My eyes launched back and forth between the center console and dashboard of my car. I nearly lost sight of the road. Luckily, I appeared to be the only person on it. As long as the clock never struck 2:00 a.m., I could afford to swerve a bit. My father would reprimand me if he discovered I had been speeding, my mother too. But, the punishment of getting home past curfew terrified me more. Much more.
I silenced the radio and rolled down the windows. Something about the breeze of a 90-mph drive down a desolate road seemed euphoric—like I lived in the winds, as a song of my own.
As frightening as my parents sounded, they were also generous, allowing me to stay out late on weekends. I often lost track of time, living out the last of my teenage days, forgetting about my curfew—somewhat analogous to never expecting the street lamps to flicker on as a child—everyone reluctant to wrap up their last round of hide-and-seek. Until I graduated high school, rather than a lamp, three digits on a clock determined my demise.
I beheld a flickering red, met by a devastating blue, the colors clashing behind me, punching the rear of my existence. It elicited another desire to speed up even more. 95-mph. 100. At a loss for why I didn’t stop.
Words shouted through a megaphone seemed inarticulate until the remains of my rationale took over, eschewing my amygdala, only to knock on my temples as a sudden wake up call. I pondered a binary, choosing between jail time and confrontation. Pulling over, I knew I probably cemented the former. For the latter, I began to shake in my seat.
In merely moments, the officer knocked on my window. My heart pounded through my limbs once realizing I took no time to gather any documents. I must have froze, and for a while. Turning my head, I witnessed nothing but his pale skin contrasting his uniform.
“License and registration.”
“Please give me a minute to find it, sir.”
The officer’s scrutiny felt more powerful than ever. His eyes not only glared at me, but they also impaled the back of my head, as if he temporarily inhabited my mind to view my precise actions—to possibly act on them.
“Here,” I said while handing him everything.
“Do you know why I pulled you over today, Malik?” He questioned sharply while analyzing my items.
“I sped. Right, officer?”
“Don’t get smart with me.” He started to subtly move his arm, as if he scratched his ass. Best-case scenario.
My chest caved in; the officer may as well of compressed his foot against it. “I’m sorry. I have to get home before—”
“No excuses. I chased you for five solid minutes. You are a danger to me and the civilians around you.”
Him and I both knew he overstated his accusations. He meant about 20 seconds. And civilians? The most of our worries was wildlife.
I tried meeting his eyes to only see them concealed by the shadow of his hat. Was my terror-driven, twenty-second escape enough to distress him? He kept itching his right buttocks. In fact, I had never seen his right hand to begin with. I did only what my father always advised: Comply, yield, and ignore any urge to placate the officer, for they may respond negatively. I lifted both of my hands, and without a word, the door to my car opened. Then, my eyes closed.
Replaying every lethal instance of police brutality in my head, I recalled the infamous demands, but was never met by them. We were met by silence. I peeked at a man who appeared to hyperventilate.
I finally saw his right hand dangling by his hip. The officer wielded a firearm the entire time. I couldn’t even swallow my spit. I wanted to scream, or drive away as fast as possible, anything to avoid death. I’d rather be three hours late. Four. Five. I simply didn’t want to die.
“What am I doing?” The officer muttered.
I remained quiet.
“No…” The officer turned away almost robotically, meandering to his vehicle, each step met by a glitch, reminding me of an archaic technological lag. He eventually zoomed past me in his car, and for some reason, a strange sense of trepidation left me encumbered in my seat.
* * *
“And that’s why I’m late.” As expected, my parents welcomed me in our living room.
“He stopped, like someone clicked pause on a remote?” My father always employed the most ingenuous analogies.
“And he called you a monster?” My mother asked.
“You should’ve showed him!” My father shouted. “He was going to murder you!”
“No, unleash the damn monster!”
His rhetoric contrasted everything he had told me before. My father’s a stoic man, most of his beliefs entrenched in traditional values that uprooted people of our background for decades. To fight would’ve resulted in my death, to flee too. What did he not understand? I figured he was just in shock.
“Son,” he called after calming his tone, “Look at this.”
He handed me a newspaper. Highlights of similar stories made the front pages: Cops abruptly faltering, mumbling hateful terms to their victims. Monsters. Fiends. Racial slurs. People were witnessing a reality of police officers stuck between morality and compliance, on top of the highly prevalent normalized tragedies behind police brutality, the majority of them based on fear, racism, and a misuse of power authorities.
One story emphasized a Hispanic officer with a near-perfect tract record. The cop randomly caved in and antagonized their own people, threatening to kill them all. The mother of the oppressed family made a brief statement about the incident. She claimed the officer acted much like a robot. And, for me, that’s when everything pieced together.
This story was originally published in Red Queen Literary Magazine.