Fridays were not the best of days. Not for Akeem. They required too much forethought. His brain could’ve handled the strain at the beginning, maybe. Back in 1999, when it was just about evading the questions about why he disappeared every midday to a secluded room for a few minutes. Now, he couldn’t disappear. He had to make do with frequent meditations at his desk. He couldn’t disappear like that now. If someone notices, they’ll tell someone. They’ll tell the police. He’ll disappear for good.
His cold, quiet downtown government office hummed low with the activity of restless twenty-somethings waiting for their lunch break. Akeem, though, buzzed anxious in his ergonomic chair, his dread building. It was half past ten, the time his anxiety grows into a pulse all over his body. One would think that his meditation would help. It actually made things worse; he couldn’t help but wonder whether Al-Hakam found dishonour in his cowardice…
“Eh, you not leaving now?”
The voice that cut through his thoughts was his supervisor – Suzette Moore, a curly-haired French Creole woman whose athletic build denied her middle age. Her approach was familiar; every Friday, just before lunch, she’d ask him the question he feared to ask himself – if it was okay to leave.
“I wasn’t sure, Ms. Moore…if it was okay to leave, I mean,” Akeem cowered.
“Of course, Mr. Lucas, of course. I already tell yuh, if yuh need to see yuh dying mother, what kinda asshole I would be to tell you no, eh?”
“R-right.” Akeem tried to smile, make the lie more natural than it felt. “And you’re certainly no asshole, Ms. Moore.”
“If you call me Ms. Moore one more time…” Her smile now flashed flirtatiously. “Suzie. Please. As much as I’d like nothing more than to look at you sit behind that cubicle and twiddle thumbs, yuh should go. They doh pay trainees enough for them to not go see their moms in the hospital.”
“Thanks…Suzie.” Akeem smiled back. He couldn’t help but wonder, letting himself get lost in Suzette’s smile for that moment, whether all of his worryings meant nothing. He could sleep easier without wondering if Trinidad’s secret police were monitoring him. He could smile back at this attractive faithless fair-skinned woman, maybe more than smile, and not worry about Al-Hakam at all…
The moment passed. The worry returned more dreadful. Akeem jolted up and grabbed his bag to leave.
“Yuh should be careful though, eh Akeem…”
His body turned to her through his hesitance. “What do you mean, Ms. M – Suzie?”
“Yuh know what I mean. The boss might start worrying. Every Friday for three months now? It starting to look like yuh doing that shit. Jim – Julla – something-”
A silence crashed on them, quick and solid. He knew he screwed up, but couldn’t show it to Suzie on his face. Not that she could see it in the haste she turned to see who heard. “You hadda be mad, yes…You know they doh like that shit in this country anymore. Since the coup-”
Akeem did know. All too well. Since the Jamaat al Muslimeen shot their way out of Parliament in revolution against the corrupt government, Islam was synonymous with treason. In the 90’s, though, it was just a fearful scrutiny. Now, they storm the mosques during salah. Some brothers, either in the spirit of the Jamaat or resenting their current discrimination, have been fighting back. Most of them, though, like Akeem, sleep uneasy knowing that the police or army could drag you and your family out of your beds and night and slit your throats like hogs. Most, like Akeem, wish they would wake up one morning in a world different than the jihad that the Jamaat left them to inherit.
“Just watch yuhself, Akeem-“
“The government already watching we, ent?” Something snapped in him then, something he couldn’t seem to hold back together.
“What the ass, man? Yuh trying to get yourself locked up? Or worse?”
“…No, of course not.” Another solid silence formed around them. Now, Akeem couldn’t find the traces of the smile that was once on Suzette’s face. After a while, Akeem turned back around. “I should go…”
He muttered some quick apology to Al-Ghaffaar under his breath. For the last few months, no one suspected a thing from him. But in one conversation, his nerves and frustration could’ve sent him to the grave.
In honesty, he wanted to just tell Suzette everything; he was headed to the house of a man he had only met via WhatsApp four months ago, to kneel in a basement to pray to his god; his perfectly healthy mother tells him not to, urges him to pray at home so nothing happens to him; the video of the Muslim man that was bled out and hung up in Woodford Square was his Imam; he’s felt nothing but fear since he was a boy. He wanted to turn back and tell her all of that right now. Not because he trusted her, really. But because the truths he has been hiding since he first learned how to pray – the terror, the tears, the prayers – have been buzzing under his skin. Right then, he wasn’t sure if this feeling was fear or anger. He muttered an apology under his breath for that too.
The warm blessings of the sun hit his face as he ran out of the office’s glass doors, too quickly to even notice the guard’s greeting to him. Downtown bustled as it always did, and Akeem took some solace in the fact. It didn’t cross his mind that in the preoccupied mass were those who would rather see him die. In this moment, absorbed by the masses, he gained a sense of power that maybe only anonymity could provide.
In the crowd, his fear turning into peace as he headed to prayer, he allowed himself one small act of defiance;
About the Author
It is a story set in a present alternate universe where the 1990 coup d’etat of Trinidad and Tobago ended differently. In a country still affected by the repercussions of a coup d’etat, a young man’s simple request to leave work is a test of faith.
Brendon O’Brien is a Spoken Word poet, playwright, director and activist from Trinidad & Tobago. He was the First Runner Up of the Verses Bocas Poetry Slam 2014, and the winner of the No Ifs No Butts Poetry Slam 2014. Brendon is also the founder and artistic director of the.art.IS Performing Arts Company.
Twitter – @brendonjobrien
Instagram – @brendonjobrien
Facebook – facebook.com/brendonjobrien
About the Illustrator
Russell Streur’s poetry and photography have been widely published. He is the current editor of Plum Tree Tavern http://theplumtreetavern.blogspot.com/ and is the author of The Muse of Many Names (Poets Democracy, 2011), The Table of Discontents (Ten Pages Press, 2012), and Fault Lines (forthcoming from Blue Hour Press). He is a member of several Atlanta (US) area art organizations in whose galleries his images are often seen
An Inherited Fear is one of the many amazing submissions we have received for the third edition of the literary collection The Machinery.
Feel free to share the fiction on Social Media or let us know what you think about it in the comments below!
Follow The Machinery!