was bubbling within him, metaphorical steam rising from his head. He was about to explode when a voice sounded out behind him.

“Sorry! Make way! Make way! Coming through! Let me through!” Lin Feng yelled as he pushed through the crowd, leading An Xin, Chu Fang and Zhang Hao to Tang Bingyao.

When they got inside the circle that had formed around Tang Bingyao, An Xin rushed up to her friend and asked, “Tang Tang, what happened?”

Tang Bingyao wiped her eyes with her sleeve again and took a deep breath. She then pointed at Seo and said, “He pushed the guy behind me who then bumped into me and I fell to the ground…”

Lin Feng looked around at the situation, half-listening to Tang Bingyao until she said she’d fallen on the ground. He finally turned to look at her and noticed everything that was wrong. The scrapes on her knees, the blood on her face and hands, and the way that she was holding her pinky finger. A jolt went through him. Like the shock of being stabbed–or the feeling of suddenly coming awake in an unfamiliar place, frightened by a sudden noise. A visceral clenching of the stomach. A sudden racing of the heart. Every piece of you alert, looking for justice. He said in a voice unlike his own, cold and forced, “What did he do?”

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SIETSE AND CROWDS

Sietse Thought: Crowds can be really scary like in this chapter. When I was younger, you’d hear about how people got trampled and died and I always wondered how that was possible. But something seems to happen in these moments. They’ve got their singular focus on where they want to go and their mind goes: “Need to go from A to B. In between A and B is an obstacle. Push through it.”

You start going to clubs (or used to, anyway) when you’re 15/16 for most people. That was when high school parties moved from the school gymnasium to the disco around the corner and there were no more teachers making sure that no one snuck in alcohol. They didn’t have to. Disco’s sell alcohol!

So we had this club and the entrance was up a small stairway. You had hundreds of people all trying to fit into this area that fit two, maybe three people next to each other. Everyone pushed, shoved, and tried to get into the club just a minute faster so they could dance a minute longer or go home a minute earlier. Looking back on it, it seems silly, but that’s how it was. This was my first real experience with a big club and I didn’t know how to keep your spot. All I knew was that my friends were in front of me and I wanted to stick near them. Then they started to get a bit ahead. I tried to fight through the crowd, but more people were pushing through.

We finally got to the stairs after a good fifteen minutes of pushing. And this was where all the pushing became so much worse. There suddenly wasn’t room at the sides anymore. What happened was that we were pushing against each other so hard that my feet left the ground and I was floating within the crowd. I basically flew up the stairs, completely out of control. It was fucking terrifying. You can’t do anything. You can barely breathe, because you’ve got shoulders digging in your sides. And then my feet touched the ground again. Everything returned to normal. I got in the club and had a great night. But for those 30 seconds, I was afraid of my life.

Then we’ve got Tang Tang here. A petite girl who suddenly finds herself on the ground, slightly disoriented. Feet are all around her. One hits her in the back. She sees blood on her hands. The idea of it happening already terrifies me.

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