March 1975

 

Billy was in the toilet of the supermarket when he started hearing the noise. A man was barking orders and a woman was screaming. He hurriedly completed his business in the toilet and stepped out.

As he stepped out of the toilet, he saw a policeman shouting with his gun trained on someone. He followed the direction the gun faced and saw that it was a black woman. She was standing with her hands up. She had a baby with her and tears streamed down her face.

“I said freeze!” The policeman shouted again, moving towards her, the gun still trained on her.

“My hands are already up!” The woman screamed. “Do you want me to kneel down?”

The woman began to kneel down, but two shots from the policeman sent her crashing into the array of tin milk and menstrual pads on the racks behind her. The child she was holding flew out of her arms, rolling a few feet from her before he began wailing.

The policeman looked around, his eyes scanning the store to see if anyone saw him shoot the woman. Billy ducked back into the toilet and watched, peeping as the police officer approached the man at the counter. The man raised up his hands, repeating incoherently: “I didn’t see nothin’. I swear, oh God, I didn’t see nothin’!”

The policeman stared at him for a while, trying to figure out if he could trust him. He nodded and pointed at the camera. “I’m going to need those tapes.”

The man nodded, relief flooding his face. He rushed into the back room before emerging, moments later, clutching several black tapes. He shoved them into a brown envelope and slid it across to the counter to the waiting officer.

The policeman took the envelope, stared at the counter man once more before tucking his gun into its holster.

“If you’re asked who did this, what’ll you say?”

“I say one of them gang boys jacked her.”

“Good,” the policeman nodded. “Good.”

He turned to leave, and when he got to the door, he called back at the counter man. “Ten minutes after I walk out of here, call 911 and tell them a woman just got jacked in your supermarket.”

The counter man nodded, then his eyes flew to the baby who was now quietly sucking his thumb. “What about the baby?”

“What about him? The policemen will know what to do with him.”

Billy waited five minutes after the officer left before sneaking out of the toilet. He noticed that the counter man had slipped back into the back room. Pulling up the hood of his sweater, he tip toed to where the baby was lying. The baby had fallen sound asleep with his thumb still in his mouth. He quickly riffled through the contents of the woman’s bag, brought out her purse, opened it, nodded and pushed it into the pocket of his trouser.

He picked up the baby. As the baby opened his mouth to start crying, he placed his hand over his mouth and tip-toed hurriedly towards the door. He pulled open the door, stepped out and made his way home.

 

***

 

 

February 2016

 

Ray was sprawled on the seat in his living room. He was in his briefs and was screaming at the screen of his TV. He was going through his third divorce and he wasn’t taking it well. All three of them had accused him of being distant, of being unfeeling and of only caring about the physical aspects of their marriage.

Jane, his first wife had left him after two years. She said being with him was like living with a corpse. He kept to himself and only talked to her when he wanted to have sex. He didn’t do coo into her ears, kiss her stomach, or hold her when they were done. This was all she longed for. Instead he pushed into her like a predator going for the kill and when he was done, stood up immediately and returned to the living room after having a shower – either to watch TV get ready for work at the police station.

His second and third wives left for pretty much the same reasons. They just didn’t like him. He was around but never really there. His physical body could be seen but his mind was always elsewhere.

He had gone to see a psychiatrist once when he was a boy. It was court-mandated therapy. The court had ruled that he should see a therapist right after he broke the leg of yet another boy in school: his fourth case of violence that week. The shrink had tried to find out what was wrong: why he had no friends, why he hated black people with a passion and why it appeared that he was angry at the world. After four months of seeing the shrink, he had been cleared, but not without the court ordering an anger management class just to be sure.

The therapist’s submission - according to what he read in his notebook - was that he had an experience as a kid that hurt him. It was an experience which he had refused to acknowledge; an experience he had kept bottled up; an experience that influenced all his actions and forced him to push away everyone around him, and instead seek comfort in beer bottles.

But the therapist was wrong. He knew exactly what his problem was. He had confronted it every day for the past forty years. He had thought about it, and it did drive him to the brink of insanity every day.

He was two years old when his father and mother had split up. His father had told him that she was travelling and it would take her long while to come back but that they would talk on phone every day. He had believed him and for two weeks they had spoken every day. Then she stopped calling.

Two months later, his father returned home with a black woman and told him she was going to be his new mum. He’d asked about his real mother but his father had told him his mother asked the black woman to take care of him until she came back. He had initially hated the black woman, but anger subsided after a week. She was nice to him and she made him feel special. In no time at all, he grew very fond of her.

When she had a baby more than a year later, he had forgotten all about his mother and proudly pushed out his chest as he told neighborhood kids that he had a baby brother. He’d slept with the baby beside him every day, sang to him and showed him off to his friends. Then disaster struck.

His new mother - the black woman – had gone to the supermarket with the baby while he slept. When he woke up and turned on the TV, he saw a horror that would haunt him from then and throughout his adult life.

The picture of his new mother was flashing on the screen with the headline: “WOMAN SHOT DEAD BY BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD GANG.” He listened as the reporter went on to announce that the woman was killed as well as a baby she was holding. The sight of blood on the supermarket floor made his head spin.

His father had come home later that evening after going to identify the body. He didn’t say a word: he just held him as sobs racked his tiny frame. They never talked about it. Not once. It was easier not to. His father withdrew into himself and he did too. As he grew older, he’d hated black people for what they did to his step-mother and baby brother. He hated seeing them brandishing the colors of their gangs, acting like they were invincible. He wanted a bat and an opportunity to bash their heads in.

One day, he’d seen the son of one of the gang leaders alone playing in a street corner. He made sure that nobody was around before jumping him and stabbing him thirteen times. A gang fight had broken out with the father of the boy placing a hit on a man from another gang who he was sure was responsible for the death of his son. He’d watched with momentary satisfaction as they killed each other. But then they stopped.

As he grew even older, he sought out and joined an all-white, anti-black gangs. They had a mission: maim or kill at least one black a year. Within his first year of joining, he’d killed six blacks.

The gang hierarchy had been so pleased with him that they had gotten him into the police force. At first, it didn’t make sense to him but then it all began to fit in. He would be the face of the law; people would feel at ease around him, and this would make it easier to kill as many blacks as possible. All he had to do was arrest them, say he was taking them to the station, then drive them somewhere secluded and end their lives. Alternatively he could shoot them for no reason whatsoever and have faith that his gang -which had highly-placed men in Washington - would get him out of any problem. Perfect.

He screamed one more time at the screen, turned off the TV and stood up. He put on his uniform, placed his gun in its holster and stepped out.

As he drove to the police station, his eyes scanned the neighborhood. There was the ice cream man parked in a corner of the street. There were two men arguing about something. Then his eyes fell on two black men standing and talking: an older man who looked like he was in his fifties and a much younger man. They shook hands and the older man went into the shop behind them while the younger one stood by the side of the road.

Ray pulled the brakes and parked across the road. He stepped out of the car, his hand on his gun holster as he approached the black man. Anyone who had been in the force long enough knew that when two black guys shook hands on the street, it could only mean one thing: drugs.

To his relief, the black man didn’t move, he just stood there, pressing his phone and holding whatever it was he just bought.

When he was only a few feet from him, Ray brought out his gun and trained it on the black man. “Hey!”

The black man raised his two hands up immediately, his hand still wrapped around whatever it was he just bought. “What’s going on, officer?”

“Are you questioning me?” Ray shouted, as he advanced.

“No sir, I’m just saying…”

“You’re just saying what?” Ray yelled. “Are you trying to teach me how to do my job, nigger?”

“Excuse me?” The black man asked, his hands falling back to his sides. “Did you just call me nigger?”

“Put your hands up!” Ray shouted again. “And yes, I just called you a nigger.”

The black man reached into his pocket, but before his hand emerged four shots fired rapidly from Ray’s gun. The front of his blue shirt slowly began to soak, turning into a red mess.

Ray stood there, his gun still trained on him, watching his fist clench and unclench. A piece of paper fell out from his hand.  Moving closer Ray picked it up. A phone number was written on it. By now a crowd was converging around them with their phones out, recording the scene. In the distance he could hear the blare of sirens approaching.

The man had stopped moving. He reached into the man’s pocket and pulled out his wallet. When he opened the wallet and looked through, his face became ashen and his hands began to shake. He stared at the face of the dead man and looked back into the wallet. Then the wallet dropped from his hand as he knelt beside the man and began to push his chest in an attempt to revive him.

There in the dead man’s wallet, he had seen the last thing he expected to see. He had seen a picture of his step-mother, a picture of his father, and a picture of him holding his black little brother.

After trying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to no avail, he stood up, holding his head. He picked the dead man’s phone and dialed the number on the piece of paper that had fallen out of his hand. “My Dad” flashed on the screen. He brought out his own phone and dialed the same number. “My Old man” flashed across the screen, confirming a nightmare he would never wake up from.

Two police cars parked beside him and approached. He recognized the four cops approaching him. He stood up and backed away from the corpse.

“What happened here, Ray?” One of the cops asked. “This can’t be happening again. That’s four shootings from you just this year alone - and it’s still February.”

“I know. I will be turning myself in and writing a statement. It’s time for this to end.”