Fiction Issue - Surfaces

Third Place

All morning Jeremy read on the MARTA train. The sentences like clouds. Just — there. The most pleasure he had felt in a long time.

Sometimes he looked up to take in the shapes, the surfaces, of the other passengers. Everyone else was black. Not him.

The author of his novel was also black. The narrator had moved from Lagos to New York City to study medicine at university. One morning outside the train, he had nodded at two young African-American men, envying their dress, their comfort with profanity. And they had envied his what? From behind they had beat him. They did not even rob him.

Jeremy felt the blows, their injustice, lodge in his skin like a memory. In Brooklyn years ago, a white friend had his eye socket broken when a black man struck him across the face with a box cutter. No amount of rationalizing in the weeks that followed had rid his mind of racist thoughts. In time, Jeremy had come to think of his friend as a bigot. They had not talked in years.

He exited the first train and boarded another. On this new train, a man was selling stolen hair products out of a wide canvas shopping bag. Get your stolen hair gel here, he was saying. The other people laughed. The man was putting on a good show. When the entertainer stood to leave, he, too, was smiling. But beneath his surface must have lived a monstrous sadness.

Jeremy left the train. He had nowhere to be, no specific place to go. Outside he walked down one of the city's oversized streets. Sunlight glinted off the inhuman surfaces of buildings. Cars barreled by in bursts of sound. Periodically, black men passed him. When they grew close, he nodded to them. Sometimes they nodded back. More often they looked away.

Alex Gallo-Brown is the author of The Language of Grief, a collection of poems.

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