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Poet: Chapter 2
© 2013 James LaFond
“The sun and the moon have each their times…”
-Sura LV
The Sun’s Time
He slid through the tarpaper flap that covered the north window above the refuse littered alley below, and stepped out into thin air, across the four intervening feet, to the window sill to Usef Ali’s study. He stood for a few seconds sunken into the window frame, as he adjusted his balance. He then slid open Usef’s window, stepped in, shut it behind him, and regarded the study that he shared with his benefactor.
He crouched in the dark, catlike, listening for any sound. This was Usaf Ali’s sanctuary, penetrated only by Usef and Akbar. Even The First Lady did not come here, where the minds of men dwelt upon the plight of The People, the purpose of The Nation, the Will of Allah and the Hand of Kismet. All was still, all was dark; the remoteness of morning remained. Their sanctuary continued to hold via secrecy against the storm of evil without. He pulled the light cord and the 12 by 14 foot study lit up.
Usef Ali’s plush easy chair, leather ottoman and reading lamp, as well as Akbar Qama’s mahogany stool, furnished the room. The shelves were handmade of cedar, built into the walls. The Holy Quran in 37 translations and 99 Arabic editions, the complete works of Elijah Muhammad, the Honorable Reverend Louis Farrakhan, and even Malcolm X, lined the shelves. Every issue of The Final Call was catalogued in triplicate. Above the chest-level shelves hung curiosities that made his heart ache and his mind shake.
Akbar Qama—when still the youth called by the slave-name Tyrice Jackson—had been a comic artist. Upon his induction into The Nation of Islam he turned his pencils to the Submission to Allah, according to W.D. Fard. He had become a boxer too, earning money for The Nation, only taking fights against whites. That was back in Detroit, where Usef Ali had groomed him, before their leader had sent them their separate ways; Usef to begin this outreach effort on the East Coast, and Akbar to help the brothers on the West Coast combat the White Devils.
For the past thirty years these pencil portraits had hung in Usef’s study. For the past twenty years, after the ‘Sorrows of California’ and his retirement from active soldiering and his retreat to Baltimore, they had been next door neighbors, he and his colored pencil sketches. His boyhood ghosts hung here, where he could visit them whenever his worn heartstrings pulled.
He was at ease now, for this brief moment before the sin-haunted day, with the art of his idealistic youth: portraits of W. D. Fard, Elijah Mohamed, Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Big-Headed Yakub, the mad scientist of ancient Egypt who had bred the evil race of white devils on the Island of Patmos, Black Mohamed, Saladin, Hanno, Black Hannibal Barca, Black Jesus…all of the dreams of his youth personified by great men of color.
Great men of color?
They are all gone, Old Fool. You walk alone across a devil-haunted world, haunted by a devil of your own making…
He looked above the portrait of Black Hannibal Barca, standing above the carnage of Canae, watching grimly with his remaining eye as a cartload of white Roman ears was loaded to send off to the white masters of his enemies. Above this, his favorite sketch, hung the symbol and tool of Akbar’s office: his qama; the ‘knife’ of Allah’s Will. The 18-inch blade had been forged in India by colored men, and had a black polished ox horn grip riveted by hand to the thick tang of the blade.
“Not yet friend. It is yet the Season of Repose.”
His words sunk dully into the plush black carpet stretched over the steel-plated floor and the black Kevlar-padded walls.
The Dervish Avenger
Akbar slid the steel bolt to the common room, turned and pulled out the light, and then opened the door to Dawn’s first glow. The marble-patterned vinyl flooring made for a fine training surface. The climbing sun cast streaks across it to the far window which still looked out over a darkened street. Prayer mats hung from jobolowood rods lining the walls. Akbar took up his ironwood knife and danced, danced the dance of Akbar Qama, the killer of White Devils, who Usef Bey himself, Lord of Black Muslim Oakland, had named Akbar Qama: Great Knife. He had gone to Oakland a nameless soldier, a martyr against The Man, and had emerged an underground legend—Great Knife they had called him!
He remembered bitterly, and he danced, the last of the Dervish Avengers, whipping himself with the keen wooden blade until he bled both left and right. In his mind he held no longer to the Submission to Allah, as he no longer believed his prophet to be black, or to have been for the black man. His grandmother Reeves had been one quarter Piscataway, half Black, and one quarter Raped. She had read to him of the Indian chiefs, of the shaman and their ways. These thoughts seeped up from his memory into his mind as he danced. He no longer danced for some Arab’s notion of God, but for all the colored races and the martyrs of his heritage: Black and Red. Usef thought him the most fanatical of them all, and maybe he was, dancing as he did for an hour every day, always a raw cut or two beneath his tuxedo when he met the world below.
He thrust to the cardinal points as he pivoted and lunged, feeling alive; feeling The Lie! He leaped and spun, and came down with the precision of thirty years into an overhand thrust, running the Man through the left eye, so that only his big calcified fist—the fist of a heavyweight on a middleweight frame—stopped the handle from lodging in the rubbery wound.
“Poor Bob,” he said, as he withdrew the knife from the head of the martial arts dummy, “It’s a shame they made you white, or I’d box with you down in the gym.”
He regarded the prayer and training floor—the Temple of Defiance they called it—where he trained the soldiers of Usef Ali. Everything was in order, the floor consecrated with his sweat and blood at the start of another training day. Even if he was not here to instruct the young warriors they would see his blood spatter on the floor, and smell his sweat in the air. They might forget some of the lines to The Inevitable Prayer, but they would not neglect to strike true, when the White Man’s World finally came crumbling down and they rose from the shadows to claim their place with bloody hands. He then placed the iron wood knife back in its wall mount and walked into the dressingroom.
Masks Against the Wicked World
There was no bath, only a shower. Along the ceramic tiled wall hung the black ‘Ghetto Fu’ uniforms of his students, with their sleeveless black vests. He stepped into the open shower and cleansed himself, dressing his wounds with witch hazel. He looked into the body-length mirror and saw a black man shinning with raised dervish scars, the scars that his spiritual ancestors once earned in the northern deserts of his Mother Continent, scars that he now earned in secret—as far as he knew, being the last practitioner of his art.
He turned naked and walked into his private closet: his black hats were in five designs, to match the five black trench coats: one each of leather, wool, vinyl, canvas and Kevlar. His slacks were like-wise black, of polyester or silk—none of cotton. His shirts were of bright white silk and the vests of black satin. His bowties were, one and all, woven from the hair of the Daughters of Islam by the hand of The First Lady herself. He had suggested the daughters donate their hair to his uniform as a symbolic form of participation in his calling. In reality, he had been inspired to this by tales told of his Piscataway ancestors, and the adornment of their war clubs with enemy scalps.
“Allah, forgive—no, thank me, for sharpening your blade with an allied stone; a stone of red!”
He felt the wet rage wash over him as he pulled on his silken clothes. As he dressed he sunk ever deeper into a state of repose, clothing himself stoically in things of the world he so hated, so despised, things that caged his spirit so that it would emerge fresh with rage when The Final Call came. The coat of the day which he donned was to be of vinyl, this being a ‘white’ occasion, with segregation to be maintained. The tie he chose had some shoots of silver in it, having been donated by The Mother of The First Lady, who had since passed. Her sympathy for all Mankind would stand in for the sympathy he could not tear from his hardened heart.
He donned his hat, and thought for a moment that he would make a better comic character with sunglasses darkening his eyes. Even Akbar Qama had difficulty putting youthful thoughts aside. He permitted a smile back into the mirror, meant for the dreamy boy that was buried within that sixty-year-old vessel of stern observance, and then turned his back on the past with the grinding of his boot heel on the ceramic tile floor.
He crossed the common room, entered the combination to the study, stepped into the now dark place of learning, crossed to the window, opened it, stepped out onto the ledge, slid it shut behind him, and leaped through his own tarpaper window.
The Man Above the Streetlight
“You are never to leave through our building. You are The Man Above the Streetlight, my heavenly heat!” Usef had said, in his conspiratorial tone, as he admonished Akbar that he never wanted the ‘white police’ or the ‘oreo cookie traitor cops’ to connect Akbar with the school.
Akbar walked through his quarters to the back window, opened it, stepped through onto the brick ledge, closed the window except for a hand hold, and climbed down the back wall, using the hand and foot holds he had made by pulling bricks from the walls, until the soles of his boots ground on the strewn bricks at the base of his sanctuary, and he walked off down the trash-strewn alley. His progress was keenly monitored by the Evil White Cat that always seemed to be sitting there watching him. Akbar had been superstitious since first hearing his grandma’s tales of Piscataway magic as a boy of five. Even now, as an old warrior with a hardened heart, he could not escape the notion that the cat was some all-seeing eye for a higher evil.
Now, if this cat was the familiar to some vile white devil-sorcerer it had always seemed to be something of a lazy servant, barely ever bothering to follow Akbar, just watching him come and go. He tipped his hat sarcastically to the tiny golden-eyed fiend, which blinked at him absently with its glassy black pupils, and watched him pick his way down the alley, trash bags full of rats scurrying this way and that.
White fiend, if you were not a magic cat these rats would either fear you or eat you, not play before your eyes!
By the time Akbar Qama had emerged onto the street, and stepped over John Able, the not very able wino, where he slept in the gutter cradling his bottle of cheap wine, he could hear the distant sounds of the waking city: a trash truck looting an alley mouth nearby; a window breaking the next street over; and a hybrid bus whining up the way. Putting all thoughts of Magic Caucasian Police Cats behind him, he adjusted his coat, opening it against the heat of the morning, and marched up the street toward the #8 line, hoping that the lady who brought her girl to Akbar Qama, only to be sorely disappointed by yet another man, would be there, so that he could make amends.
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