Short Story

Being White (short story)

So where is it we are? Well, I suppose I am here, at a bar, writing, and you are somewhere I can’t  imagine, even if you exist; yet, we are somewhere together: even if we are not spatially near we are brothers for we are about to dive into the unknown: myself, creating words that I have not yet made, and yourself, reading those same words which you have yet to read. Maybe we should start now, but before I dive into these current vortexes pulling on my subconscious I want to just enjoy this moment, these pretty surroundings, a wonderful night in a sublime environment. And one which I will ignore, or try to, to complete a task: this task; of writing these words which give me no pleasure, only catharsis.

Well, what shall I describe to you? There has been a haunting in my mind for the last few days, but I fear the artistic inspiration which hit me like a wave has been wasted. I thought it would be here now, when I could manipulate the world to be a perfect environment; rather, I find that it has peaked, crashed, and I am in placid waters. I fear I am going to vainly splash, to try to reawaken the monster that had such potential, but I fear even before I attempt that this feat is beyond me.

Usually when I write, I am strictly fictional; perhaps I am an often invasive narrator, my young ego still tripping you out of immersion, but the writings I create are fantasies, idle constructs I create to give visualization to those colorful emotions swirling through my mind; this shall be different; while yes: it is still an attempt to capture leviathan, that swirling chameleon who so gracefully escapes my tentacles, today, on this blank page, I will rather describe true events. Or at least events based on factuality.

I need to set the scene, which is something anathema to me, something entirely outside of my nature. I like ambiguity. Usually I believe that I could glorify this inclination and try to convince you that what I want is to set an universal scene, to try to create a setting that through its sheer lack of detail may resemble something similar to your own situation, but I am absolutely certain in the not so deep crevices of my mind that rather the reason for such opaqueness is my laziness, my lack of inspiration: unequal to create a scene in the vein of that wonderful image which passes through my mind and I think: why try? Why make a painting with stick men on a simple sketch where a real artist could create a masterpiece. So I don’t; or, usually, I don’t. But here, here, I will try. Please, forgive my stumbling. Indeed forgive me everything, forgive me all my little ticks, my little imperfections, this imperfect work which I feel will try your patience, will reveal itself as something not worth your time. At least realize I present myself as something human, something weak, something lazy, perhaps the story should be about me, the lazy man, the bad man, the man who wants to be an artist to call himself an artist. And really, arrogantly, all my work is always about me. But for now, in the vein of gaining momentum, let me try to set the scene.

My current surroundings are Kigali, Rwanda. It is October 3, 2010, and at the moment it is 20:09. Why be so exact? I don’t know. An appreciation of the moment, it is still 20:09, some lightning just struck, I am alive, yet now, it is 20:10 and the moment is past, being filed into my subconscious, another memory to forget. But we are still here. I am at a lovely little restaurant by the nunnery where I am living at the moment; I am on a patio on a hill, overlooking a valley, and staring at an angle at the gradual rise to other hills. It is night, still early but black and the fluorescent lights of this city are rising from the valley and distant hills like constellations: making up for the invisible stars in the sky which their own brightness obliterates. There is the threat of rain, heavy drops crashing in isolated chaotic spatters on my computer, lightning burning my vision and threatening my peace, yet, now that I think of it, a curious lack of thunder. This is where I am, right now. A Sunday, though it doesn’t make a difference, a Sunday where I was at work. But the me, the me right here, who is already a memory, is trying to remember. To name a beast who has been violating my serenity for the last few days, and in the discovery of this beast, hope to name him and humanize him, to deconstruct these pangs of guilt, regret and confusion, and make peace, even if it is, as I fear, a peace built on a construct of remorse.

All we were trying to do was help, but the reality is, to often it is impossible to see the causality ahead, to realize the end domino of the stack you are pushing on. Where do I begin, the beginning, the middle or the end. When my creative inspiration was flowing over me, I was still in the middle, or at least in the middle in comparison to the tertiary stage I’m floating at now. It seemed correct to start there. But now, I do not know, things have changed, the story is the same but the feeling is different and the differences are impossible to rectify. The logical thing to do would be to start at the beginning but rather I will start at the end: a friend and me, or more correctly a co-worker and me, we tried our hardest to aid some street children. We paid for them to go on a bus outside of Kigali to where they said they wanted to go, to where their grandmother was; we also bought or gave them new clothes, shoes, even a deck of cards and a tooth brush. What heroes huh? Saving the world, two children at a time.  Life is not so simple, or if it is, my conscience will not let me enjoy it.

The reasons for my guilt are simple: I interjected myself into another person’s life, I did this without giving it appropriate thought, I did I this on uncertain knowledge of the path to righteousness, I did it on uncertain will and perhaps the wish to escape the situation altogether. I am the worst man, the man who tries to do good but may cause evil purely through lethargy, purely through an inability to give enough of a fuck.

Where does this story go? It is not a story made poignant by facts, this is no Odyssey. Rather, it is this attempt to describe a terrible color haunting my mind, stealing my sleep, morphing me into a weakling, a being I am unable to confront. I suppose the point is to try to confront myself, and in words, I feel like I am whining, trying to make a big deal out of a small little oddity. Maybe I am trying to add romance and adventure to an otherwise bland life. But I am unsure of the validity of this thesis, since in my mind I am still haunted. Maybe give me patience. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to dredge the right combination of words to make you understand why it is that I am thrown into chaos: though, I acknowledge, that combination of words has yet to appear here.

I am white. Not just white: the descendants of English, French, Russian, German. I was raised Christian. I have a complex. I have the heavy weight of generations of culture leaning on my shoulder, ancestors who looked like me, thought like me. And here, today, in these last few days, I was like a colonialist. I was a man from another culture, a man who did not speak the local language, and I decided to intercept whatever story would unfold for these poor boys, Jean Claude and whatever the fuck his brother’s name was, and in their lives interject my own morality, my own desire for how the story should unfurl. Just like my ancestors, those evil men who through their desire to create goodness created so much evil. Created the borders that divide Nigeria and make it ungovernable, who forgot to make the borders in Congo and make it ungovernable, who claimed that making African’s slaves was bringing them into the true fold of Christ, who still create trade walls which perpetuate the greatest poverty on earth while injecting a tithe in aid and allowing ourselves to pat ourselves on the back: saviors, hero’s, the bringers of light.

Am I being too harsh? Yes and no. People who look just like me created massive harm, but also made some incredible creations. Really, there are no innocents in this world. If anyone was to be defined by the actions of even their closest confidants the world would be black: hell: just a reminder of the wonderful people around me here in Rwanda on streets that were slippery with the blood of the everyman; an easy reminder of the horrors in all our hearts.

All I wanted to do was some good. Yes, I have fear of interjection, a fear that I am powerless to define the eventual results of my actions and, therefore, I should seek to be as minimal as possible: that it is unfair to have effect in ways that I can neither entirely perceive or have control over. Yet, then here, here was two poor boys. Sleeping under a bridge. Dropped out of school. Sniffing glue. Father dead, step father used to beat them. Runaways to escape, then again, runaways of that wretched institution that was designed to take care of children like them. Are these kids liars? Want to take advantage of the foreigners who listen to the words that the locals have long grown immune too? But if they are liars so what? How can someone who is so poor take advantage of someone so rich? We tried to help them. We tried. But we could have tried more. We could have ignored the situation. Never had to deal with it. Never caused potential problems. And besides, any benefits we might impart into this foreign land, no matter how statistically unlikely this conclusion is: it is neutralized in the face of the magnitude of the problem. Great, help two in two million. Why these kids? Why them. But, then, why not these two? Why be overwhelmed, why not affect some for the positive even if it results in walking past the hoards of others. Maybe to save two in two million is the best I can do. And if I destroyed them, sent these young children into the teeth of a dragon, started momentum rolling in an unpalatable way, maybe showed them that there is a market in taking advantage of foreigners, maybe sent them to a place even worse than here? Well, I suppose those are the thoughts keeping me sleepless, making me feel guilty. Making me apologize for spending money, for taking time to help two boys, one of whose name I don’t even remember. I feel myself coming in confrontation with the evils of my ancestors, staring at them, and stating perhaps their evils does not mean that my own actions will result in malignancy; yet, at the same time, indeed by the same logic, I need to acknowledge that I am here, with the exact same emotion, with the exact same hope of goodness of my forebears. Perhaps creating even more suffering.

Is apathy the right route? I don’t know. What is the right choice? To flip a coin betting on heads? Maybe I will get heads, I win, maybe I will get tails, I lose. And maybe I don’t have to flip the coin. I don’t know what is right. I know I flipped a coin this last time, and I will likely never know if it was heads or tails, no matter how much I wish to know. I am sure that coins will be in my hands again, and now, I still do now know what to do. All I know is that I will try my hardest, test laziness, and it may be the struggle of what makes me myself. The paths ahead are difficult, yet, right now, I don’t see how to avoid them, how to simplify this complexity into a reusable formula. No matter what route I take, I will be less the man for it. All I can promise is that I will try harder, whatever that means.

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