Extract from “New York”, from the collection, So, Here I Am.

“New York” is Sabrina Mahfouz’s first ever piece of short fiction and is from a collection called So, Here I Am.

Yeh so they shot him. You heard he’s dead. Yeh he’s dead. You’re telling them, you know. You heard, bastard’s dead. God bless America. Some mothafucking crazy shit right here he gone died and now who be the enemy? You hear him, brother. You heard it, he dead. And you kinda feel like you helped that happen, don’t you? Well, at least a little. You might not have been on the Iraqi frontline but you’ve been on a line of your own, that is for sure, no mistake. Cos you don’t know exactly how many of them A-rabs you had to sit next to on planes taking them back to those godforsaken places where they were unlucky enough to be born. But it’s a hell of a lotta them. Yes, siree, a hell of a lot. Like last week, you took one of them back to Pakistan. You’re not dumb, you know that don’t make him A-rab but whatever, they sure as hell don’t know where you’re from, do they? They can’t tell the difference between a Wisconsin accent or a goddam Toronto accent so why should you give two hoots about the specifics of their origin? You only care cos wherever they from is where you’re gonna be staying the night. And when you’re staying the night in Pakistan, you never know what might happen with them crazy bastards, so you were already feeling on edge when you got on the plane. That ain’t too strange with this job, lots of times you feel on edge. You don’t know what’s gonna blow up in your face. You don’t mean for that to sound insensitive, or ironic. It’s just how it is. These people are angsty, they got some real behavioural problems some of them. Not that you get that much trouble, considering. You’ve got muscles. And you show them. You don’t feel the cold, snow is like some sort of spitty shitty shower to you. Feel the heat though. Yes siree, you feel the heat. And that’s another reason why you were none too ecstatic to be landing in Pakistan in May. It’s damn hot.

This one particular guy last week, Ali or Ahmed or whatever, he was actually kinda cool. He seemed to know a hell of a lot about Quentin Tarantino and Tarantino is the man, you know, was the man, whatever. He made some damn perfect movies so you two had a good chat about them 35,000 feet above nowhere. He had an almost Queens accent, so it seemed. Must have been there a while now, or else he was fooling. Either way, it’s not your place to ask. You don’t choose who stays or who goes. You just make sure they get off the plane and don’t get back on. You’d glimpsed his notes though. Seemed he was partial to brainwashing kids straight out of prison, hooking them up with people bigger and badder than himself. He gets out a photo of his wife. Hot thing, she was, you thought he was lucky to have a hot thing like that and she didn’t have a scarf on or nothing, her hair was all out flowing down her back, laughing on some park bench and you made a mistake, didn’t you? Started to ask questions, didn’t you? You knew you shouldn’t but you couldn’t help it, could you? The smile of the woman, her dark chestnut hair that reminded you of childhood somehow and those white teeth and the wide smile that seemed to be the brightest, best thing in the world and you wished so hard that you had someone who smiled at you like that and the little pangs started low down in your abdomen and then rose slowly, slowly. When they reached around where your heart must be, you almost spat it out your wife from Pakistan too?

She wasn’t. She was from Atlanta, actually. Atlanta, America? Yes. Italian heritage, a long way back. That explained the hair. You looked closer. She could’ve been Asian, but then she could’ve been Italian. He said he’d miss her lasagne but he’d find a new wife tomorrow. Did he smile? Your brows got furrowed and you grunted. Must have been louder than you thought cos then the other guard, Todd, who had three deportees throwing gum over his head turned and asked if you were all right. Yes, you said. Yes.

You clicked your neck from side to side to side until Ali or Ahmed asked if you were all right and you said yes, yes, yes. Then you felt the pangs that had started in your abdomen all that time ago turn into fiery shooting pains and you knew it was coming. It had happened many times before but never on a job, never on this job, just at home. Only ever at home. But the fire shot through your ribs and up into your armpits and wasted no time in sprinting along your arms and down to each finger and before you knew exactly what it was you would do you found that you had twisted the guy’s ear so hard and so far that it looked like a beige little rose bud and he was screaming but you couldn’t really hear him could you? You couldn’t hear him cos your other hand was marvelling at how the moist of his eye socket was cooling down your fingers and if you bent your fingers a little you could feel something like strings and you tried to play them like a little banjo and you thought you felt one of them disappear but then when you woke up he still had his eyeball intact, patched up though it was. Todd had knocked you on the back of the head with his SIG, the big dope, and attended to your guy with medical precision and indifference. There was blood seeping from the back of the guy’s ear. You supposed you pulled it pretty hard. You felt bad, cos you knew if the guy was any real threat they wouldn’t have put him on a plane with you and Todd. You got the friendly foe. That always pissed you off, boss knew you were ready for more serious assignments. Fuck him, fat bastard. Your section of the plane was pretty empty and Todd said he saw the guy try to attack you, but he thought it best to leave it now, not say anything to the authorities when we landed. He said the guy could be blind in that eye so he’d got enough to worry about. You nodded and went to shake hands with the guy, feeling bad how you were and everything, but Todd had put you in handcuffs. Just in case, he said and went back to his seat. You sat back down and looked at the guy. With his one open eye, the guy cried.

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