Saturday, January 28, 2023

Fairy, Part II

“So, what d’you wanna do?”

Cars churned slowly in a chorus of loud Paleolithic screeching; steel beasts – prehistoric oil machines – moved in packs, bumper to bumper. Young people jumped between them like blue-eyed sprites, whooping and screaming to the heavens with no sense of consequence or ethereal reprisal. I felt Samirah tense beside me.

“I don’t know,” she responded curtly. “What’s there to do around this city that doesn’t involve some form of lying?”

“I don’t think there’s much.” I sighed.

U Street had become a carnival masked caricature of its former self. It’s all frantic, yuppie exuberance now; a fallow replacement for the deep, wood-grain mahogany of jazzy years passed.

Oblivious, shiny-haired white children blindly walked and skipped and ran across the streets, in and out of the slow-moving traffic. And it was slow-moving traffic.

On weekend nights, traffic was molasses, creaking along a foot at a time while pedestrians crossed wherever they wanted, safe in the knowledge that they could walk faster than any car could drive.

They were children, reveling in the false freedom of fleeting youth. To me they were the unmarred versions of the people we had just escaped; not yet yoked by the weighted responsibilities of success and “making it,” but just as arrogant, just as unburdened, and just as oblivious to the tightly-coiled resentment, honking around them.

Those goddamn guys. In a more sober mind, I may have thought twice about leaving with a woman I barely knew.

Sobriety was beginning to creep into my conscience, telling me to go back.  After all, I still had to work on Monday.

Responsibility, however, was the farthest thing from Samirah’s mind. She exhaled at the Bosch’s Hell scene before her. Her face turned solemn, “Jesus…it’s like a goddamn infestation.”

We’d stopped walking at the corner, looking south down 14th Street toward the only part of D.C. most of these kids knew. South were the monuments, the landmarks and buildings only recently made important to people like myself and Samirah.

“Who?” I looked around, “These kids?” She didn’t answer. Instead, she stepped further away from the curb to let by a group of children, who incidentally looked very comfortable walking late-night along D.C.’s once heroin-dusted streets. They were probably more comfortable here than anywhere else in the world.

“I guess you haven’t heard,” I began, sliding next to her as we both rested on the wall of an adjacent building. “D.C. is theirs now. While no one was looking, Chocolate City went and got its fuckin’ hair permed. I blame the Mayor – shiny-headed fuck. But it’s just as well, fuck D.C. They can have it. Why should it matter anyway?”

“What do you mean, why?”

“Whattaya mean ‘what do you mean, why?’ For one, it’s 2008. Honestly, we should be able to live with the fact that white people exist now. I think we can all share the same air without spontaneously erupting into Freedom Marches.

“Shit. What can any of these folk do to us now?” I asked. “Back in the day, you couldn’t look at a white girl without catching some type of heat. Nowadays I wish a white man would try to bark at me for some stupid shit like that. I’d smack the holy hellfire out a mothafucka. C’mon now. You worrying about them and I guarantee they ain’t thinkin’ bout you. Hell, they’re too worried about Mexicans and gays.”

She looked at me, shaking her head, “I knew it…you’re totally different when you’re not around them.”

“Hey, Dubois wasn’t lying I guess.” I shrugged, “Double consciousness and all.”

She sucked her cheek into a smirk, pushed off of the wall to pass me. “Well, that’s the problem with being a brilliant intellectual living in the late 1800s. There’s no one around confident enough to call you on your bullshit.”

I followed her as she began dodging the human traffic, crossing U Street.

“Okay, and what do you mean by that?” I found myself yelling over the traffic. We’d officially become a part of the current.

“You’re trying to rationalize disingenuousness. To me, fake is fake. But your problems aside, this isn’t my point.”

We had crossed the street, still looking south down 14th, where neither type of traffic – automobile or human – was that bad. “I guess…maybe I’m jealous,” she continued. “I look at them and know I’ll never feel the type of freedom and faith in this world they feel. They’re born with some idea, or at least some understanding of what their purposes on this planet are.

“They own their happiness. It’s not doled out like an allowance. It’s not rationed. I guess I envy that.”

I felt I knew where this was coming from. “You know those guys at dinner were just dickheads, right?”

“They acted like I wasn’t even there.”

We paused for a moment and she stared blankly down the empty section of road. “They’re power hungry self-loathers,” I explained. “They hate themselves and their lives and the only thing keeping them going is the ability to lord their few accomplishments over someone that they see as ‘beneath them.’ Makes them feel like they’ve made it, y’know?”

“Is that how you feel?”

“No, I’m not like them.”

“Then why are you defending them? No, better yet, why were you with them at all?”

I was feeling slightly uncomfortable. “I don’t know,” I began. “Maybe a part of me wants to know what it’s like to be on their side of the line. Maybe a part of me’s tired of not going anywhere or being anything. Time to evolve, right? It’s now or never.”

Samirah smiled, “Trust me, I know ‘those people’ a lot better than you do, okay? I know their type. I grew up with them. I worked with them. On every social level, I’ve been immersed in their world ever since I was old enough to understand what ‘good’ hair means.”

In front of us, a jeep full of teens, probably college aged, crawled by at 5 miles per hour. Their windows were down and Kanye West’s “Power” vibrated from the speakers. Two girls were in the back, one olive-toned and Mediterranean and the other freckled and red hair. The driver was a shaggy blonde and his passenger, a dark mocha, leaned on his shoulder with her hand in his lap.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I said quietly, “that’s…uh, unfortunate.”

“Hmmmmmm…” she pondered a response. “You know, you sound a lot smarter when you’re not talking.” She was disappointed.

After a tense silence, I offered, “I guess this is ‘goodbye’ then.” She didn’t respond, but continued to look down 14th as the rest of the world buzzed absentmindedly around her.

“Alright then,” I said.  Shit, I didn’t need this. I turned around and left, heading back to the restaurant. Maybe I could still catch The Guys and mend things. Besides, I had a wife at home who I’m sure would’ve been heartbroken to know I was out ruining some other woman’s night.

I didn’t want to look back. I knew that if I did and saw Samirah, and if she were still standing on that corner with her electric hair and full-lipped smile that I would most likely turn around. So I kept my pace, looking ahead, dipping and dodging through the crowd. It wasn’t long before I heard a familiar sharp clicking of heels behind me, trying to catch up.


part III >


< part I

Ryan Coke is a freelance writer who lives, writes, and drinks in Baltimore, MD. His professional works have appeared in regional, national, and international publications focusing on transportation, travel, sports, politics, and culture.