The Crimson Reporter

Submitted into Contest #120 in response to: Start your story with the line ‘Back in my day…’... view prompt


Coming of Age People of Color

 “Back in my day, we didn’t have to eat this bullshit,” Nana says. 

“Mom, language!” My mom stands across the room with her eyebrows raised. Nana has always been like this. Using the old language, talking about the old days, both of which were forbidden years ago. The governor decided that the old language was crude and unprofessional and talking about past times wasn't forward facing, not productive for society, so he outlawed both.

“We all got to eat what we wanted and when we wanted.” Nana continues without even looking back at Mom. “Why can’t I get a steak burrito? Why the hell do I have to eat corn and beans when I’m one tortilla and some guacamole away from a sweet, sweet burrito?” A smile pulls the edges of my lips, but it extinguishes when I see my mother’s face. 

“Mother, please.” Her voice rises slightly. “Booker and I will be leaving now. Please finish your food. I love you.” The door closes as she retreats into the hallway. 

This happens a lot when we come to visit every week. The time is put into our schedule by the government, so, of course, we come every time. But most days, we end up leaving early, like today. Mom gets upset with Nana for one reason or another and leaves. I stand up to follow her out.

“Will you be back next week?” Nana asked, perfectly composed. 

“Of course,” I paste on the warmest smile I can. 

“Apollo, can I tell you something before you go?” Nana has always called me Apollo. It’s the name my parents wanted to give me when I was born, but the government didn’t approve it because the name Apollo was too popular that year.

“Apollo?” I sit back down, not wanting to be rude, but the thought of Mom out in the hallway by herself crosses my mind. Nana smiles. 

“Go to the buffet and grab my book.” she says. 

I walk into the next room and slide open the first drawer on the buffet. 

“It’s the red one,” Nana calls from the other room. 

Probably every birthday card Nana has ever received in her ninety-seven years of living is packed into the drawer but a red corner peeks through. I grab onto it and ease the book out of the drawer then walk to Nana and sit next to her on the couch. I can’t help but notice her corn and beans sitting untouched on the coffee table beside us. 

“What’s in the book, Nana?” 

She gestures for me to give it to her and I do. She adjusts herself in the chair. All her movements are slow and her bones crack. I hate the thought of becoming as old as her, although I would never say it aloud. ‘Age brings wisdom. Wisdom brings age’ is a well-known quote used by many scientists working to improve the  lifespans of our people. But still, I can’t quite quell the dread that rises when I think of sitting, as Nana does, for hours at a time, only having the next meal or weekly visits to look forward to. 

“This is my journal,” she starts, “from when I was young.” 

I’m not sure what to say so I just nod and look at the red fabric covering the book. 

“I couldn’t have been much older than you when I started it, but hell, I don’t know if I even remember how old you are.” She chuckles to herself. 

I flinch a little bit at her use of the crude language of her time. 

“I know you think I’m just some boomer who just can’t accept that the rules have changed, but I want someone to understand.” She’s looking down at the journal in her hands, not me. I feel as if I’m invading her privacy by even hearing this, even as she addresses me. 

“Can you take this for me? And read it? Maybe then you’ll get it.” The wrinkles around her eyes deepen as she smiles. Even if I wanted to say no, I couldn’t. She sets the book on my lap. 

“Goodbye Nana.” I say as I head for the door. I don’t look back, but I run my thumb over the cover of the journal as my mother comes into view at the end of the hallway. 

The subway is not a long walk from the nursing home where Nana lives. Still, it feels endless. Mom’s tense and everyone else is at a scheduled activity. We’re the only ones walking, making us a subject of interest for the officials along the streets. Mom holds my wrist firmly as she speeds down the sidewalks. 

One of the male officers across the street catches my eye. The journal in my hand feels so obvious now that we’re out in the open. It’s red, not likely to blend in well with the browns of the buildings behind me or the grey and white of my clothing. I hold it closer to me as the officer’s gaze intensifies. The tunnel leading to the subway is in sight. The officer’s feet are moving now. We have drawn the attention of more officers on the block now and I can see that three are moving with us toward the tunnel. 

It’s starting to sink in that I don’t know what’s in this book or what rules I’m breaking by having it. The book is not government approved, meaning I’m not supposed to read it. That’s a minor offense since people read passed notes constantly. The concerning part is that it’s Nana’s book. There must be hundreds of old language words tha could get me in endless trouble. 

The tunnel steadily gets closer, but so do the officers. My eyes grasp the gun on the officer’s hip across the street. His hand hovers about a foot from it. This is all irrational. There’s not much out of the ordinary here. Other than the fact we aren’t at our scheduled activity, we just look like a perfectly normal family walking down the street. For all they know, we could be really late for lunch. I know they wouldn’t shoot us or anything, but the knot in my stomach won’t ease.

The tunnel is so close. Only five buildings away. Four now. The officer takes off running for the tunnel. Before I can think, I’m running, too. There’s a brief moment of darkness as we enter the tunnel where I question if the officer will follow. Footsteps ring in my ears for a few agonizing seconds before the bustling people of the subway come into view and envelope us. Even if the officers wanted to search for us now, they couldn’t find us in the chaos. 

I’m dragged through until I sit in the vinyl seat. My mind wanders, thinking of why Nana wants me to read her journal and why it was so important to her. 

                    May 27, 2020

George Floyd was killed two days ago. Two whole days since Chauvin put his fat-ass knee on Floyd’s back and made him yell until he didn’t have air to yell anymore. Today, in Los Angeles, I joined hands across the freeway with my companions. 

When I got there someone handed me a sign. “I’m not a threat,” it said. I marched in the street with my head held high, even when the cops got there. It was the best ‘fuck you’ I could have given those pigs for all the lives they’ve taken.

  • Natalia 

My fingers fly over the keyboard as I search. So far, I have only been able to find George Floyd’s public record. He died on May 25, 2021, just like Nana said. His cause of death:  unknown. Nana’s journal says he died because of a police officer. I’ve learned about the police in school. They were the “civil force of a government, responsible for prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of public order.” I don’t know why they were abolished, though. 

It seems that’s not the only thing that’s left out. I can’t find anything on the protest Nana talked about. If officers were called, I’m sure it would've made news somewhere, but it’s as if it never happened.

I hesitantly push open the door to room 224. Mom is behind me with tears still in her eyes. 

“I’m going to wait out here for a bit,” she says. I know she has no plans of coming into the room. She loves her mother but she doesn’t want to start any arguments.  

“Just come in when you’re ready,” I smile.

I don’t have to take another step to know that it’s not good. They had told me she wasn’t doing too well, but I didn’t know it was this bad. Nana is there, on the bed with her head on her shoulder. Her skin is so pale I can almost see the purple of her veins through her normally dark pigment. Her legs are covered by a white blanket that goes up to her waist, making it almost look like she’s melting into the bed. Her gown hangs off of her shoulders and exposes her jutting collar bones. Everything about her has a whisper of sickness from her deep eyebags, to her hunched back as she sleeps. 

I walk across the room to a small chair, setting my bag at my feet. I try to be as quiet as possible. Her eyelids flutter every few minutes. Her chest rises and falls.

My eyes dance around looking for cameras. There are no gaps in the ceiling, no colored lights. No cameras. Slowly, I lean down and pull out the book. The next entry is a while later.

July 12, 2020

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Dreasjon Reed, Manuel Ellis, Bothem Shem Jean, all people murdered by dumbass police. All because of their skin color. In the last month we have been in the streets every damn day. The precinct is burned down, people are dead, a revolution is starting. 

Through it all, I’ve carried this book. It has seen it all. The rioting, the brutality, the speeches, by both politicians and everyday activists. It has stood in front of those crowds with me to speak. As for the revolution, this book started a whole goddamn revolution! People saw it as a symbol of power and started carrying their own. They call it “the crimson reporter movement”. Most people have written about the protests and what happens in them. Some even posted them online. 

Gradually, I’ve started doing more than Black Lives Matter work. The crimson reporter project has followed me. There is a meeting scheduled tomorrow for anyone who knows where to look. We will have justice.

  • The Crimson Reporter

July 20, 2020

The police have started to recognize the red books as a sign of rebellion. I’ve kept mine hidden in recent weeks, but I’ve seen people everywhere being tackled, books ripped from their hands. 

The crimson reporters have been meeting regularly. We’ve discussed defense against the rubber bullets, tear gas, and tasers. More impressively, we discussed attacks to counter them. This isn’t just a revolution, it’s a war.

  • The Crimson Reporter

Nana’s breath hitches and her eyes snap open. She looks around, disoriented for a moment before her eyes land on me. 

“Apollo.” A smile grows on her lips. 

“Hi Nana,” I say, matching her smile. 

“How long have you been here?”

“About half an hour.” I close the book in my lap. 

“Well, why didn’t you wake me up?” She pulls herself up in the bed, “We have so much to talk about.” She takes another look around the room before she starts talking again. 

“I see you have the book. Have you read it?” I glance down at the book in my lap. 

“A bit of it, but I’m kind of confused.” She holds out her hand for the book and I lift myself off the chair to give it to her. 

“I  guess you would be. I didn’t take very much time to explain when I was younger. Where should I start?” I think for a few seconds as she slides her fingers over the book’s cover.

“From the beginning? What happened to George Floyd? Who were The Crimson Reporters? What happened to them?” I realize I’ve asked too much and I slow down. “What happened to George Floyd?” I repeat. 

Nana sighs, “George Floyd was a victim. He was spotted on the street by a police officer. People have said they cuffed him for so many reasons I’m not sure why it truly was anymore, but he was cuffed and laid on the ground where Derek Chauvin put his knee on him, blocking his airways until he died.”

“So that’s why you were protesting?”

“They wouldn’t put Chauvin in jail for a long time. We wanted him there, so we protested. Later, we rioted.”

“Was that even allowed? I know you used to have more freedom, but that seems a little far.”

“Apollo, we were mad. Everyone was mad. The government, the civilians,” she hesitates before continuing, “us.” Nana's eyes light up more with every word. “There was nowhere to put that anger other than towards each other. We fought. They were small fights, at first,  arguments with a police officer, brawls with civilians of different opinions. Soon, we were burning down buildings and being shot at with rubber bullets. It should have stopped then, but no one felt we’d gotten what we wanted. We kept pushing until we’d started a war.” Nana looks down at the book and flips the pages.

“Wait, what? I know you wrote about starting a movement, but a war?”

“No one ever truly means to start a war, but when all sides want different things, it’s a battlefield of negotiation and one wrong word is a landmine.” I nod my head, agreeing. “We fought hard, but in the end, we just didn’t have the numbers. People chose the comfort of normalcy rather than the newness of the rebellion.”

“So if there was a war, why doesn’t anyone know about it?” I ask, but as I say the words, I realize I know. 

“The government doesn’t let anyone talk about it,” I whisper, “How can they hide something this big? A whole war under the radar. That doesn’t make sense.”

“The government hid it well. The whole of social media was deleted. It was too interconnected to keep any one part. Politicians gave speeches about how ‘it was a terrible time for our nation. We were divided and should never speak of it,’” Nana’s voice takes on an airy tone as she says this last part, “Most people agreed with them and stopped talking. Anyone too close to the revolution was imprisoned if they weren’t quiet. Most who weren’t were killed by people who fought on the other-” Nana breaks into a fit of coughs. I clamber to my feet and grab her hand. She lets out another cough before taking a shaky breath.

“Sit back down, boy. You act like I’m dying or something,” Nana smiles weakly. I try to, but it’s forced. 

“Don’t you think that’s enough talking for today?” Nana doesn’t speak, but I can tell that talking tired her out. 

I sit there with her in the chair for what feels like hours. Nurses pop in and out, giving her pills and fluids and taking blood. Mom is still outside when I leave for the bathroom. I try to get her to come in. She makes a flurry of excuses and I don’t push it. 

“Apollo,” Nana whispers hoarsely.

“Yes, Nana?” I thought she was sleeping.

“Come closer.” I walk next to her bed and kneel so we are almost eye-level. 

“This is it for me.” 

“Nana, don’t say that!”

“It is. I know, you know, the nurses know.” Nana coughs again. The sound reverberates through my skull.

“I never wanted to go out like this. Old and in a hospital.” Tears trail down her cheeks. “But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that we don’t always get what we want.” More coughing. “I want you to know I love you, and that goddamn mother of yours, sitting outside that-” A cough cuts her off. She takes several breaths in before she stops this time. I hold her hand and kiss the back of it. Pressure builds behind my eyes but I refuse to let out any tears. Her breath catches on the way in. 

“August 6, 2022,” she croaks. She doesn’t take another breath. I keep waiting for the shuddering inhale, but it never comes. Her monitor starts its steady stream of sound and I finally let the tears fall. 

August 6, 2022

I found this book today. It’s been almost 2 years since I last wrote in it. Back when we could still use our voices without fear of prosecution. I feel stupid writing this, like anyone will ever find the goddamn thing. If you have a voice, use it. You’ll never know how much it’s worth until it’s gone. 

I wish I used mine more. Tried to speak professionally, maybe. I was good at it when I tried. I rallied people for a common cause; I inspired them, but most importantly, I put my voice out for the universe. You can do it, too. Make your voice heard and yourself known. You have opinions on something, maybe everything. Do something with them. You will never know how much that can be worth if you don’t use it.

  • The Crimson Reporter

My computer sits on the desk in front of me. My newly created anonymous blog pulled up on the screen. Typed out are Nana's word’s, each paragraph taken from an entry. The post button loomes in the corner of the screen and I almost press it, but first, I take a deep breath and type, -The Crimson Reporter.

November 20, 2021 01:42

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