Deafening, by Clare Golding


Deafening

 

To the DC Metro Police,

I write this sitting in a hard chair. My hand is cuffed to the table. Thank god I’m a motherfucking leftie.

I’m handcuffed because I’m black and all us damn colored people know each other. I’m writing because I’m Deaf and none of you Hearies in blue know my language except fucking finger spelling. Since I’m 18 and not 5, writing seems faster than waiting for a translator who may or may not be coming. Some dumb fuck is calling

 

Truth – I’m here because you’re scared. Someone tried to blow up the number 97 bus to Florida Market and you want to know why. Newsflash, I don’t know dick. I know I saw a man with a bomb and thought, “That’s bad. Someone should stop him.” And I did. I did not commit any crimes. I’m seriously starting to resent the fucking cuffs. Not all of us brown people are criminals!

 

I pause to rub sore wrist and arm. There was some twisting shoving on the way here. Still no one has come with a signing Hearie. I guess I will tell you this way more.

 

One, I was on my to Gallaudet, that’s a university for the deaf, for a basketball game. Yes. Even Deaf black men play ball. GU has a good team. I know. They’re recruiting me. Yes, yes, I’m fitting the stereotypes perfectly. Guess what? I’m from Nebraska. BOOM! Ooops, sorry. Too soon.

 

More – I wait for the bus and I see the usual fuckers you get in the afternoon: people who work in restaurants and hotels, school kids, moms. I notice this one guy. I notice everybody so I can stop them noticing me. I don’t have hearing aids or implants, no big sign that says, “I’m Deaf. I can’t hear you. No. Not even if you shout.” I have to be aware of my surroundings. Until I’m on the bus and can zone.

 

This fucking guy, he looks foreign, he doesn’t hold his body like Americans do, I see this in DC a lot – stands too straight. He is dressed all wrong. He’s casual but not for anything. His clothes are ironed and spotless. His blue pants and cheapy shirt are ironed. First I think he’s just that kind of guy but then I see he’s nervous. I’m curious, you know? Does he see something I can’t hear? I check around, not a fucking thing. It’s a mystery and I like to try to be Sherlocky sometimes and see if I can figure things out. Once I worked out that a guy was going to ask his girl to marry him at a football game because he kept checking his pocket and there was square box shape inside. Secrets of people can be fun to figure out, especially when I’m bored. It can be easy, like a box in a pocket, but for a reason this guy – I’m interested.

 

I see he’s got a bag, smooth and loose, and a puffy vest over his wrinkled free outfit. The vest isn’t zipped up all the way, which makes sense because it’s too damn hot for a puffy vest today. The bag might be a gym bag, but that makes me more curious because no one fucking goes to the gym newly showered, shaved, and pressed you know? But he’s equally not coming from the gym unless there’s some fancy work out place I don’t know about with irons in the men’s locker room. Also, the bag isn’t full enough to have gym clothes and shoes or a towel in it. Then I think I’ve got it! It’s games or movies he’s taking to his lady’s house and maybe it’s the first time, so that’s why he’s so clean and why the bag isn’t full. Sexy time. Solved.

 

That’s when I notice the wire. And he notices me. My eyes go to his face when I see the wire, which is when he looks my way and holds my eyes. And that’s when I know there’s no fucking way he’s going on a booty call. Those eyes were empty. Like black holes in the white pools sucking all the light from universe empty. I had to stop looking and tell myself running away would be stupid. I look away, trying not to breath too hard. But, you know I can’t stop thinking about that wire. Where does it go? What does it do? Was it just like a bracelet hanging down and not a wire? Now I have to look again. I need to see.

 

Of course now the fucking bus pulls up. I was already hanging back so he gets on before me. I expect him to go straight to the back, he doesn’t. Half way back. The mom with two pushing kids stays near the front. The three kitchen guys sit in the way back. And there are high school fuckers like me scattered plus that little old lady that’s on every damn bus sitting in the middle by the second doors.

 

I think I’ll sit behind him. Then I realize I will not see his hand if he keeps it low. I go and sit right across the aisle for him. My mom would call that “bold as brass” but in sign we’d just say fucking stupid.

 

I sit. I wait. Then I look but I pretend I’m digging in my bag for some imaginary thing. He looks straight ahead. He pulls his sleeve on his shirt down a little so I can’t fucking see his wrist. Long sleeve shirt and a puffy vest and he’s hiding his wrist. My stomach starts tying in knots. Maybe nothing. Could be I’m going to die in an explosion or he’s just got some really long head phone wires running down his sleeve because he puts into his ear an ear piece that was tucked in his collar.

 

I start wondering if I’m being crazy. I’m stressed about college choices and getting recruited and I’m just seeing problems where there are none.

 

Shifting back to face the front and I look away again, trying to relax. But there’s these words. These nagging words and they’re opposites. He’s a bomber. He’s just a light skin dude who had his headphones stolen once and now he’s super cautious. No, he’s dangerous. Stop being paranoid. Paranoia is healthy when weird people have wires coming out of bags.

 

I look at him. And damn it he is not listening to anything. Not music anyway. You Hearies move, even a little, when you listen to music. The same way I tap my fingers when I write and my teacher has to ask me to stop. You can’t help it. This fucking guy isn’t moving. In fact he’s like a statue.

 

Now I start working out what can I do. Not much. I can’t tell the driver that I maybe think there’s a bomber on the bus. I can’t call the cops. Then I think I don’t have to. I get my phone out and I do what every self-respecting Deaf person does when they’re trapped on a bus with someone who may or may not be trying blow themselves up. I tweet that I think there’s a bomber on the 3:35 number 97 to the Florida Market.

 

I look at him again. I’m not hiding it anymore because I wonder if I question him, he might get off the bus. Of course, he could also blow me up. Or tell me about that time some asshole ran off with his headphones. He doesn’t have the earpiece in anymore. I check his hand and there is definitely a wire there and it is no kind of phone or headphone wire I’ve ever seen. Then I’m pretty sure I’m about to die. Which is not ok. I wonder if I should tackle him or get other people to move away. I look back at the kitchen guys and will them to see in my face that they need to leave. My heart does extremely fast beating that makes me think I’m going to have a heart attack. And then my phone vibrates again and again. It’s twitter and there’s everything from people calling me a liar to people freaking out to someone who says they are a cop and how do I know there’s a bomb. And I want to answer but I also decide that I want OFF the bus. Now.

 

I stand up, I look at the black hole eyes a second and see a sweaty forehead. I glance back at the kitchen guys, I urge the old lady with my eyebrows to follow me, and I get to the lady with the kids who are still elbowing each other. I’m coming to the driver and I suddenly feel the overwhelming need to do something I don’t do. Something I fucking hate doing.

 

I step next to the driver and wait for him to look at me but he looks away too fast so I bang on the window and he looks again, angry.

 

Then I make my mouth into the shape of the sound of a B and force air through my lips until I move from the B-shape to the O-shape to the M-shape and back again. I don’t know how loud I am. Or maybe I’m quiet. I have no goddamn idea. I feel the vibrations in my head, the air across my lips. The driver’s eyes bulge and he slams on the breaks.

 

The bus stops and I bang on the doors for him open them, he does, and then I turn to the mom and the kids and I make a noise I hope is like “go!” But was probably just me sounding stupid. I guess it’s enough though that some freak black guy is screeching at her and she gets off.

 

I see the reflection of the lights before anything else, that blue flash that makes your heart beat faster and your stomach drop. Just for today, I’m so happy to see those motherfucking lights.

 

Turning, I chance a last look, hoping he hasn’t figured it out, because after all I’m just another black guy making a disturbance, I look at the bottomless eyed man. He’s crying. I mean, he’s full on crying, tears rolling down his face.

 

Not long after that, you guys all rolled in and wrap him up and he’s gone. Then I get cuffed and brought in and now I’m here. Waiting. Any minute now I’m sure someone will come in and I’ll hand this over and then maybe I can go home. I got school in the morning. Things to do you know.

Copyright © Short Story Competition 2014