Black Contemporary Friendship

Someone gunned down Ahmed in an alleyway.  

"Give me all your money!" 

Ahmed handed him his wallet with shaky hands. He wouldn't look his attacker in the eye because, well, there was a gun. And, the most important: he'd overstayed his visa. 

"What's that you're holding?" 

Ahmed glanced down at his left hand and noticed he still held the bag in a clenched fist. He choked down an argument and simply passed the bag. The attacker took it, shook it, and licked his lips. Beer. The good kind. 

"Turn around," the man said. Ahmed recognized the accent. Australian, he thought. "Walk back and don't turn around. I'll blow your head out if you do."

Ahmed turned around slowly, hands up in the air. Then he walked back in the way he'd come. When he reached the end, he turned. His attacker was gone. A cat meowed and a gentle wind creased his shirt. 

Ahmed walked ten miles out in the cold to see me. He rang the doorbell and when I buzzed him in, he told me he had a story to tell. Ahmed explained how he'd felt at that moment. Under normal circumstances, he'd have fought back. If he was going to die anyway, he for sure would have taken the man along. But he had to find a way to renew his visa. Or continue to dodge and hide—that was the obvious choice anyway.

"He got me in a bad time," he said.

I offered him tea, the kind that made one relax but Ahmed declined. 

"Do you have a beer?"

"I do," I said. 

"He took my beer," he observed, trailing a finger along the half-full bookshelf. 

"I'm guessing it was either that or your life," I said to him as I passed him a root beer. He took it, twirled it around, and shook his head. 

"This ain't the good stuff," he said. And then to my first observation, he rolled his eyes. "I'm barely hanging on. Now that I think of it, I should have fought back."

"He'd kill you."

"Who cares?" He shrugged. "I'd have taken him along with me to hell."

When Ahmed first got his visa, he went to church and prayed and danced. He sold his car and TV and worried his mother about going to a new country with no friends or family. In his second year, Ahmed hit me with his backpack and apologized over and over again until he noticed my accent. Nigerian? Ghanaian? 

"Nigerian," I told him. "May."

"May what?"

"My name? May."

"May," he said. And we became friends, then lovers, and then friends again. 

"Did you see his face though?" I asked.

He scrunched up his face before answering. "He had on a mask. But he had an accent. Australian."

"Was he big?"

"Not big enough," he said.

"Meaning he was big." We settled on that. Ahmed emptied the beer can in a swing and tossed it in the thrash. 

"Do you want another?" I asked him. 

He shook his head and for the briefest of moments, Ahmed de-aged, to a child, a teenager, a young adult, and then back to his forty-year-old swanky frame. 

"My hands are a risk," he observed after a while, turning them in and out. "Not my mind, no. I think it's my hands that fight me, fight the others—"

We sat in the small room, Ahmed on the bed and me on the floor with my back pressed solemnly against the wall. Looking at us, we were almost identical. Ahmed had a receding hairline, dark skin, and eyes the color of rust. I, May, was a woman in my own right. I wore braids too often, too long they touched my wide waist. No, I don't mean identical as resembling each other physically but identical in our flaws; in our quiet observation of the world.

Of being on the edge of giving up. 

"I don't think your hands are the problem," I said.

"Then what is?"

"Your…perception of the world?" I posed it as a question in case I came up wrong. 

"Oh don't give me that motivational bullshit," he said. But he was laughing now like I'd cracked a solid joke. 

"I just think we should…do more," I said. 

Ahmed stroked his beard. 

Ahmed got up to leave. He kissed my cheeks, hesitating as his fingers stroked the skin around my back. 

"Make sure to lock up," he said.

I nodded but did not step away from his grip. We'd kissed before, too many times in the past if I was being honest, but this feeling —whatever it was— seemed problematic and not at all what I was expecting. It made me want to do more, to help him, to exist both in body and soul. 

"Do you…want to maybe stay over?" I asked.

"I should go," he said and stepped away.

After he was gone, I locked up. I waited an hour before texting him: Are you home now?

Three shiny dots appeared below the screen: he was typing. I waited ten minutes before I realized there wasn't going to be a message, at least from him.

*                     *                        *

I only heard it in passing. That a man had thrown himself from the tenth floor of a building and died on the spot. In my cooking class, someone changed the story and added a little twist: the man had been caught cheating by his girlfriend and, instead of begging his way out, had jumped off the building to his demise. 

Another was insistent on her version of the story: he was transgender or something and he got frustrated with the ways of the world. 

As I walked home, I thought about Ahmed and what he'd say about the story. He always seemed to have opinions and theories about such issues. This seemed like something he'd fancy over cans of beer. I checked my phone again for his message but there was nothing. I called his line, twice, and came up short. 

I turned around, hailed a cab, and climbed in. I only got to the third street before Ahmed's frozen picture hit my screen.

There were three pictures on the screen. I recognized the second, of his bright eyes calculating the direction of the camera lens, because I'd been the one to capture that moment for him. Beneath his smiling cheeks, someone wrote RIP, my good man!

I dialed his number again, angry this time around by the suddenness. Only two days before, Ahmed had lost his wallet and the only picture he still had of his mother to a thief. Surely, he couldn't have jumped and yet the more I thought about it, the more I became certain of his death. Knowing Ahmed, he was someone who could jump. Someone who'd unwittingly spiral out of control and jump to end it all. 

It saddened me. 

The cab stopped me in front of his building. A small crowd measured in their loud trepidation hovered around. I pushed through them and stepped in. If he was dead, his apartment door would be closed off but still, I reckon, I could get a glimpse of his world before it closed off for good. By now, I decided, the cops would have discovered he was unregistered. I wondered what they'd think of his corpse, all battered and bloodied and almost unrecognizable. If they found a way to take him back to Nigeria, his mother would hold a small funeral, and invite some of his old friends and that girl he used to love and they'd cry or something. Whatever. 

I got into the elevator and as it rose to his floor, I began to shiver. It wasn't cold—not the building or the elevator— but the grief that transcended past boundaries. On our third date, he told me about the girl he used to love back in Nigeria; how she couldn't string a single sentence in English without stuttering and going on the defensive. He loved her regardless but then came the visa and all he could think about was America and snow and flawless English. 

I should have asked for more details. 

I stepped out of the elevator, crying. I walked over to his door, hands hidden in the pockets of my oversized jacket, and called out his name in the most embarrassing, toneless voice—the kind mastered by sales boys in supermarket aisles—until I thought I would crack.

The door opened suddenly. I stiffened, too stunned to scream. Ahmed was wearing a T-shirt with the words I love New York City scribbled on the front. 

"May?" He frowned. "Are you crying? What happened?"

Inside his apartment, I showed him the pictures of his death. Ahmed's frown deepened and his breath caught in his throat. 

"I don't understand," he said.

"Perhaps you should go to the immigration office," I said. "Do something before this all gets out of hand."

He nodded. "I should do that."

But the way he said it made me instantly convinced he would continue to hide out until America tired him. 

Before I got up to leave, I told him my theory: perhaps someone whose name was also Ahmed had jumped and people had immediately thought about him.

"They should have seen the body," he said. "And I swear I'm the only person with that name around."

"What's your take then?"

He scratched his bushy beard and licked his lips. He said nothing for the longest time until I thought he hadn't heard me. Then, Ahmed straightened and he looked at me. "I keep thinking I should have taken that thieving bastard to hell!" 

December 24, 2023 10:34

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Story Time
18:29 May 08, 2024

I've been reading older stories and I just gave this one a read. It's wonderful. Can't wait to go back and read all your other work.


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Mary Bendickson
21:24 Dec 24, 2023

Did he fake his own demise to hide or decide to take advantage of the mistake?


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Unknown User
12:22 Jan 16, 2024

<removed by user>


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