What Is the What
I realize that my mouth is soaked and the tape is no longer firmly attached. I blow, and to my surprise, the left half of the tape flaps away. I can speak if I want to speak.
‘Excuse me,’ I say. My voice is soft, much too quiet. There is no indication he hears me. ‘Young man,’ I say, now in a normal volume. I don’t want to startle him.
I get no reaction.
‘Young man,’ I say, now louder.
He turns briefly to me, disbelieving, as if he noticed the couch itself talking. He returns to the television.
‘Young man, can I speak with you?’ I say, louder now, firmer.
He whimpers and stands up, terrified. My only guess is that they told him that I was African, and in his mind he did not think that classification entailed the ability to speak, much less speak English. He takes two steps toward me, stopping in the entranceway to the living room. He is still not sure I will speak again.
‘Young man, I need to talk to you. I can help you.’
This sends him back to the kitchen, where he takes the cell phone, pushes a button, and brings the phone to his ear. He listens but does not get the desired recipient. He has, I am assuming, been told to call his accomplices if I wake up or anything is amiss, and now that I have, they are not answering. He gives his predicament some thought and finally settles on a solution: he sits again and turns up the volume on the television.
‘Please!’ I yell.
He leaps in his seat.
‘Boy! You must listen to me!’
Now he searches for a solution. He begins to open drawers. I hear the rattle of silverware and worry that he might do something drastic. He opens five, six drawers and cabinets. Finally he emerges from the kitchen with a phone book. He carries it over to me and holds it over my head.
‘Young man! What are you doing?’
He drops the book. It is the first time in my life that I have seen something coming toward me and have been unable to properly react. I try to turn my head but still the book lands squarely on my face. The pain is compounded by my existing headache and the ricochet my chin makes against the floor. The phone book slides off, toward my forehead, and rests there, against my temple. Thinking he has accomplished his goal, he returns to the kitchen and the volume goes up again. This boy thinks I am not of his species, that I am some other kind of creature, one that can be crushed under the weight of a phone book.
The pain is not great, but the symbolism is disagreeable.