“The face in the mirror”, by Mohsin Hamid

Once he got home, Anders wondered if the gun actually made him safer, because he felt all alone, and it was better not to fight than to resist trouble, and he imagined that somehow another people were more likely to pick him up if they found out he was armed, even though they wouldn’t know it, even though so many people were armed, he just had this feeling that it was essential to not to be seen as a threat, to be seen as a threat, no matter how grim, one day had to risk being annihilated.

At work, Anders was no longer the only one who changed, there were others, and a gym that had been almost a whites-only gym now often had three or even four black men in attendance, and Anders had thought that that would fix things. better, but it seemed like the opposite was happening, and the gymnasium was getting more and more tense, and men who had known each other for years were now acting as if they didn’t know each other, or, worse, each other. hated, blamed each other.

One night when Anders was ready to leave, two men got into a fight, and they took him outside, and they were older guys, but big and bulky and strong and surprisingly quick despite their bellies, and they started jostling in the parking lot, and a few people gathered, but those who gathered didn’t say anything, that’s what hit Anders, they didn’t tell the two to stop, nor to encourage them, they fell silent, they just watched, and soon the two men were punching, and it was fierce, and from the grunts and wiggles came the sound of a fist hitting the side of a face, the solid crackle of it, the thud, softly liquid and bone-breaking at the same time, a sound so visceral and disturbing that it made Anders turn away, and he walked away, away not seeing what was happening. passed next, whether the black had the upper hand or the pale, Anders would not see, and though he did not see, the sound lingered, and he con kept coming to him even as he lay in bed. At night, provoking a grimace, or grimace, a physical response, Anders writhed on his own, echoing.

Anders had heard that activists had started chasing people, black people, chasing them out of town, and when he saw cars pull up outside his house, he knew what that meant, even though it t is perhaps always a surprise when you expect because, what you dread, a calamity of this magnitude does actually happen, so Anders was prepared and unprepared, but prepared as he was, he didn’t expect one of the three men who came to pick him up to be a man he knew, a man he knew, which made things much worse, more intimate, like getting shut up while you were strangled, and Anders didn’t stop for them to get to his door, Anders opened it himself, and he stood there in the doorway, his gun in hand, a ready-to-wear, muzzle high, the son a photo of his father out hunting.

Anders hoped he looked braver than he thought, and all three were armed but they stopped when they saw him, a few feet away, and they stared at him with contempt and fascination, and Anders thought the one he knew was staring at him. enthusiastically too, as if it were special to him, personal, and Anders could sense how self-righteous they were, how certain he, Anders, was wrong, that he was the bandit here, trying to rob them, they who had already been robbed and had nothing left, just their whiteness, the value of it, and they wouldn’t let him or anyone else take that.

But they didn’t particularly appreciate him having a gun and seemed to have taken some of the initiative, it was their role after all, and they didn’t expect that of him, and it clouded the simplicity of the situation. , so they stopped. , and they clashed, his acquaintance, the two strangers, and Anders, and Anders said hello guys, what can I do.

They talked, and Anders listened, and in the end the men said it was better he was gone when they got back, and Anders said they should see about that, and as Anders said said, he almost thought he would stay, and there was an anger in his voice, an anger that he was pleased with, despite their dismissive smiles, but when they retired to their cars and Anders felt the magnitude of his relief, a relief that invaded him and plunged him into defeat, he knew that he would be gone, that in a few minutes he would flee, and this place, his place, so familiar, would be lost to him, his would be more.

When Anders arrived at his father’s house, his father took him inside and pulled the tattered curtains, then parked his son’s car, the car that had been his wife’s car, behind home, on the narrow strip of land his wife had called her garden, where flowers and tomatoes and snow peas and thyme once grew, but which was now just a patch of land with clumps of weeds, dry, dead weeds in early winter, and Anders’ father checked that the car was not visible from the street, moving weakly and stiffly, but also with purpose, and after that, past the count, he sat down beside his son in the living room with the television on and their guns by their side, and they waited there for someone to come forward and demand that Anders be delivered, but no one did, no one came, no, not the first night at least.

Anders’ father was not yet used to Anders, to Anders’ appearance, and in a way he had never been used to him, not even when Anders was a child, silent for so long, struggling to tie shoelaces or write in handwriting. that people could read, because Anders’ father, although he was not a particularly good student, had always been competent, competent in the tasks entrusted to him, and not only in school, outside also , but his son, his son was different, a difference that the boy’s mother took naturally, and so the boy became her boy, and there were walls between them, between him and his son, and the father of ‘Anders could understand the bullies who had harassed his son when his son was little, and he could understand those who wanted Anders out of town now, who were afraid of him, or who were threatened by him, by the black man what his boy had become, and they had a right to be, he would have felt the same in their place, he loved him no better than they did, and he could see the end his boy signaled, the end of things, he wasn’t blind, but they wouldn’t take his boy from him, not easily, not from him, the father of the boy, and whatever Anders was, whatever his skin, he was always his father’s son, and always his mother’s son, and he came first, before any other allegiance, he was what really mattered, and Anders father was willing to do good through his son, it was a duty that meant more to him than life, and he wished he had more life in him, but he would do what he could with the little life he had.

In the morning the power went out, and the house was dark, with the curtains drawn and no lights, but there was still enough light to see, and Anders’ father thought it better. that they save their candles for nightfall, and so they succeeded, in the dark, and then Anders found that his phone had no reception, and neither had his father’s, and Anders is asked if the service had been cut intentionally or if the backup batteries of the relay antennas were dead.

Anders was alone, lying in his old childhood bed, much more alone without access to the online world, or if not literally more alone, then more alone in how he felt, and yes, the online chatter had been grim, not just in town but across the country, but it had been something, and now it had been taken away from him, and time itself was slowing down, unfolding, as if the minutes were tired, coming to an end, then towards midnight the power came back on without warning and his phone picked up a signal and the time started up again and continued.

Days passed, and although they heard gunshots on occasion, one night just outside they were not confronted themselves, and Anders should have been relieved to have escaped the militants. , temporarily, but if he was, it was a great relief, for reliving in close proximity to his father, he was shocked to discover the degree of physical pain his father was enduring, pain which his father could mask for a moment or two, but not for an entire evening, not for hours at a stretch, and Anders could see it in his father’s face and in his movements, and although his father tried to spare him and often retreated into his room, Anders could hear his muffled grunts and low-pitched swearing, the battle going on inside, the battle his father was losing, and that made Anders feel guilty for not being a better son, for leaving his father so abandoned , even though he knew his father would not have allowed it to happen. It was otherwise, that just by being here, Anders was taking something from his father, taking his dignity, and forcing his father to let himself be seen as he didn’t want to and didn’t want to be seen.

“I really need this one.”

Cartoon by Trevor Spaulding

Anders’ father rarely left his room now, and there was a smell in it, a smell he could see on Anders’ face when his son came in, and sometimes even smell, which was strange, like a fish smelling that it was wet, and the smell they could smell was the smell of death, which Anders’ father knew was near, and it scared him, but he didn’t wasn’t completely afraid of being afraid, no, he had lived in fear for a long time, and he hadn’t let fear dominate him, not yet, and he was trying to continue, to continue not letting fear dominate him , and often he didn’t have the energy to think, but when he did, he thought about what made a death a good death, and his sense was that a good death would be one that didn’t scare his boy, that a father’s duty was not to avoid dying in front of his son, which a father could not control, but rather that if a father should die in front of his f they his son, he must die as well as he could, do it in a way that left something for his son, that left t his son with the strength to live, and the strength to know that a one day he might well die himself, as his father had done, and so Anders’ father strove to make his last journey to his death in a gift, in a paternity, and it would not be easy, it wasn’t easy, it was almost impossible, but it was what he had decided, as long as he had his mind, to try to do.

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