Literary Orphans

Fade by Morgan Jerkins

As I began to unload all of my belongings into the drawers in my new Tokyo apartment, I found a photograph that I purposely placed at the bottom of my suitcase.  On the eve of my departure from Indianapolis, my grandfather gave me a photograph of a few black men.  One of them was so dark that he looked like a shadow.  But then I was told that that man did not look like a shadow, he was a shadow:  “He became a shadow by losing his dignity.  Y’see, if you become what they want you to become, then you lose all of what makes you you.  You just fall by the wayside of oppression. For black men, this slow death infects us the most. But I know that won’t happen to you, won’t it?”  He slapped my back and I almost lost my breath. Afterwards, he tightly grabbed my left shoulder and pulled me closer to him as an embrace of solidarity even though we could not have been more different. I had no idea why the hell he showed me that picture and if he weren’t standing over me as I packed, I would’ve thrown it in the trashcan.  But he knew.  He knew….

I was sitting at a bar in Shibuya, languidly drinking my sake and pretending to watch the soccer match on the flat screen television.  Suddenly, the hairs on my neck started to rise; it is the response one elicits when another is encroaching upon his space.  Others say that this bodily response happens when a person feels threatened.  If I knew before what I know now, I would say that these two suppositions are one in the same: my selfhood was in danger but I facilitated this danger by providing space to someone–anyone who would encroach upon it.  I turned, looked to my right, and saw a woman, who I shall call M, smiling at me without speaking.  Our gazes at one another lingered for a bit.   I was stunned that a Japanese woman had the boldness to approach me as though we knew each other.

Konbanwa,” I said.  My proficiency in Japanese was so-so.  I could communicate on a daily basis but I could not talk to a native Japanese person about politics, the low fertility rates, or anything too advanced.

“I speak English.”  For a moment, I was uncertain if I was even talking to a Japanese woman.  Her voice did not resemble a high-pitched teenager.  Her voice was much deeper and huskier.  It exuded a confidence far greater than my own and I was soon bewitched by it.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I could not hold my gaze any longer.  I faced the bar again and began to drink from my glass.  Concurrently I hoped that she would not think that I was neglecting her because I really did not want her to go away.  I just did not know what to do.

“Is this your first time in Japan?” She placed one of her manicured hands on her waist and jutted her hip so that when she faced me, I could see the entire profile of her slender body.  I would lie if I said that I was immediately attracted to her figure.  My eyes were used to seeing the full-figured bodies of black women: full breasts, slightly pudgy stomachs, hips made for child bearing, cushion-y rears, and thighs that could wrap around just about anything.  But there was something about the manner in which M twisted her body towards me.  She was forcing me to look at her body, forcing me to become attracted to it not particularly by its characteristics but by how available it was to me.

The simple answer to her question is that it was not my first time to Japan but through her, I saw Japan for the first time all over again, if that makes any sense.  The rest of our conversation was unimportant.   I barely even uttered my name to her before she was coquettishly tugging on my sleeves in the direction towards the bar exit. In the short distance that we walked en route to my apartment, I felt discomfort in both my stomach and my throat as my loins began to swell.  Back home, I was constantly ignored or cheated on by black women who I pursued because I did not have an edge to me.  I did not possess that air of a “bad boy”.  I was too clean cut or corny even though these were the same women who complained about being single and not finding enough black men within their social standing.  I detested them mainly because I could not understand them.  I detested them because I failed to attract them. What they wanted, I assumed, was a man of strict duality.  They wanted a man who attracted love by giving his own out in negligible amounts. They wanted a man who attracted love by making women fear him.  They wanted to be in control but felt pleasure by someone seducing them into submission.

As soon as we returned to my apartment, M pushed my body up against the door and stuck her tongue down my throat.  My logic was telling me to stop her.  I wanted to grab her arms and pull her off of me.  Didn’t she want to know my full name?  My name was Stanley Davenport.  Didn’t she want to know my likes, dislikes, aspirations, and fears? But then I remembered how I used this formula to attract women and I was not ultimately successful with it.  If one imbues too much logic into attraction, the passion dries up before one can taste it.  She wanted me and I wanted her.  She could call me by any name and create for me a new history if deemed it fit to do so.

I did not have much experience in sex.  Men can receive pleasure just by entering a woman.  For women, there is much more that goes into it.  Every time I engaged in sex, I always wondered if I was going too fast or too slow, if my rhythm was off, or if I needed to caress her more.  Although I thought about these things in the back of my head, I was under the impression that M wanted a rough encounter by the way she ripped at my newly-bought shirt and feverishly removed my belt from my pants.  She did not even give me a chance to get on top of her before she grabbed my waist and practically shoved me inside of her.  After that, she did not require me to do much else.  She would scream out in ecstasy at the smallest movement that I made. With each thrust, M’s eyes would pop open and she would rub away at the skin on my arms like a piece of black leather.

Immediately after M had an orgasm, she brashly pushed me off of her and started to put on her clothes.

“You don’t have to leave so soon,” I touched her elbow.

She turned her head around and presumptuously laughed at me.  She flicked my hand away from her elbow and said, “Your black hand is hurting me.”  I could have tore off my hand at that moment.  I slowly reeled my hand back in and looked down at it in disgust until she used that same hand to place her business card inside of it.  When I gave her my business card, she took out a pen from her place and scribbled over my name.  Instead, she placed an asterisk next to the letter “B” and abandoned me in my own room without saying goodbye.

We only made love at night.  Any time I would ask her to meet up for lunch or for an early dinner, M would explicitly tell me that that was off limits. Even if I had invited her to come for some nights, she would refuse.  But any time she called, which was always when the sun had set, I was available.  And when she would enter into my apartment, she was mine.

The only thing that I found about M, other than the fact that she worked at an embassy, was that she was a cinephile of movies from the Hollywood golden age.  If you asked her to recite a monologue from Katherine Hepburn or Joan Crawford, the only thing that that would make her performance less authentic would have been her heavy accent but her emotion was impressive.  Then again, I expected no less from a woman who can display a range of emotions in the way that she dealt with me, from being extremely passionate to aloof.

After much nagging, I convinced her to watch a movie with me in my apartment and she agreed only if we did so after we had sex.  The movie that she picked out for us to watch was ‘King Kong’.  There is a scene in the movie where natives of this island kidnap Ann Darrow, the leading lady, and tie her to columns in order to present her to Kong.  I had my arm around M during this moment and felt her labored breathing.   She had her hand on her genitals but I initially thought that this was not such a big deal. ‘Maybe she liked resting her hand there,’ I thought.  Men touch themselves all the time while watching football.  But when Kong grabbed Ann Darrow and took her into the jungle.  M let out a moan and I realized that she was not even watching the movie anymore.  She was pleasuring herself.  Then she straddled me and said, “Let’s do a role play.  You’ll be Kong and I’ll be Ann Darrow.”

I could feel my stomach knotting up and it is only now that I realized what caused this discomfort.  At that time I thought maybe I had eaten the tempura that I bought from the Family Mart too quickly and I did not allow it to fully digest in my stomach before engaging in acrobatic-like sex with M.  I wanted to educate M on the racist history of black people and their identities being tied to monkeys.  But I thought to myself that since she was Japanese and not American, how could she have known this information?  While I’ve always been cognizant of the persisting inequalities that are embedded in the fabric of America, I have always tried to not let this mindset stunt my potential even if that meant ignoring the “cold, hard truths” about being a minority in America.  If that meant not discussing issues about race towards those of my kind or turning a blind eye to whenever my white colleagues would make a bigoted comment, I did it because I had not the strength or passion to fight against it.  Perhaps, if I thought long and hard about it, I would find that one of the many reasons why I chose to intern in Japan and not someplace like England or France is because I would not suffer the psychological burden of being a black man.  But burdens are not contingent upon location.

I reluctantly agreed to her idea but as soon as she abandoned me again, leaving me in my narrow room, the image of the shadowy figure in the photograph returned to the forefront of my memory and I was robbed of sleep that night.  I turned all the lights on in my apartment so that no area was shrouded in darkness. I feared to even close my own eyes at times, afraid to see darkness in my sleep. I wrapped my entire black body with as many white blankets as possible to hide my figure underneath them all.

The next day at work, I yearned for the hours to tarry as much as possible.  I purposely procrastinated and worked at a slower pace so that my thoughts towards my assignments would be prolonged.  I did not want to become idle because that would allow for the thoughts of me devolving into a gorilla to infiltrate my mind.

As soon as I crossed the threshold of my apartment upon returning home from work, my legs suddenly gave out from under me and I fell to my knees.  Although one, under normal circumstances, might rationalize this occurrence by saying that it is simply due to clumsiness, I knew better then.  I was already growing weaker by the second and there was nothing that I could do to stop it.  When I heard the doorbell ring, I felt a slight rush of nausea and yelled to M to wait a minute, as I stood hunched over the toilet bowl.

Eventually when I had allowed M inside, she dashed into my apartment and excitedly held up the gorilla costume in front of my face.  It was incredibly large in comparison to my slender frame.  I could barely see the pockets for eyes; they looked like two black dots that were ready to consume a soul as weak as my own.  Its mouth was already half open, revealing its large teeth, which accentuated its bestial appearance.  Gazing at the costume, I placed a hand to my stomach and thought that I was going to vomit but M did not care.  She placed my hand at my side and tore my business clothes away until I was stark naked. Soon I was inside of the costume and I felt a bit of lightheadedness from the humidity.  If I spoke to M, I could hear my voice but nothing I said sounded distinct.  It sounded like mumbling or gibberish but M delightfully smiled and patted the top of my head like a child or her pet.

The sex created a dichotomy between my mind and body.  Rubbing up against M’s body pleasured my body but my mind could not have been further removed from the atmosphere. Perhaps coupled with the unbearable heat inside of the costume, I was losing control of my self and my limits.  When M screamed for me to growl and beat my chest like an animal or roughly toss her around the body as she pretended to run away from me, I could feel my selfhood split into two.

I caught a glimpse of the business clothes that were strewn across my bedroom floor and realized that one of my selves was left there.  It was the self that I projected to the world.  My business clothes gave me status and prestige and it hid me from the fact that once I relieved myself at the attire, I was a black man.  The man that made love to M that night was not myself.  I should have been respected and I should have demanded that respect. Why did I deserve that respect?  I deserved that respect because I was a hard-working man who was able to transcend racial boundaries.  But by this logic, I realized that I had been horribly wrong.  In order to transcend, one has to recognize what one is transcending from.  By wearing that costume, I came in contact with all that I was trying to ignore in order to be at peace with myself which backfired.

M left me again before I even had a chance to take off the gorilla costume.

The next morning, I woke up completely nude but not remembering when I took off the costume.  I sat upright in bed and tried to reassess what all happened from the night before but I felt a strange tugging on my left arm as though I were carrying weights.  I looked down and saw that my black arm was completely transparent.  I could pass my fingers through my arms but when I did, it felt as though I was piercing myself but no blood was drawn.   I looked in the mirror and tried to hold my left arm up to get a closer look at it but it was too heavy.  Luckily, due to my height, I could see the majority of the arm and I saw how much darker it was from my right arm.

Instead of going to work, I decided to go to the doctor’s office and tried my best to conceal my lame arm.  But people started to inquisitively stare at me when they saw how I was dragging my arm around.

When I arrived at the doctor’s office, he asked me: “What seems to be the problem?”

“It’s my arm.  It’s really black and heavy and transparent.  I woke up like this.”

The doctor readjusted his bifocals and started to laugh at me.  He shined a bright light in front of both of my eyes and said, “Your vision seems to be alright.  Perhaps you’re working too hard at work. Make sure that you are drinking enough water.  Summers in Tokyo tend to be very hot and humid.  Also, try to get enough sleep.”

M would not allow me to get sleep. She came by my apartment that night in a long trench coat, wearing nothing underneath.

“What’s wrong with you?” She asked when I looked less than amused to see her naked body in front of me.  I was lying down on my side in bed with my lame arm underneath the pillow.

“I just don’t feel well, that’s all.  Come and sit down beside me.”

Perplexed, M sat down beside me with her hand caressing my upper thigh near my groin.  I placed my right arm around her body but she wiggled when I had done so, indicating to me that she really did not want to be touched in an affectionate way.  There was an awkward silence between us before I said: “How was your day at work?”

“Fine,” she said.

“I didn’t go to work.  I decided to call in sick and–”

“Ah!” M flailed her arms in the air and then straddled me. “Enough talking.”  She leaned over and took the pillow away from my lame arm. I averted my eyes because I was ashamed of looking at the arm and even more ashamed that she discovered my secret.

“Why did you have a pillow over your arm?”

Thinking that my ailment had been cured, my eyes popped back open and I looked over at my arm only to see it looking the exact same way as I had found it this morning.

“You don’t see anything wrong with it?”

“Nothing at all?  Is this some joke so that we can’t have sex?”

“No, not at all!”

“Then . . . . .  what . . . . .  are . . . . .   we . . . . .  waiting . . . . .  for?”
She pulled me on top of her and we started to make love but I could not satisfy her with a defective arm.  I could not wrap my arms around her petite body and motion her in the way that she wanted.  Her moans were not as ecstatic and she was getting tired of me.  She began to smack me on the side of my head and lightly beat against my chest for me to be harder with her: “Be like the gorilla!  Be like the gorilla!”  But I could not do it.  My strength had not fully rejuvenated from our role-playing.  Because I was so afraid of losing M, I gave her a key to my apartment to come and use me whenever she wanted.  She held the key up in the air and stuffed it inside one of the cups of her bra before leaving me again until the next time.

The next morning, I lost my other arm and both of my legs.  I tried to remove myself from my bed to grab a glass of water but instead I fell onto the ground and my face smacked onto the cold surface.  I could feel wetness from the top of my right eyelid and this did not bother me whatsoever because it reminded me that I was still human. I was still human despite all of my limbs being gone.  Despite the fact that I looked like I was becoming a phantom, I could still draw blood.  I could move my arm but only if I moved at a slothful pace because it was so heavy.  I remained on the ground in a semiconscious state until I saw M’s bare feet entering my apartment.

She stood beside and said in a coarse voice, “Get off the floor.”

“I–” She prevented me from speaking by sticking her big toe inside of my mouth.

When she removed it, I was hesitant to speak lest she tried to choke me with her entire foot the second time.  “I can’t move.  Well I can move with but with great difficulty.  I don’t have any control of my limbs anymore.”

“Are you even attracted to me any more!” M cried out.  She paced across the room while biting her lip and I could not tell if she were being genuine or I was unknowingly in the midst of another role-play so I remained silent. “Speak!”

“M—, I love you.” The declaration was spoken out of desperation, not by sincerity.  Whether or not she perceived this contrivance, I am not so sure.  But she did not react to what I said.  Instead, M got on top of me and had sex with me against my will.  Then, she used my confession of my love towards her against me.  She was upset by how little I moved to her rhythm and taunted me saying that if I really loved her, I would take her.  I tried as best as I could but I felt like someone had placed weights on all four of my limbs.  Moving one of them placed my body under great stress.  I was so flustered from my lack of ideas that I impulsively started to growl like a gorilla to appease her with success.

By the time she had her release, I felt a tingling sensation on one side of my face.  M had stood to her feet and opened up a compact mirror to check her flustered face.  I could see my reflection from her mirror and saw that half of my face was gone.  She applied red lipstick to her lips and the only sound that I heard from her after that were the sounds of her receding footsteps. Then for the remainder of the night, the other side of my face had begun to tingle.

She had found me in the same position as the other night but I was in a vegetative state.  M looked into my eyes and almost tripped backwards when she took a few paces away from me in sheer amazement.  Perhaps my eyes were disoriented or perhaps I had an unhinged look upon my face.  She would not tell me a thing. “I think we need to break up.” She reached inside of her cleavage and dropped the key onto the ground.

If I stood side by side with my former self, I would notice an entirely different person.  But my former self would stare at me and see nothing because I am not a person anymore.  I have lost every bit of my humanity except my five senses and even those abilities are distorted at times.  Most days I spend in the closet where the sunlight cannot reach me for the beams make my eyes sore.  Before I re-discovered writing, I would sit there and reflect on the decisions that made me into this non-entity. Then when the day would turn to dusk, I would be so overburdened with guilt that from the moment I removed myself from the closet, I would fall to the ground in serious exhaustion–or at least I thought I did because my line of vision would be lop-sided.  I neglected to mention to you that I cannot feel at all.  I guess I lied when I said that I have all of my five senses.  The memory of when I was a well-adjusted individual eschews my ability to recognize what I have become in the present.  I am writing this journal so that when the oya-san discovers my body (or whatever there is that is left of me) only after he gets nausea from the stench of my corpse billowing around the hallways, he will find these recollections and give it to the next black man so that he will not suffer the same fate.

I wonder if I was ever a human being.  Maybe my flesh was just a cover-up and this shadow is who I really am.  I was too focused on running away from a part of my identity that I tried to morph into other things, like a gorilla, and I ended up being a non-identity.

I wish I could leave my door wide open not so that a woman like M, or any woman for that matter, could lay with me or that I can smoke or drink with a man.  I wish I could leave my door wide open so that someone would walk in and grab me from the inside of this closet. He or she would triumphantly grab my black shadow for arms and triumphantly proclaim, “You are Stanley Davenport.  You have a government name, which means you are a citizen thus a human being.  You are not an asterisk with the letter ‘B’. You are not a gorilla. You are Stanley Davenport.”

I can feel a tear streaming down my hot, non-existent face.  It fell on the letter that I am now writing that trembles in my non-existent hands.  I can feel a shortness of breath in my lungs and I am begging for someone to come and identify me.  Imbue me with purpose once again and take away this shame.  I chose to be lost and now I want to return home to my people if I can even call them that since I have rejected them for so long.  Will no one claim me?

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Morgan Jerkins graduated from Princeton University with an AB in Comparative Literature and is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her writing has been featured in The GuardianEbonyBook RiotSalonBuzzFeed, and The Toast among others.

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