There was a loud bang and then something that rattled the panes. Iema Kola looked out the window. She wondered if any of the others in the house heard what she had. A little bit like thunder but not quite. It was a different kind of vibration. A humming. A buzzing. More than a rumble. Iema Kola made a move to check her phone then she remembered it was no use. The house had no reception of any kind. It had been a couple days since things had gone black. They were in a black zone. No internet, no data. Iema Kola fell back on to her sea of pillows and sighed.
Future accounts of the POTUS’s speech would be heavily redacted, but nonetheless, it had given it the previous evening. The speech was to explain why the free use of the internet and social media had been suspended or heavily restricted in certain areas of the country.
Temporarily, she said.
While those outside the black zones, those with the proper photo identification, paid fee, and background check sent as a PDF file could apply through a special online portal to have their partial web-surfing, and email access restored—social media in the deemed black zones would remain as such. Black.
While she regretted that honest, hard-working Americans need suffer for the actions of a willful few, what those of her own party, the small government purists, needed to understand was that national security dictated this action.
Patriotism would require the suspension of some principles. We had been here before. Iraq, Iran, Beirut, Atlanta, 9-11, and now this. What had seemed like harmless group ranting had materialized into a serious domestic threat. The primary means of communication, the POTUS went on, for this group had been online.
A (nearly) successful attempt to co-opt the strategies (use of social media to organize) of the Arab Spring, and other movements for democracy, by this domestic insurgency was in the process of being thwarted. This would all be over soon. Very soon. She asked for the trust and support and faith of the American people. She would not let them down, nor would she ever betray their trust. That’s what she said.
Iema Kola felt the house rock again, this time she knew it wasn’t thunder. Her eyes watered, shoulders shook, and things went silent.
They started laying down the bike paths with the city and dead bodies still stinking in the rotting houses. Iema Kola knew then it would all come down to the come down. Just how it would go down was always the question. One night, she had a dream. People were fighting; it was hand to hand, muskets, and AR-15’s. There was a bugle boy playing and all that. Iema Kola couldn’t tell who was who, or where she belonged in the battle, no one could. It was just people shooting and cutting whoever they could get their hands on.
Iema Kola woke up from that dream to people were moving into the house next door. More and more of them were coming every day.
Having lost it all in the water, it was strange to frequent old places with new names. Old places that Iema Kola longed for, but sometimes could barely remember. All Iema Kola really knew for sure was that the more and more of them that came, the less she could figure who she was anymore.
Her neighborhood was filled with ghosts.
Sometimes Iema Kola wondered if she was dead. She said that to her brother, Papo once, asked if he ever felt dead. Papo said, fuck no. Shut up, and talk better to yourself. Iema Kola could not tell if this conversation happened in the past or the present or some tense just beyond what she could articulate. It had all begun to make her back ache.
Iema Kola had seen a lot bought and sold. Helped out in her own way. One love, the best love she had known was buried. Iema Kola clung to Papo now because he was all the family she had left. Their friend Fadi clung to them. He also, like Iema Kola and Papo, had nowhere to go. He would not abandon them. Fadi had lost one house to the water and the other to a wave of high-rises on hills in Felasteen. Settlers looking over the bluff at the trees, deciding how many must go. Home had become an abstraction amongst the refurbished shotgun doubles and a settlement far away overlooking an orchard waiting to burn.
Iema Kola was still grateful— even as the casket closed, to have seen what she had. With her love. She shed tears for what she and Corey had done wrong; together and apart. Iema Kola let it gnaw on her heart, the tiny balled up foil paper, she had found in his pocket coated with something that coulda been something else that she threw out.
What did heroin look like when you lit a flame under it? Certain things he had kept from her. Iema Kola did not try to see if it would bubble up.
The shit popped off after the police shot Iema Kola’s cousin, Tipoo, a musician, dead. This is how it started, Papo told her. Papo said the fight started because the fiddlers said Tipoo and them were playing on their corner. Tipoo said aint no way it was their fucking corner and they weren’t leaving. Either way some pushing started and one of the fiddlers called the people. When the police showed up, they made Tipoo and them lie down on the ground. Then the police say Tipoo reached in his waistband for a gun that was never found. The police opened fire and then Tipoo was dead, shot up, arms, legs, neck and back and head. Just like that. People in the neighborhood had caught that shit on all kinds of phones and cameras. Soon the stills and videos of Tipoo’s body bucking from the onslaught were spreading like a virus. Or a fire.
Every day there were videos and all that shit. It was happening everywhere. And all the time it was online and people were talking about all the shit they saw. People shot or hit with cars, lying on the ground with their heads split. Everyday a boy or a man you knew. Women too. The police were ubiquitous in their milling. The veil lifted. Bullets flew in all directions. There was nothing to shield yourself from the lens of whatever camera was shooting them.
So, they didn’t have to see it coming. It just happened and they were ready. Fadi had lost his own country before he was even born. So much had left his palms bloody from trying to hold on. A wise man would let go. But this city and Iema Kola— he loved.
At first Iema Kola and Papo just fucked shit up. Good and hard. They poured blood on ______, and _______, and the ________, and lots of other places, where people had been bought and sold. Iema Kola was too sad to be angry, or be scared, or even really care about what she was doing. Sometimes you had just had enough. That’s when you lost all fear. The only place to go from there was forward. They found the house of the fiddler, who had called the cops in the first place, and lit it ablaze.
Iema Kola knew Ferd from wandering. All day, Iema Kola wandered around the city. Popping her head in and out of stores, resting for a while in coffee shops. Place to place, trying to find something familiar in the city where she had grown up. It was something for a storm just to come in and wipe your slate clean. Ferd was one of the new things. He lived out in some group of trailers, with some white people, who all shared some connecting electricity and water, or some shit he tried to explain.
Iema Kola had tried to tell him before that the white people here weren’t like the ones he knew in Seattle. And that the ones from Seattle would be different because they were here. Why do you think they came down South? Ferd always laughed uncomfortably.
Now today, as Iema Kola sipped mint tea amongst them trying to act natural, she could tell Ferd needed to talk. Someone to tell. They stepped outside the coffee shop for a cigarette, and Ferd whispered. Since the fires, and the statues, he looked in her eyes; they had cut his water and electricity. They were trying to act like it was just some malfunction; his buddy was working on it. But it was only his trailer out of ten. Only his trailer, he repeated. Plus he had heard the snips.
They want me to have to ask for everything, Ferd said.
So they can keep you, answered Iema Kola.
Iema Kola remembered a day when she was a little girl. She had left the gas stove running in her house. She remembered her daddy screaming so loud it made her tremble. He pushed her over to the stove and made her turn it off. He held her hair and head at the base of her neck and pressed her face near the burner, so close she could feel the lingering warmth on her face. Now, that’s off, he said. Iema Kola remembered looking up at her father’s eyes. They were crazed. He was a man she did not know.
She would not know him really again until he after the water had washed the house’s contents clean. Her Daddy told her standing inside its shell of wooden angles, that when he was ten, the same year Wharlest’s Jackson’s car exploded, that he had drug himself out of his house in Mississippi. A house filled with gas— ready to blow.
Ferd asked if he could come with her. Papo would be mad. Anybody foolish enough to have been living the way he had could not be trusted. She knew that’s what he would say. But Ferd was so scared, and small, and hungry, she couldn’t just leave him. Papo relented and said he could stay the night. Iema Kola and Papo’s childhood friend, Tara and her girl, Koi were at the house too, in from across the world. Doogie, Papo’s friend, over to smoke something with them. For the night, they feel elated. Like a family again. It had been so long since they had familiar people to love.
Three white drifters died in the fire and a policeman. Iema had seen the news report the night before. She recognized one of the dead, a white girl, who had cashed in her ones from violin playing, at one of the coffee shops she frequented. Iema Kola’s eyes burned. She wondered through her grief where the news report about Tipoo, and every other dead kid she had known had been? That was a feeling that turned her stomach. Soft music played while the montage of the victims flashed across the screen.
a tune that almost sounded like the Jaws theme song blared signaling breaking news, It was Iema Kola’s face on TV. She, Tara, Fadi, Doogie, and Koi’s faces. No Ferd. Iema Kola stared at her face as though it were not her own. These were the gleeful faces of murder and mayhem, the reporter said. 2 Black males, an Arab, 1 black woman, and one woman believed to be of Indigenous descent, the report said.
In the haze of the pre-dawn morning men are outside Iema Kola and Papo’s door. Then they are inside, guns drawn. Papo, always quick as light, lets the shots go off with precision and before Iema Kola is even able to comprehend what is happening. Papo ‘s eyes are aflame with all that has happened. Iema Kola and Tara and Ferd, Doogie, Fadi and Koi have nothing to do but follow him out the back door into the dawn. The dead men’s lives, whoever they were, were worth several generations of hers.This is one thing, storm or no storm, that hasn’t changed. This Iema Kola knows for sure.
What none of them knew was that now that they were running was that the pictures, and the videos, and the gifs of the statues, and bicycles, and houses, and fiddles burning, all the things they had burned went viral all over the country and the world. People in their own city were in the street, calling for justice for Tipoo. And they had everywhere from Harlem to Detroit, Chicago, Brooklyn and even Memphissippi shaking. More fires were lit at home. They said the source was a group in New Orleans, the same ones responsible for the death of three in camouflage. They made it seem like Iema Kola and them were a cell of sorts. There were rallies. Peaceful ones, of the black, and the brown, and the red, and the yellow, and the white people that said they loved, them pleading for calm and for reason. Iema Kola’s face was on TV. She, Tara, Koi, Doogie, Fadi and Papo. Not Ferd. These were the faces of gleeful murder and mayhem, the reporter said, it had become almost a refrain.
In 1985, Ferd lost his mother and father in a bombing in LA. Ferd had been sitting in his mother’s lap. Still a baby, he had just begun to speak. The batteram hit the door. Frightened, his father shot and they shot back. They dropped something on the house from a helicopter, killing Ferd’s mother for good measure. Ferd’s survival had to be studied. He was taken into the custody of the state, where he had remained until asking Iema Kola for shelter.
Iema Kola’s dad told her the morning they blew up Wharlest’s car, he had heartburn. He was only ten and he knew something was wrong. Iema Kola knew something was now watching. Something whose sight they couldn’t escape. Iema Kola felt marked, she had risen with the fiery feeling in her ribcage. She told this to Fadi in his ear while he pretended to sleep. Fadi turned to face her and said he knew. Fadi said his dad had been killed while riding in a car in Gaza City about a decade ago.
How? Iema Kola asked.
Fire, Fadi said. How else? It just fell out of the sky.
The old people that were housing them and helping them on their way out to the free territory had a spare, but nice bathroom. White claw foot tub and old fashioned basin. There were candles and small altars to the martyrs in the various corners. Iema Kola prepared. Turns out, Ferd’s stupid ass told some white girl, who “wasn’t like that” that he had had somewhere to sleep for the night. She had been the one to call the cops. Ferd was out by the river praying when he went missing. He swore. Please don’t tell Papo, he begged.
Ninety-nine miles the border, Papo had gotten them there quick. He knew every land route out of America that existed. Iema Kola decided she would ask Ferd to his face if he had betrayed them. His face had yet to appear on the news. Iema Kola ran around the safehouse trying to find him but we was gone. Iema Kola doubled over, not sure of what was coming next.
Iema Kola thought about when that barge or that bomb that hit the levee. The blast and the fast moving water sounded like a locomotive. Outside the small cloudy glass window, she heard Ferd scream and then a bang and then only silence.
Knees buckling, Iema Kola added a splash of Florida water to the rosewater already in the basin and dipped her hands in it. She washed her hands wrist to elbow, scrubbed her face, mouth, and throat, and ran her wet fingers through her hair. She let a little dribble in her ears and then bent down to work on her feet. A little in the mouth. Spit with purpose. Iema Kola rose from her knees and heard the buzzing. Buzzing. The buzzing of a million bees that’s what it sounded like, hovering closer and closer.
Ninety-nine miles to the border, Iema Kola got down again on her knees. Palms turned upward, she began to pray. Certain, whatever had been stalking the sky above them had found its prey.
—Kristina Kay Robinson, 8/18/14.