Are you real?
East St. Louis
Dear Rakim (not to exclude the rest of my lovely Readership),
I fully recognize that, in this Season of Holiday Giving and Taking, it can be quite trying to retain the equanimity of spirit oft demanded of a human person. It is a terrifying season of the Ups and Downs, the Highs and Lows, the Elations and Depressions: Shall your wishes be granted? Shall the gifts you desire arrive, sub-arboreal and vicious in the night? Shall you face-feed beneath the Missile Toes? Shall you be able to afford that Credit Card bill, already scheming its weight and debtious January arrival? Decembro is an age of confusions, and such an emotional rush of stimuli can, even in the wisest mind, inspire the questioning of those things most emphatically real and of the moment.
Having had the mis-fortune to suffer a strange, Hol(l)y Day themed ghostly visitation some four years past, I was much prepared with what might bring realization of what is real and what is not to such a scroogekin as you, little Rakim of Oriental Saint Louis, which is why I set to visit your home personally this past week, so as to make the Spirit of the Season, as well as my very own corporeality, kristallnacht clear.
Having located Rakim's high-rise domicile in the public housing blocks of Easterly St. Lou (much thanks to my francophonic chimps and their Department of Humanland Security on the swift research—Gods Bless them, everyone, as is mandated in the current draft of my own 28th Amendment Constitutionnel—and again boos and yaahboos to the National Security Administration, once again a second place runner in the swift race of Statecraft), we made to enter late Tuesday eve, gently forcing our way through the doubled glass sliding doors of an exposed balcony. The apartment, despite public subsidy, was quite small, and so it was fortunate that Rakim made his bed on the sitting-sofa of this balcony parlor. I struggled through the miniscule, furniture crowded space, inadvertently toppling a large spool thencetofore making itself useful as a table. Finally, having taxied myself in close by the emphatically somnolent boy's side, I crouched low, by little Rakim's ear.
"I," I spoke hiss-statically through my public address speaker, "am real."
The boy did snap to wakefulness, his eyes springing to surpriséd circles, each dotted in brown and black concentrics; in the dark, with his velvety dark skin, all that was see-able in the thin and stutterous illumination of the be-blinking Christ's Mass lights were the whites of his eyes and the glitter of his teeth as he made to scream. Swiftly this latter was snuffed out by my travelling companion Hazel-of-the-Eye's pale pink hand.
"It's OK," she said to the boy soothingly, her voice muffled by her respirator mask, "It's the President. He grants wishes."
Had I a brow, I would have furrowed it at this—it is a rumor whose persistence much vexes me—and clearly some of this pique and confusion did swirl across my chromatically expressive skin, or swim through the sclera of my optically perfect eyes, for Hazel shushed me with a shake of her dirty blonde permanent curls.
"It is true," I spoke, "But more importantly true is my realness. I am real, Rakim. Why would you believe otherwise; have you not seen me on the Television Box and reported in the News and Entertainment Periodicals?"
His eyes had settled to cautious slits, and so Hazel, at my behest, loosed her hand.
"There's lotsa things on TV and in magazines ain't real. Jennifer Love Hewitt ain't really a man. And Tom Cruise is real little, short as me, even though he's a tough guy in the movies. Santa isn't real, and they got him on TV and in parades and—"
Our gasps audible, in unison both Hazel and I countered, she, in her earnest naivete exclaiming "Of course he is" whilst I, recalling an unfortunate auto accident three years previous, ejaculated "of course he was." It was some relief to me that she did not seem to note the slight difference in our replies; bless her quad-chambered human heart and lossy human senses.
Rakim squinted at us cautiously, as one trying to gauge the relative rabidity of a stray and evidently confused alley dog.
"You callin' my momma a liar?" he asked; I sensed danger here, and set myself to tread somewhat more rhetorically gently, and thus chose to pre-emptively spray him with the slightly denatured Agent 15 aerosol I had prepared for just this occasion.
Rakim's eyes went glassy, his skin flushed, and his breathing went ragged, and then settled into a swift, shallow gallop. His skin, I imagine, was clammy to the touch. Hazel stroked of his hand.
"Is he OK, Mr. Squid?"
"Alright; is he alright?"
"All is far from right."
Rakim tremored and mumbled, and pulled at his t-formed shirt, tossing his blankets aside with his restlessly jittering legs.
In the anticholinergic's rough chemical embrace Rakim experienced again the Christmases he had experienced once before, the tinsel and glow tree, the rapacious tear of paper, the flow of Yuletide blood and pitch and the slaughter of delectable geese.
"I don't think you should have done this," Hazel said, almost scolding.
"What else could we have done?"
"We could have used the costumes and the projector thing you showed me."
I shrugged of the tentacles, and our conversation was cut short as Rakim roused to mostly-lucidity and began to describe the Xmastimes of his brief youth; in these there was giftlessness and the cold of heating deactivated and electricity with no service. Each of the 10 was spent in a different house or building—two in shelters for the houseless—and with a cavalcade of bickering relatives, drunken and restive yellow-eyed men. Trees were of the small, scrawny and ill-decorated, and finally replaced with small candelabrum for the previous two yuletides, and then with nothing at all for this yuletide. I scanned the room, and it was true: save for the lights sloppily hung about the window, there was little to decorate the room.
"Is this Christmas as it must have been," Hazel queried querulously, "Or is it Christmas as it might have been?"
"Hazel, I do not—" and I dropped to the tone and volume of stage whisper, "I believe you are on the wrong page of our script," I indicated the small booklet of papers she held a-hand, which we had prepared and reviewed in advance of our forced entry into Rakim's den-of-sleeping, "Your question is in reference to the ChristalMass-to-Come. You are on page 9 and we are on page 3. Please—"
"No," she said, setting the papers emphatically on the table and pulling off her respirator mask, "I'm off the script. Rakim's Christmases were all crummy, even the Kwanzas. Was that Christmas as it had to be or Christmas as it happenedto be?"
"Tha's a good question," the small boy opined, "I mean, what if my daddy had married Momma, instead of being all stupid and goin' to jail?"
"Yeah," Hazel said, "What has Rakim . . . Rakim, did you ever do anything bad?"
Rakim was silent, "I stole Twinkies once, from the Koreans' store, but then I went back and gave them the money."
"I swear sometimes."
"See," she said, growing shrill, "Why should this little boy who hasn't done anything, why should he and his momma have such cruddy Christmases, when your fat cat oil buddies have everything in the world?"
"Mayhaps Rakim and his mother should have done something, then, if doing nothing has gotten them so very little," I countered, growing admittedly huffy.
"Look," she said, indicating the jumbled room, "They don't even have a Christmas tree—"
"We don't have Christmas anymore," Rakim interjected, "Because now we're Muslim. Momma's last boyfriend, he was Nation of Islam. Daoud said it wasn't right that black folks don't just have a white master runnin' they government and bossin' them around all day, but they even got a white God, and not just one, but two: There's the white God up in Heaven who never shows up or does anything, but watches everything you do and punishes you for it at the end—except for showing up to punish, he might just be the Great White Baby-daddy in the Sky or sumthin'—and then there's the Big White Fat God who's flesh-and-blood and shows up once a year with hugs and presents, but don't never come around other than that. I guess he's like the Big Fat Baby-daddy with a Job. Daoud had to go pretty soon after that—-Momma says he was no good anyway—but we kept bein' Muslim, because Momma says that even though he mostly talked a lot of shit—and didn't talk half so much as he ate—he was right about some things—"
"We should move on to Christmas-of-the-Present-Presents" I interjected, flicking rapidly through my script. "Hazel, your filtration mask, please."
"I'm not putting it on," she said.
"But then the aerosol—" I could see that she knew well, and yet still refused to done her mask, and so, moving to our Plan B, I activated Rakim's family television and tuned it to the CNN.
"This," I noted, "Is a great deal more grim than I had hopped."
"I don't think you should keep drugging that little boy."
"Also, little of it applies to my script," I worried, paging back and forth in my booklet, "Apart from to indicate that the world is generally thick with Ignorance and Want for the many, while it is Decadence and Boredom for the few."
"I don't like this show," Rakim stated flatly, "And if you're trying to teach me that poor folks are poor—I'm poor already. I sleep on a lumpy sofa, and I don't even get a Christmas stocking anymore, and Daoud's gone, even though he was OK and played Dominoes with me after school."
"I believe we shall all go off script, then, Rakim," and, decisively, I pushed Hazel aside, clear of the radius of my aerosol Agent 15, and blasted Rakim again, sending him once more into a hot and jittery stupor.
"Hey!" Hazel yelled, sitting up. She felt Rakim's face, and set her head to his chest, "Hey! I said not to do that—"
"And we agreed to a script—"
"And I didn't like it from the START! Your as bad as Chili was!"
"If I had my way," Rakim mumbled.
"He always made me do things I didn't want," Hazel continued, "And I don't know for sure that you're different." I fear she was growing hysterical.
"If I had my way," Rakim repeated, eyes a-flutter, "If I had my way . . . If I had my way . . . every fool . . . every fool who goes about shouting "Merry Christmas" should be boiled in his own pudding . . . and buried . . . and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!"
And he sat bolt upright in his couch bed, and his eyes flew open, and he screamed full throated.
"What did you see, little Rakim?" I did ask, even though I could hear his mother rising in her bedroom, faintly yelling for Rakim to say to her what is wrong, what is wrong, what is wrong for my baby.
"WHat did you see of the future?"
"I didn't see nuthin'?" he said evenly, almost as though the report surprised even him.
"Too wonderful or terrible or awe-full to retell?" I asked, eager.
"Naw, just, nuthin''. No Christmas Yet to Come. Just—I mean, not like I was standing in a parking lot at the mall and there weren't no Christmas anymore. Just black, like the bottom of the ocean or sumthin'. There wasn't even me to see it. Just blank."
I turned to look to Hazel, who had blanched from her already profound paleness, drawing her rabbit fur toreador jacket that much tighter around her narrow middle, and pulling her respirator mask back into place. She, clearly, found such a report from the future quite sinister, but as one you dwelt long and yet still longs for the pressure of the Ocean's judgeless arms, I found great succor in this Darkness Yet to Come.
Rakim's mother burst into the scene, "Daoud?" on her lips, and the shock of the tableaux was plain on her face. Really, at that stage, and with our little play act so terribly botched, I felt that the final blast of Agent 15 was, in many ways, a mercy. I have suffered through many an ill-conceived and under-rehearsed play, and swift sleep is much the better than long and embarrassing tedium.
Hazel tucked the two together into Rakim's couchy bed, and we highed our way hence.
Readership All, I do heartily wish for you a emotion-filled Holiday, Holy Day and Holly Day of Mysteries Profound and Unanswerable.
As Such I Yet Remain,
Your Giant Squid
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