Inked Out

In the inky darkness, there appeared a faint sliver of yellow light that pointed its way outward from the tiniest of cracks in the door. If one had looked through the crack from outside the door, all visible was a brownish eyeball. Inside, the world shook. Outside, the world appeared calm, but would quickly shake.

Like a meter recording traffic passes, the light sliver was broken by passerby. If the interval was long enough between breaks, he would move the door to open. He counted the intervals, but could never decide if time was lengthy enough on his behalf. Awaiting him outside was cloaking darkness that could envelop and swallow him whole, completely, like a snake swallows its prey.

Last time he was out, the bank told him he had no account. The subway had no record of an account payment in his name. The accounting firm he interned with did not recognize him and said he’d never worked there. There was no record of his birth.

The sliver had gone unbroken for a count of 532. A move could be made. He opened the door more, and the sliver became a yellow triangle on the sidewalk. The brown eye and the other brown eye rolled attention this way and that way along the stretched concrete slab of sidewalk. The body that held them, the flayed, the abused body, the body that feared those minds, rose slowly to a scrunched standing position. The attached feet were commanded by another mind and thus the body lurched outward, becoming the first body in 593 counts to break the light band.

Before long, he crossed into occupied territory. Snakes hissed and whined, Tall snakes, short snakes, fat snakes, skinny snakes. The snakes leaned against doorways, out of open windows, slithered toward him and away from him on the concrete. One snake threw a cigarette and harmed him with his salacious words.

He didn’t even know where he was going. What was his purpose? Where did he belong? Had his mind truly failed him? Was he as crazy as they hissed? Had he ever existed anywhere, anytime?

The sun beat relentlessly against his dark skin, arms exposed from grimy t-shirt, head exposed by lack of hat, mind exposed by missing identity. Was it his limp that made them look? Was it the fact he hadn’t showered all week? Was it his pack of textbooks and notes, his geeked-out exterior, that betrayed him?

It was none of those. It was simply hi black body. To everyone he was a black body first. A black body with kind, inquisitive eyes made furtive and shifty by words both said and unsaid. A black body that once had moved with confidence, yet now barely ambled along, controlled by a mind out of control, raging, inhibiting, spitting, crying. A black body with no direct identity. A body without recognition.

He’s signed his name on the application form: Jeb Smith. He’d checked with a clear “x” the box that said African-American even though he’d never been to Africa. He wrote an essay, his admission essay, about lack of money yet intelligence, drive, and desire. About how the white man came in and claimed what was his, his property and that of his neighbors, and left him with the bill. About how he wanted to achieve much for himself. They’d admitted him, assuming he meant he wanted to become one of them.

But a man cannot ever truly become someone else. A man’s true identity is a mix of his DNA with his inner and outer spirit. When he looked in the mirror, he saw a brown-eyed scholar. When they looked at him, the image was of a black man. The white man’s image refused him entry into society. It blocked his every move, it condensed him, it pounded him into a crushed, frustrated flower that could no longer bloom.

He was a victim of himself they said. It was easy after all. All he had to do was…and then they’d list white people things, not things this wicked hero could chase. Society potted him and the soil was shallow and his roots reached and reached, but never found the sustenance of water. He delinquently shriveled. How many times had he been asked for I.D.? How many times had he provided it, then told to put his hands on the wall? How many times were his hands clicked behind his back, his neck bent into a car door, the door slammed, the smiles on the cops’ faces, the whirling lights, the pull hard on the arm, the fingerprinting, the loud clash of the cell door closing on his true identity?

“There’s a fantasy in America that I’m disposable,” he shouted out today, feet planted firmly on the concrete sidewalk, voice powerfully commanding audience. Then a sliver of light. A flashlight, beam getting closer to him. Should he run? Would bullets fly?

The holder of the flashlight in blue uniform.

“Let me see some I.D.”

He pulled a leather wallet out containing $78 in cash, one credit card, one ATM card, a college student I.D., and a driver’s license.

“Jebadiah Smith, is that you,” the broad yellow lit blue man asked.

“Yes. I’m Jeb Smith.”

“Put your hands on the wall! Yeah, I got this black kid. He’s crazy, yelling things,” he spoke into his radio.

Hands clicked behind the back. Head ducked, neck bent, lights, sirens, fingerprinting, crash of cell door. A voice:

“Man, you been inked out.”

Brown eyes under the door. Small slit of light.

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