Snakes surrounded him in the forest. They were as long as crocodiles and as fat as whistle pigs.
“Don’t be afraid of them,” Johnny said.
What is he doing in my dream? Ti asked himself, perplexed in his dream.
“They are easy to kill.” The movie star in the vision said and begins to chop off their heads with a cutlass as swiftly and easily as a butcher in the market chopping off the heads of chickens.
“Here,” Johnny said turning to Ti and handing him the cutlass. “Kill them.”
The weapon shook in Ti’s hand and he could not move his feet; they seemed stuck to the spot where he stood. He was filled with terror at the size of the venomous creatures laying there lazily on the ground, as if sunbathing. Every inch of the forest ground was covered by the noxious animals that Ti was filled with horror at the thought of accidentally stepping on one of them, even though they looked to be asleep. They have been fed hate. He thought to himself. They have imbibed too much hatred and have become so enormous that they cannot move. He could not move either and stood glued to this cramped spot in the forest surrounded by creatures that filled him with terror.
At exactly 7:11 in the morning, Ti opens his eyes from another of the nightmares that paralyze him with fear; even his bones shake from fear as he sits in bed. This apprehension dominates his spirit day and night. He is afraid to close his eyes at night because of the dark images that torture his sleep and is afraid to walk the streets during the day because he is a hunted animal. Well, he could stay in bed and not go anywhere but then he would starve. So like an animal operating on its instinct, he rises from his bed of torture to start a day he dreads.
Prompted by an inner force, he glances at the clock before exiting the door. It’s exactly 8:11. Funny, he thinks. You see, since the calamitous acts of 9111 when weapons were dropped from the sky on people down below by certain nefarious individuals, every time Ti happens to glance at the clock, the minute hand is always on the number 11. It’s as if someone does not want him to forget that venerable day for reasons he does not know.
A shadow trails him as he makes his way towards the apartments’ parking lot. When he looks back, he sees a young Hispanic man of about twenty walking rapidly trying to catch up with him. On turning around to face the nuisance, the trailing shadow freezes in his steps—hunching forward like a kangaroo— and with a half-opened mouth, stands gapping at Ti without uttering an English or Spanish word.
“Why are you following me or what do you want?” A normal person would have asked. But Ti does not have the capability of communicating with his fellow human beings anymore. He is no longer one of the people. He has been cast out and is now an insect—a firefly, captured in a closed bottle. There are just enough holes on the lid to keep him from not expiring.
The kangaroo hops away knowing he has fulfilled his role and might be paid some money for the anxiety caused to the fly.
As Ti approaches the parking lot, he sees two black guys sitting inside a small grey car parked next to his hunched, dilapidated white Honda. His car always gives him away. Everyone seems to know the peculiar car and its driver. He even saw it in an advertisement on T.V. one day. Yes, his exact car with the unique rust and dent in the same location on the rear of the passenger side. Driving the car was a young white man. When he first saw the advertisement, he thought he was being paranoid. That’s my car. He thought. But friends told him “We saw your car on T.V. It had the same rust and dent in the exact positions as your car.” Then he knew he was not paranoid. Perhaps someone wanted him to become paranoid.
One of the black men looks in his direction in a fortuitous way on nearing the car and the two pretend at continuing whatever casual conversation they were having before seeing him. Much like the Hispanic man, TI knows this is not an accidental encounter and they are not just sitting in the grey car having a casual conversation while waiting for a third party. They are here to fulfill their roles.
Ironically, he feels nothing, just a submissive acceptance of the fact that he is being shadowed by an assortment of animals.
Your will has been taken away from you. You have no will to feel or act. You are less than human.
“Monkey,” a voice whispers in his ears as he drives the car away from the parking lot. He has been hearing this voice for about three months now—a male, monotone voice hurling words at him like stones meant to maim his mind. He accelerates on the car flying through the first red light. His emotions and motions are controlled by these brutish words.
He parks his car under the sycamore tree in front of Mr. Brown’s house, his only patient on this day, and walks up the driveway to the entrance. There, he sees lying by the door a black bird, dead and hard as a rock. Beside it is a big, oblong-shaped green pill.
“Swallow your pill,” the monotone voice says.
He feels his anger crackling like a newly-lit charcoal fire and wants to pick up the dead bird and slam its pitiful body against the wall. But he hesitates knowing the behavior can be construed as abnormal by passersby. He can’t afford to lose control of his sanity otherwise he’d lose everything—his job, his life. The malevolent voice makes sure he is kept on edge all day long and is bent on driving him insane.
I might be going crazy on the inside but I won’t let anyone see me crazy on the outside.
“Mr. Brown, your breakfast is ready!” Ti screams at the 96-year old man he takes care of every Tuesday.
The old man picks at his food as if suspecting his health aide of trying to poison him.
“Why do you sleep all the time?” Mr. Brown asks Ti who is in the process of dozing off for the third time since he came to work. They are now sitting in the living room.
“I’ll get you fired,” his companion tweets in his head. He sees in his mind the picture of an incomplete face made up of a winking eye and a pair of lips twisted in such a way that they seemed to be mocking him.
Ti is unable to overcome the lethargy that engulfs his mind and body. Fumes of sleeping gas seem to seep into his nose and ears and every other organ with an opening; before he knows it, he is dozing off again. But all of a sudden, he finds himself standing up and walking, with a pillow in hand, to where the old man is sitting. The old man is being suffocated.
He awakens from this erratic slumber, his heart beating fast as if he were about to have a heart attack. Unconsciously he turns his head in the direction of the patient. The old man is sitting as erect as Mount Kilimanjaro reading the Christian Monitor.
“I’ll make you do something you’ll regret. You’ll end up in jail.” The image taunts.
“What’s wrong? You o.k.?” Mr. Brown asks, concerned.
His head hurts from a burning sensation as if someone was poking at it with a hot iron.
Absent mindedly he looks at his watch and realizes it’s 5:11. His duties ended 11 minutes ago.
As he drives away from the sycamore tree, he hears a crashing noise resembling the sound of a tree falling on the roof of his car. Immediately, he feels his chest contracting and like so many times during this day, he feels like he is about to have a heart attack. From his rear view mirror he sees that the sycamore tree is still standing in front of the house and so is the roof of his car and the windshield. The noise is synthetic much like the words he hears.
“Ironmonger,” the synthetic voice replies in answer to his apprehension.
Four blocks from Mr. Brown’s house, he stops in front of the red light and notices a black truck parked close to the curb on the right— parked in a way that he could not help but notice it. Behind the steering wheel sits a tall white man. As Ti looks in his direction, the man bends his head as if searching for something. He, too, has fulfilled his role.
Ti enters the mall at 6:11 and makes his way to one of those reclining, vibrating chairs. He opens a book to read but less than ten minutes later, a short, heavy-set black man with glasses slides stealthily, like a tiger owl in the dark, into the chair on his left.
He wants to scream out and ask “WHY?” But when he opens his mouth, not even the slightest “ah” is he able to utter. It’s as if his vocal cord no longer works. In fact, all the organs in his body seem to have shut down. He cannot feel or think. His brain is like an empty room. There is no bed to sleep on or a chair to sit on. All that is contained in the room is air and this begins to fill his brain. The air pressure in his brain builds up by the minute until it swells like a balloon ready to lift him off the chair into space.
The traffic is heavy as Ti drives on the highway. The motorists behind and in front of him drive very close to each other— bumper to bumper— but they leave a big space between his car and theirs. No one is driving close to me. They know my license plate. They are avoiding me. He feels like a leper no one wants to come near.
“Do not lie with beasts!” He hears a preacher blare from the T.V. as soon as he opens the door to his apartment. Had he forgotten to turn it off or had someone else turned it on?
The preacher’s eyes seem to be scrutinizing his from the screen and he begins to feel uncomfortable. “Those who lie with dogs have fleas. “ The censurer continues in a voice that makes him feel like the culprit who lies with dogs. “I will make a covenant with my people and drive wild beasts from this land.” He is talking to me. He is one of them.
Overcome with fear, guilt, and shame, Ti grabs for the nearest object on the table beside him—Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary—and throws it at the T.V. They are everywhere. I can’t hide from their scrutinizing eyes. He sits, dejected, on the couch; his hands massaging his burning head. He tries to think but every time his mind focuses on a thought, pressure builds up slowly in his brain. He sees the image of a vacuum and hears the vile man say:
“I have vacuumed your brain. I have filled it with air.”
Dogs surround him, barking furiously. He tries to escape from them but they watch him intently, moving whichever way he moves. When he sees an opening in the circle they have formed around him and tries to flee through it, one of the dogs jumps up aiming for his jugular.
The violence of the dream wakes him up. It’s dark outside. The red LED light of the radio clock on the table displays 9:11.
“We shall never forget 911,” his nemesis reminisces.
On the floor beside the couch, lying surreally side by side, is a pair of dissimilar objects—a feather and a blade. He does not know how they got there. They were not there when he had dropped on the couch like a fallen tree and dozed off.
Outside, underneath his apartment window, some of the neighborhood dogs have congregated and like the dogs in the dream from which he just awoke are barking furiously, urging him on.
“Die by your own hands or we’ll chase you into a hole like a rabbit!”