“Why are you going to those things?” Sundeep asked.
Mark took a bite of his sandwich. He half hoped chewing would buy him enough time for the subject to change.
Sundeep hadn’t been in America long. He mostly hung out with the other Indian guys in his department, and Mark seemed to be his one white friend. But he had been in the country long enough to learn not to be near black bodies.
“Have you gotten hurt?” Sundeep asked.
Mark wasn’t sure if he meant by other protesters or the police. He shook his head, either way.
“Why?” Another question.
“Why are you so interested?” Mark asked.
“I’m surprised,” Sundeep said. “I didn’t expect it from you.”
What exactly did Sundeep not expect? For Mark to care about others? For him to be willing to break his routine? That he could hold a sign and yell?
“So why are you going?” Sundeep asked.
“You’re really not going to let this go, are you?”
Sundeep looked away and took a bite of his meatless sub. Non-veg, he would say. This surprised Mark about Indians and India. That there was a place where the proportion of people who didn’t eat meat was so high that meat eaters had to use the negation.
“I saw the video of Lamar Pharoah getting shot.”
Sundeep waited. Whether or not he saw the video, he had heard about it. The entire country seemed to have broken out into protest this time. And there was a clear reason why.
“When he turned around after running into a dead end, he didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t have anything stolen. He didn’t say anything. He just stood there, and the cop shot him.”
“So this video feels different?”
“I don’t know if it does or doesn’t. I honestly haven’t watched all the other ones. But the cop that shot him, he looks just like me.”
Mark put his own sandwich down. He had lost his appetite.
“I want to be able to look in the mirror again. I want my face back.”
“You need to cut out this nonsense,” Marge said, now that she finally had a moment to her son face-to-face. Mark and Marge had their occasional disagreements like any mother and son, but Mark appreciated that no matter how disappointed his mother felt, she refused to voice such things over the phone.
But that also made his visits more nerve-wracking. He never knew when he was walking into something she had been saving up.
Marge turned her laptop around.
“That’s you in the photo,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
Mark couldn’t deny it. He knew he was taking a risk when he held a sign up right next to a statue dedicated to cops. But what were the odds that someone snapped a close up photo of him? And then what were the odds that photo would somehow end up in front of his mother?
“I didn’t expect this from you,” she said. “Nathan is a cop.”
Nathan was his uncle.
“You know Nathan is good to everyone. Everyone. Them, too. He doesn’t see color.”
“This is bigger than one person, Mom.”
“His life gets harder every time one of these videos comes out. Not just his life, but his entire family’s! Now he’s out there risking his life in all this lawlessness instead of being home with Judy, and my own son…”
She couldn’t even bring herself to finish the thought, let alone the sentence.
“Tell me why.”
She repeated herself.
Mark couldn’t bring himself to look up from the laptop. He sat there, as though it were ten years ago and he were still a teen disappointing his parent.
But these past few nights, he had found a voice. He hadn’t been exercising it for long, and it came out weakly now, but it was there.
“Have you watched the video?”
“Of course I’ve seen the video,” Marge said, incredulous.
“I don’t mean the clips. I don’t mean however they chop things up on TV. I mean watch the original video, with no commentary, and after the murder is over and you see the cop’s face, tell me that you aren’t looking into the eyes of your own son.”
“And if you aren’t, then tell me who you’re seeing and how, because I haven’t been able to sleep since.”
Mark sat on the carpet floor of his apartment with several poster boards in front of him. After several drafts, he had landed on the message he wanted the world to see this time. With the lid back on his marker, he went to the bathroom to wash the ink off his hands.
He had taken to walking into the bathroom and leaving with his eyes lowered, catching no more than a glimpse of the mirror above the sink. This time, as he scrubbed at his fingers, his eyes dared to look up. After a few seconds, he looked away. That was a few seconds longer than before. Which each protest, which each person who found out how he was spending his evenings, he could stand to look at himself for a little bit more.
He pulled out his phone as he returned to the living room. A news alert appeared at the top of his screen. He tapped it.
The woman in the photo was fierce. She stood stall, with straight posture and a long slender neck. Her hair was pulled back into a pony tail of thick braids. Her eyes were cold yet, still, full of life.
Her name was Neondra Pharoah.
Halfway down the article, there was a clip of her holding a megaphone. Mark tapped it, too.
“I’ll be the first to tell you there are men in my neighborhood who are no good,” Neondra said. “My husband was one of them. But he didn’t deserve to be murdered by a cop!
Our son did everything not to take after his dad. Lamar was a good boy. He was one of the best of us, all of us. And now he’s died the same way as his dad. Murdered. By a cop.
No son of mine was meant to run. And when that cop shot him, he wasn’t running. We won’t run either!”
Neondra would be at tonight’s protest. One of them, at least. In the city that she and Mark both lived in, though on opposite sides of the river, there were multiple protests each night.
Mark picked up the sign he had decided he would carry.
On one side:
I’m sorry, Lamar.
On the other:
People were already gathering by the cop memorial. It may have been more accurate to say they had never left.
As Mark made his way toward the group, he saw the line of cops waiting behind a barricade nearby. They weren’t decked out in riot gear. They weren’t prepared for war. But everyone knew their friends weren’t far away.
Among the smattering of cops, Mark noticed his uncle.
Nathan waved him over. As much as Mark wanted to keep walking, to pretend he didn’t see, he couldn’t. Nathan had only ever been good to him.
“I want you to be careful out here, Mark,” Nathan said, once Mark was close. He had stepped away from the other cops.
“I know,” Mark said.
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
Mark nodded and started to walk away, but Nathan placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m proud of you.”
This stopped Mark cold. Mark made eye contact, the look on his face asking what he couldn’t bring himself to say.
“The world is watching. I’ll do my best to make sure my side of the barricade doesn’t give them anything to see. That’s for your side to do.”
Mark opened his mouth, but still he couldn’t bring himself to speak.
Nathan gave Mark a pat on the back and returned to his position alongside the other cops.
Mark made his way into the crowd.
And the world watched.