“The first thing which the native learns is to stay in his place, and not to go beyond certain limits. This is why the dreams of the native are always of muscular prowess; his dreams are of action and aggression. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, climbing; I dream that I burst out laughing, that I span a river in one stride, or that I am followed by a flood of motorcars which never catch up with me.”
Bedstuy, NYC, 2016
He lays alone in his cramped apartment. Tipsy cars are his soundscape. The yellow of a streetlight hits his dark skin like the promise of rainbows to come.
In bed, one of his legs dangles outside of his covers. The other cradles underneath. An army of sweat marches down his spine.
When he finally falls asleep, his face is a frown.
In Dream, he is walking down an alley. Blunt in mouth. Not knowing from where he came, or to where he goes, he walks.
Suddenly, he hears a familiar crescendo of footsteps behind him. The rattling of nuts and bolts.
He spins around on his heels, briefly seeing the world as a blur of pink and purple.
The creature crouched in front of him is part flesh, part metal. Its boxy muscles are boulders. Black voids of eyes. Its chest heaves in and out with each calculated breath.
This creature is an old program, but a stubborn one. The newest creatures can morph into the subconscious. Embody the beliefs that roam in the shadows of the colonial subject. A model citizen at terrorizing Black people.
But this old technology still patrols Dream streets. For many, its physical ugliness cannot be stomached. It can catch and cradle them in their choking itches of fear. Suck the optimism from their hearts. Render them worthless.
“We meet again,” the creature howls, its voice a synthetic sound bite of virus. Its teeth, digital chips. The tone, a caustic, racist disgust. “Motherfucker.”
This time, man and creature draw their weapons. He manifests a sword. The creature, a laser gun. Something of a different dimension. The gun fades in and out of materiality.
In a split second, he makes himself jump. He wields his sword and brings it slashing through the fleshy part of the creature’s neck. Just as he has practiced. Night after night.
The creature drops dead.
He clutches his stomach, feeling warm blood spurt into his hands.
He laughs viciously like the thunders of a torrential downpour.
“There are maleficent spirits which intervene every time a step is taken in the wrong
direction, leopard-men, serpent-men, six-legged dogs, zombies—a whole series of tiny
animals or giants which create around the native a world of prohibitions, of barriers and
of inhibitions far more terrifying than the world of the settler.”
Montgomery, Alabama, 1964
He lies restless in bed, both legs under the covers. Surrounded by an army of toys. A GI Joe. Cars. Even a teddy bear, still.
There are protests outside of his window.
“Mama,” he cries. Shaking. Still seeing the shadows of ghouls pressed against his eyelids. Still hearing their demonic squeals of joy. Still feeling the bony fingers pressed around his throat. The sensation of waking up with a choke.
She comes in.
“Again?” she asks. Weary.
“They’re everywhere,” he says. “I can feel them in my sheets.”
She places glass of water on his nightstand. To swallow the spirits. Then, a hand on his forehead. To soothe the imagination.
“Make it stop,” he cries. “Please, Mama. I’m scared.”
She sighs, seeing a white bubble of light surrounding his black body. Whispers a protective prayer. Feels his body for knots. Soothes the mysterious scratches.
She says, “It’s not real.”
“It feels real!”
She sits on the edge of his bed. Wipes the sweat from his brow.
“Stay centered, baby.”
Shouts seep into the room from between the drapes.
“Someday, you’ll know how to push those fears away,” she whispers. “You’ll learn how to fight back.”
“During the period of colonization, the native never stops achieving his freedom from
nine in the evening until six in the morning.”
Quotes are from from Franz Fanon’s “On Violence” in The Wretched of the Earth (1961).
Kesi is a writer and a teacher of literature and creative writing for teenagers and adults. Her writing has appeared in Winter Tangerine, USA TODAY, on the New York City Subway, and in collections like haiku narrativo and ancient futures. Kesi received her Ph.D. from NYU in 2018 and wrote her dissertation on Black writers who are working to correct the lack of diversity in children’s literature. She lives in Queens, New York. You can find her at kesiaugustine.com.
Photo: Teddy Kelley