by Benoît Lelièvre
*inspired by the true story of Siyar Bahadurzada*
In tough, disadvantaged areas, high schools deal with very specific issues. Gang activity is very strong. Strength is in numbers, where survival is a concern. The gang has your back and in the most extreme cases, it picks up where your family failed you. In quieter, middle class neighborhoods, high school problems are more abstract. It’s about identity and respect. A teenager will obsess about his image, who he wants to be. Or whoever he wants the others to believe he is.
Andrew Sutton, also known as Bad Boy, has a big problem. A ninth grader who goes by “Killer” is walking the corridors of his high school. That can’t happen. Not on his territory. He earned his laurels to great efforts, by living up to his moniker. Hanging out with the toughest dudes, dating older girls and yes, occasionally sticking his fist up some deserving face when the situation called for it. If there’s a “Killer” around, he needed the king’s seal of approval. Segundo, it’s silly to be Bad Boy if there’s a Killer. It screws up his carefully laid out hierarchy. Also, the kid is an Afghani refugee. A brown person. What the hell do they know about being badass? They live in the sand and carry Camels around.
“Hey Killer”, calls Andrew, from the other end of the cafeteria. Abbas stopped straight and turned around. He rubbed his neck with his left hand, visibly embarrassed. Bad Boy walked up to him, as the dining students turned their heads around.
“You’ve been the talk of the school, man. Tell me, where does that name come from, Killer?”
“It is stupid. We had oral presentation on family. I said my grandfather called me Killer. I should not have said it. It was very, very stupid.”
“You speak good English, Killer. How come?”
“Thank you. My father sent me to good school in Dubai. But please, call me Abbas-”.
“Dubai? Is it where you’re from?”
Abbas can feel the bystander crowd thicken around him and the heat turn up a few degrees in his body. His armpits become moist. It’s always the first thing to sweat on him. He doesn’t like where this is going. He doesn’t know what that older kid wants with him, but he doesn’t need a PhD in English to understand this look, to read this posture. His father told him about this. About American being angry at him for who he was.
“No, I am not from Dubai. It’s very, very complicated, OK? Maybe another time.”
“What? You mean you’re a liar, Killer? You lied to the good people of this country? Well, let me introduce myself. My name’s Bad Boy, but to you it’s Homeland Security. Now, where you from?”
A few cheers erupt from the crowd. Scarce, but loud. There even is a “USA, USA, USA”. Faces around Abbas are silent, a mix of excitement and dread in their traits. They want something interesting to happen. The cheers give Bad Boy some courage. He jabs his finger in Abbas’ chest: “Listen to me, Killer.”
“Please, do not touch me.”
“Listen,” he says louder. Bad Boy’s father taught him a commanding voice is vector of respect and obedience. “I don’t know what your fucking name is, sand nigger but it’s not Killer. There’s one Bad Boy in this school and it’s me. There’s no Killer and it has to be clear.”
“Yes, clear. Very clear,” says Abbas. “You can have the nickname. You can be Killer if you want. I do not care.”
“Are you fucking with me?”
“No. Absolutely not. I’m sorry.”
“You need a nickname too, though. My school, my rules. I think I’ll call you Sandy, to honor your origins,” says Bad Boy, loud enough for everybody to understand. “Everyone, say hello to Sandy.”
“My name is Abbas Muhammad and I do not know who this boy is,” says Abbas, louder than Bad Boy.
Smiles peek through the crowd like blooming roses. Abbas doesn’t know what’s funny, but he’s happy to diffuse the situation a little bit. Someone behind Abbas can see yells: “Fuck him up, Bad Boy. This towel head’s making fun of you.”
It goes very fast. It’s a call Bad Boy knows he cannot ignore. A king has to satisfy his people in time of crisis. He throws a hand to Abbas’ throat but doesn’t make it. Abbas slaps his wrist and toss his arm aside. The quickness and the power surprises Bad Boy and fear digs its way to his cerebral cortex. A old friend he thought he had killed.
The face Bad Boy makes when Abbas shoves his fist under his ribcage and shovel-hooks the liver, will stay with the witnesses for years to come. It will remain engraved in the walls. Bad Boy looked like a deflated blow up doll. Lifeless and flat. He makes a gagging sound, trying to suck air back into his lung.
It’s evident to the bystanders that the fight is over, but not to Abbas. His right hand comes looping upstairs and cracks Bad Boy on the jaw line. The self-professed school owner takes a wide step, trying to gain his balance back, but his body is electrified with numerous painful jolts and send him reeling again. From behind it looked like a machine gun salvo. Abbas places a perfect hook to the jaw for an exclamation point and Bad Boy comes crashing face first. The janitor and a science teacher break the fight and rescue Bad Boy. He is just Andrew, now. An eleventh grader with a broken jaw and four broken ribs, struggling to breathe.
The rumors spreads through school like an arson flame the next day. Killer’s a trained military youth from Kabul. He comes from a lineage of Afghani boxing champions. He’s been raised by Talibans and hates Americans. In middle class neighborhoods, fear travels faster to fill the void. It never had a name before Abbas moved in.
BIO: Benoit Lelievre lives in Montreal, Canada with his better half Josie and his dog Scarlett. He writes noir and dark fiction that focuses on the human condition in extreme situations. He's currently working on a novella he hopes to release by the end of the year. His blog Dead End Follies, was nominated for the 2011 David Thompson Community Leader Award by Spinetingler Magazine.