ATTEMPTS AT MURDER by Maurice Stevens
August 7, 2021
by Maurice Stevens
Turn Around! Turn Around! I yelled into the mirror as I watched a shadowy figure approach me from behind. My body wouldn't obey. I stood stiff as if I'd been encapsulated in concrete. As the figure drew nearer I could make out nothing but the badge and the pistol, both glimmered in chrome. Turn around! I attempted once more, as I watched the pistol raise, then come to a stop as it leveled at my head. Nooo! I yelled.
"No, no, no!" I yelled as I struggled with the comforter that had soothed me to sleep the night before. It was a dream, I thought as I sat erect, drenched in sweat. I had been having these recurring dreams of being murdered for close to a year. Sometimes the figure spoke in a familiar tone, other times it was like the one I just had. Every time it was faceless. It had been a year since my father had been killed, by unknown culprits, while sharpening his knife on a brick, as he sat on our porch. The police still haven't arrested anyone. And momma and me still haven't found closure.
School. I thought as I climbed from the bed and walked into the bathroom to shower.
"Ember. Ember Young, hurry down here and eat this breakfast!" Momma yelled. "You're running late and I'm not wanting no calls from that school."
I rushed down the stairs and into the kitchen, passing Momma at the stove, stirring farina in the pot. "What's up, momma?" I asked as I sat to eat.
"Boy, you don't know," Momma said as she approached me with the pot in her hand. "You're gonna be the death of me." She shook her head as she filled my bowl.
"What did I do now, momma?"
"Boy, with all of these young folks being killed, and the cops killing them," she said as she moved back to the stove top. "Boy, I'm all kinds of worried."
"Momma, I'm alright."
"That's why I'm worried, because you're alright. I don't need for you to be alright. I need you to be safe. If you see cops, just go the other way. And stay away from protests.
It was wrong, what happened to that boy, but you're mine. I feel sorry for his family, but you're mine," she finished as she stared off in thought.
I finished the last of my breakfast and went to where momma was standing. I kissed her on the cheek before turning to head out. "Alright mom. I love you, I'll see you after school."
"Come straight home, Ember," she reiterated.
"Don't worry momma."
"How could I not?"
"Ember, wake up." I heard Demu say as my body shifted from her nudge. "Ember, wake up. Class is almost over."
"I'm up, I'm up." I answered as I stared at Demu with contempt.
"The movie's done," she said, referring to the movie Mrs. Tool showed during history class. The movie that we were to be quizzed on the following day.
"Class, listen up." Mrs. Tool called for our attention. "I was just informed that there will be an early let out due to concerns surrounding the protests. You still have about ten minutes, so if there are any questions, let's have them," Mrs. Tool said as she looked directly at me.
"Ember?" the rest of the students erupted.
"Just one," I answered, never being one to be caught off my guard. "It's more of an awareness really, than a question."
"Let's have it," said Mrs. Tool.
"Why is it that our parents are expected and directed to put so much effort into teaching us what to do and say when encountering law enforcement, instead of law enforcement being taught what to do and say when encountering us. 'Cause the former doesn't seem to be working well, we're still being killed."
"That's just how things are," Mrs. Tool said disheartened "But change is coming. With the reform bills and so many people other than blacks pushing for change, the day is coming."
One kid shouted, "Maybe we need to stop asking and start demanding!"
Mrs Tool countered with, "Maybe you need to check your thought and know that your words can get us in just as much trouble as our actions."
"Well, something needs to be done," the kid fought.
"And things are being done. Change is a process."
"But oppressions are immediate," challenged the kid just as the bell rung.
"What will I do with you, Em?" I heard Demu ask as I stepped out of the classroom, her accent thick and telling of she and her parents' move to the state four years prior.
"Right is right, and wrong is wrong," I answered with a smile as we walked from the school building and into the streets where the protests were fully fledged.
"Yes. But because right and wrong are subjective, sometimes right can be wrong," Demu countered.
"And sometimes your truth can lie," I shot back and together we laughed.
Demu spoke, "Akili ni nywele kila mtu ana zake."
"What?" I asked, stumped
"Brains are like hair, each person has his or her own," she translated.
"Well, most people are last and allow others to style their hair."
This was us, and had been us for four years. Each day after school we would find some thing that occurred throughout the school day to debate.
I remember our first encounter. It was at the start of freshman year, Demu had spoken very little English then, a thing which brought her all kinds of issues with us American-born youth. Though the school was 100% Afrikan American, in their eyes she was African and thus, something lesser. Her Afrikanness had the opposite affect on me, I was intrigued by her knowledge and connection to the mother land. So, I took her in as my little sister and let it be known. This discouraged everyone form making fun if her, as I had built a reputation for physical disagreement. We were inseparable since.
"Little brother, little sis!" I heard a voice call as Demu and I passed through a crowd of protestors. We kept moving, we thought we couldn't have been this person's intended targets. "Little brother." I heard again as a hand fell upon my shoulder. I spun around immediately, ready to combat the stranger who'd felt himself right to place his hand on me. "Do you have a minute?" he asked as I turned.
Before us stood a mountain of a man, he was dressed as if he was pulled straight out of a Panthers rally. Demu and I glanced at one another, as I tried to assure her with my eyes. "Why what's up?" I asked.
"I've got a question for you two, if y'all don't mind?"
"Ask away," I answered and watched Demi's expression turn from one of uncertainty to one of disapproval.
"What are you all's thought on these protests and this war?" he asked.
"I'm all for the protests and fighting for our rights, but what war are you referring to?" I asked.
"This war," the man answered. "The one that we're fighting right now, the war that you are very much apart of whether you know it, or not."
"We're not apart of no war," Demu interrupted.
"There's a war on Black bodies, we are being murdered without consequence, and I don't know if y'all are aware of this fact but y'all have Black bodies," the man stated, then stared as if to gauge our awareness.
"Yeah. I guess you're right, but is it really a war?" I asked.
"Yes. It's a war. And it's a must that you see it for what it is. War is when conflict exists between two or more parties and neither side is willing to accept the others' implementations. Cops are killing Black men, women and boys, right? And I don't think you are willing to let them kill you, or at least you shouldn't be. So, you want them to stop and they're saying that they'll stop when you—as an expressions cease to exist. This is war, little brother."
"Yeah, but I ain't racist," I answered.
"We're not racist," Demu added.
"I know you're not racist and do you know how I know this?"
"How?" we asked in unison.
"Because a prerequisite to racism or being a racist is power. A thing that America denies Black folks, so anything you think or feel as far as race goes, is in response to race or racism, which makes you a revolutionary."
Our attention was captured. Demu and I stared as the man continued. "Dig this, lil' bro, lil' sis: do you know why in times of war, we say you fight fire with fire? You don't have to answer 'cause I gonna tell you. It's because fire destroys or alters, permanently, everything it touches. Those in charge of this system know this, yet they've conditioned us to fight fire with water. In doing this, the fires they set destroys what they want destroyed, then we come along with our water, protests, etcetera—putting out the fire and saving what's left of this system. Where then they push the agenda of reform, remodel, reinvestment, rebuild, all things and words geared to keeping in place those things we wanted destroyed in that fire. Only if we fight fire with fire, can the existing system be destroyed in its entirety. And only then can we build anew. And only in building anew, can America hold the black race equal. So, anything beginning with the prefix re must be rejected. Dig?"
"Sounds right, but where do we fit?" I asked.
"Y'all play the biggest part in this play. We've started the fire, it's on y'all to keep it burning."
"They'll think we're crazy," Demu said.
"Tell me how far you are from insanity and I'll tell you how far you are from affecting change, meaningful change," said the man before he ran off.
I locked eyes with Demu, confused. "Do you feel a responsibility?" I asked.
"I feel something, not sure what though. What I do know is we need to get home before my dad starts his search party and your mom her rescue mission."
"You are absolutely right," I chuckled before we headed home.
"Ember, I'm not going to call you again boy, get off that phone and come get this food before it gets cold," my mom yelled for the hundredth time.
"I'll see you at school tomorrow." I told Demu before I hung up the phone, "And how was your day momma?" I asked as I entered the dining room.
"The same as every other day. But I stopped by the cemetery to visit your dad today."
Dada was always a touchy subject. Though time had passed and momma swore she was okay. I knew the void was there because I could feel it myself and even more when my mom cried. Her tears made me feel helpless, my helplessness made me angry and my anger left me vengeful—without a source. My vengeance was fueled by my dad's words. He would tell me that I should always look to take an eye or better, if ever an eye was taken from me; but whose eye do you take when you don't know who has taken your eye?
"Vengeance is the lord's," my mom said, aware, as she watched me.
"How do it go?" I asked.
"I didn't cry this time. I just miss him so much," she said. Tears filled the bottom of her eyes and fell.
I stood and walked over to where she was. She looked at me with eyes of guilt, as if her feelings weren't allowed.
"We're gonna be alright, momma." I said as I embraced her. "Get it out," I offered in hopes of validating what she felt.
"You're all I have, Ember. I just don't know what I'll do if some thing happened to you," she cried. "I don't know."
"I'll be okay, momma." I assured, although I wasn't convinced myself. "We'll be alright momma. God's got us," I concluded as I tightened my embrace. My words brought a smile to my mother's face. Sunshine in the rain.
Later that night, after I'd eaten and showered, I put my mother to bed and then climbed into my own bed. As I laid there, I couldn't get the man's lecture out of my head. It was the part about fighting fire with fire. If fire destroys everything it touches, I thought, won't it eventually destroy those who started it? I shook the thought from my head as I adjusted in my bed for comfort. Momma needs me, I thought. Then I found sleep.