by Zaha Shtewi
Like a heartbeat, the rear-view mirror of Mama’s Toyota pounds to the rhythm of some up-and-coming boy band, the next “One Direction” they say. My sister’s brown hand slaps the dashboard and sways to the same tempo, folders of algebra and some type of sociological nonsense shift this way and that on her lap. A white, rolled up poster leans against her leg—I’d heard her working on the sign last night, “for Palestine Awareness Week,” she said (with great indignation). I didn’t ask about her school’s obviously Zionist President. The red paint she used was caked around her fingernails, like bloody nail polish.
My foot’s been fixed to the break for nearly half an hour as the mid-morning traffic starts to really heat up. The cars ahead have been continuously honking, but to no avail. I’m thinking some type of Godzilla must be charging ahead with a jam this heavy when—
“Are those police sirens ahead?” My sister interjects. She presses the POWER button and cranes her neck.
“I wouldn’t be surprised. And hey, don’t be pissed if you’re late, it’s not my fault someone decided to get their ride wrecked.” I snicker and think of my sister with her dark curls bouncing around her flushed face, hauling her justice pin decked book bag and hurrying to class, citing the ridiculous L.A. traffic as an excuse.
The newborn silence between us mixed with the cheap coffee I had earlier is heightening my anxiety. I tap the POWER button again and quickly switch to an AM news channel before the notes of teen angst begin to pulse and I begin to heave.
The young, blonde “bro” riding in the Jeep in front of us has stepped out of his car and is consulting with an older white man in a straining “Vietnam War Veteran” t-shirt. Both are leaning on the older man’s Chevy with exasperated looks on their faces. Papers rustle as my sister sifts through her schoolwork.
“D, do you know about the systematic oppression that minorities go through in the U.S.?” My sister questions as she pulls out a note ridden paper.
I listen to the weather report given by Susan Lee, roll my tree sap streaked window down, and finally shift to “park” before I answer.
“Do you have a Sociology paper or something?”
“I’m serious. You live your life here and you eat up propaganda the media’s serving like it’s goddamn Thanksgiving! Listen, once you open your eyes it’s like you’ve woken up from this long ass nap. I mean there are rich bastards privatizing and making money off the prison system, whaddya think that means for us?”
There’s a faint humming in my ears as I look over at my sister’s earnest face—one class later and she’s some new-age Robin Hood.
“It means you don’t land your butt in jail. Just focus on getting your degree for now. I know the world is messed up, but we can’t afford to think like that.”
“I can when it affects me...you think I haven’t been called a terrorist? And I know you’ve been through worse. D, wake up and smell the bullet smoke.”
My little sister, with her North African hair and her North African eyes glaring into my own. The humming in my ears is steadily growing louder. I can’t face the sting of her words so I turn towards the traffic and adjust the scarf woven around my head.
Roadside fruit and flower vendors in their large straw hats have taken advantage of the stagnant cars to sell their wares, “Naranjas, naranjas!” The cries of the peddlers mingle with the distant sound of sirens.
By now a police officer in a gleaming helmet has joined the two men ahead of us, continuously nodding as their angry hands fly in argument. It’s nearing an hour since we’ve moved and car doors are flying open around us as people are reaching that point beyond road rage. Some are milling around looking for answers. Others have their phones out, documenting the lines of cars as far as the eye can see.
“Yeah, we’re definitely going to be late.” I shake my head as my sister rolls her eyes and goes back to her flurry of work.
“BREAKING! This morning at 9:00 AM the L.A.P.D. confirmed the shooting of twenty-two year-old Demarco King of Whittier by a L.A.P.D. police officer right on Sepulveda Blvd. King was unarmed and pronounced dead at the scene. Stay with us for more news to follow on this breaking story.”
“Oh God... that’s right up ahead! Someone got shot, someone was killed! He was unarmed D, do you believe me now?! Look at what they’re doing to us! And you already know he’s black!”
My sister leans back and closes her eyes, the work on her lap spills to the floor. I hurriedly slip my phone onto my lap and check my social media feeds for anything related to the matter. The humming in my ear stops when I see the same single picture filling my screen, a young black man holding a golden trophy of some kind, he’s lanky with a “Colgate” smile. Heart wrenching words of despair mingle with angry statements citing racism as a motive right under the photos.
“BLACK LIVES MATTER”
“STOP MURDERING OUR PEOPLE!”
The photos of the young man seemed endless as a I scrolled. After seeing enough I turned my phone off and examined myself in the blank screen, a visibly exhausted Muslim girl. My sister’s previous words begin to run through my mind. What separated DeMarco from myself? Him being black, and me being brown? No, our skin united us. Acknowledging the intersectionality of our condition was dangerous anyway, too dangerous. Why can’t she understand that?
Before there is any time to fully process the intensity of the situation, the cars that we can see up front are beginning to inch along and everyone is rushing to their own vehicles. I shift to “drive” and prepare for the mess ahead of us. We slowly crawl until I’m adjacent with the Chevy owning veteran who’s now seated behind the wheel, the same officer from earlier is leaning on his window. Both men catch my gaze, “F*cking Muz-lim!” the veteran hollers. They grin at each other.
I suddenly feel my sister’s gentle hand on my shoulder. I shiver at her touch, and in reaction she quickly slips her hand back and starts to pick up her mess of papers. I finally turn to her bent form and hand over a loose sheet of notebook paper that had drifted over to me earlier. Through her tangle of curls she looks up at me, eyes secured onto mine.
“Looks like you’ll pass Sociology.”