DANIEL RUSSELL

   is inspired to

become a lawyer. A lifetime of adventure experiences fuels his writing. A 

student of

justice, Daniel's work attempts to explore the everyday struggles that everyone faces.

Evolution of Resistance

Sun shone through the ice. Darkened where dirt and debris had frozen into it. Gravity pulled the Genesee river to the bottom of the hill and Cam to the bottom of the river. From the minute he had fallen in, the cold had begun to work its way into him. Everything was numb except his feeling of failure.

         Why had he listened to the bully? If only he had resisted his word; if he had just trusted himself instead of that jerk he wouldn’t have fallen in. How many times had his father told him, “Cam, no matter how thick the ice looks, moving water never really freezes. Stay away from the creeks and rivers in the winter.”

         But he had not listened to his father and now he was sinking in the icy water. He walked out onto that river knowing he would probably fall in because he wanted to believe that what the bully said was true. Maybe he would be able to ride the ice flow like a wizard. Now, the bully just sat and laughed from the bank while Cam’s small form sank to the bottom of the river. Cam knew he deserved to die there.

         Cold crept further into his lungs and he struggled against the urge to open his mouth underwater. Convulsions in his chest happened faster until he began to shake from the strain.  

         Each time he stopped himself from breathing he felt something whisper to him. The cadence of his heart beat pounded out a song that would not be silenced. Maybe he deserved to die at the bottom, but he wanted to live. Maybe it was selfish, but Cam wanted to breathe air one last time. To feel the sun, again, upon his face with nothing but atmosphere between him and it. To feel warm again.

         With a wild thrash, he threw his little arms above his head and began to swim.  The nylon of his snowsuit caught pockets of water. It made it hard to start the stroke, but once it was finished, he shot to the surface like a jelly-fish. Numb, half-frozen, and aching with effort, he smashed his small frame through the thin ice above him. 

         Breath. Oxygen. Sweet sustenance. Those first, wheezing, ragged mouthfuls felt like candy. There is nothing so sweet as something taken for granted and then denied. 

         But this was just the first trial. Cam was still far from the bank.

         A wild windmill of his little limbs sent him forward. He flung his half functioning arms into the ice again and again. Crawling along the surface of the water reminded him of the way a snail might inch its way along the rail of a fence. He imagined the water which weighed down his soaked snowsuit was the same special slime that the slugs used. It protected him and pushed him forward. It had pulled him toward the bottom and then towards the surface. It dragged him towards the snow-covered bushes which lined the bank. 

         It whispered quiet words, in tune with his heart beat. 

         Resist, it said.

         When he felt the dull thwack! of his hand hitting dry land he almost stopped. Head and torso flopped onto the shore like a beached whale. One more push. One more struggle.  One more flop up onto the beach. Then he could close his eyes and rest. 

***

         “Look, we hate to say it this way, but if you just organize by class and race things will go way smoother.” 

         Where were these words coming from? They made no sense from inside this state of isolation he was in. 

         “Basically, if you’re pretty, white and don’t have a record, you need to be in the front.” It was the same voice as before, and even though it felt familiar, it still seemed out of place. Like a photo of a former lover found after it was forgotten. 

         Slowly the light pressing against his eyelids started to form shapes he recognized. A face built itself around the voice. The voice was Michael’s. He was Cam. This was a protest.

         “If you violate any of these criteria, the cops are probably gunna beat your ass,” Michael said.

         Cam swung himself upright on the bench where he had fallen asleep. Clouds gathered across the sky, slowly strangling the sunlight. He’s knees popped, heralding a storm. 

         People were gathering downtown at Genesee park, located right in the heart of the city. It was shaped like a wheel, with six roads radiating out from the rim like spokes. While the park was a favorite spot for dog walkers, the crisscrossing streets broke up the grassy areas, which made it less than ideal for anything more than a passing visit. Still, the intersection of the city's six major roads was often busy enough that locals avoided it whenever they could, which meant stopping traffic with an unsanctioned protest would be sure to get people's attention.

         In the middle of the park, upon whose steps Michael stood, was a statue. A man astride a horse with a sabre drawn, pointing his imaginary army towards an invisible battle. Like most statues he was larger than life. Everything from his bronze cap to his double-breasted uniform was puffed out like a scared cat. 

         “Where will you be?” someone shouted from the crowd. 

         “Oh, I’ll be up front,” Michael shouted back, laughing. “They’ve already got me for two outta three, and I’m going for the trifecta! But seriously, I’m the only exception. Once they bust my black ass I’ll be stuck back there with the rest of y’all. Now let’s form up.”

         Small clusters of people began to break up, taking with them the dull hum created by their personal conversations. Following Michael's orders, they sorted themselves via demographic. The younger white people moved to the front, while the older and darker skinned members of the crowd fell back. 

         Cam had noticed that at these things women always seemed to show the most courage. Men seemed to be waiting for something to personally attack them before accepting the need for resistance, while women found their place front and center.

         There were some experiences women must be forced to encounter. Whatever pressures a patriarchal society might impart upon them presented a challenge that all women must confront. Everyone had parts of themselves that they avoided looking at, but maybe dealing with society’s bullshit forced a lot of women to accept themselves before working towards a more accepting world. Their process seemed more inward out where men often worked outward in. They acted without always understanding the consequences of their actions. Only in the face of these consequences were men confronted with the need for change, both within themselves and their communities.

         Forced into such a situation, Cam finally felt ready to join the front. He was hoping no one would recognize him as he fought his way forward. His time for innocence was over, and he had wasted his chance at being in the foreground before it was spent. 

         Michael noticed Cam as he was coordinating the linking of arms. He broke from his own obligations and maneuvered over.

         “Just because you were arrested for being poor doesn’t mean you weren’t arrested,”

         “It was just a misdemeanor,” Cam said, trying to play it off with an awkward smile. 

         “I know how bad you want to be up here, with us, but you know what could happen if things get messy. It means a lot to a lot of others knowing you came,” said Michael.

         Clouds twisted like the iris of the sky and snuffed out the last bit of sunlight.  Cam’s face contorted as he tried to fight a frown with a fake smile.

         Michael shook his head.  “It’s not about you, I know you know that.”

         Lips struggled to decide what shape to take as Cam opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. Instead, he nodded and melted back into the crowd.

         Michael took his position in the wall of linked arms. It ran along the edge of the park, expanding the circumference, blocking all six roads and stopping traffic. 

         Cam moved back towards the statue. He leaned against the steps that had just served as Michael’s pulpit. Yawing, he looked up at the sky. For whatever reason, the darkening clouds felt ominous, like a portent of a storm not of atmospheric origin. Whatever dream he had had in the morning had left some supernatural strain on him. A superstitious hand clung to his throat and he couldn’t shake the wraith-like quality that now possessed him. A cold wind blew across his face, carrying with it the faint whiff of tear gas.

         His breath quickened in pace with the palpitations of his heart. Sweat beaded against his skin despite the chill that was now working its way through his body. Where was he? When was he? Was it snowing? 

***

         Cam looked out the window of the bus. There was not a cloud in the sky. Why did he think it was snowing in Nairobi?

         Vienna was shouting. Gunshots she said. A peppery aroma began to permeate the matatu. She commanded the rest of the passengers to shut the windows and get down on the ground. Her sensitivity to the situation could not prevent the winds of capsicum from entering the box where they were trapped. First by traffic, then by violence.  And when those spicy vapors had claimed their cabin, she was the one who cried first. She was also the first to laugh.

         Choking on snot and bile, Cam confessed his confusion. 

         “Well, this is what it means to resist.” Vienna said with a smile.

         It was a smile that injected 100 CCs of the purest white lightning into his veins. And he knew why he was there, just as a moment ago he did not know he could be an addict. How could he? What was the point of desire for something he didn’t even know existed? Now, seeing this smile he knew he was a junky who would do anything just to see that subtle turn of her lips again.

         Nothing could stop him. Nothing could get in the way of making her smile again. It was some kind of paradox: how happy making her happy made him. Some self-sustaining machinery that would never run out of fuel. He felt his heart opening, transforming into this thing that both generated and accepted happiness. He felt beautiful. 

         If he could feel that way, then why couldn’t everyone? Of course they could! He would shoulder the world’s burdens and show them how. Every single person on the planet could trust their hearts with him and he would treat them all responsibly, respectfully. The love in his heart was surely enough to change even the stoniest of minds. Not to mention: the smile on Vienna’s face when he succeeded in solving violence with love.  

         And as love poured over him, as he delved deeper into this fantasy, he found something else in the water with him. At first, he tried to ignore it, dismissed it as some corrupt aberration, a fixture of the world that feared the changes he would make. It crept into him like the cold until he could no longer deny that it was there: the perplexity of how much work unconditional love is. If love was responsibility and fighting for it meant navigating a never-ending stream of obligations, how could anyone love the world? How could he love one person? Eventually he would make a mistake. Eventually he would step out onto thin ice just to see if it could hold him.

         “Did they teach you that in France?”  he asked.

         “No, but they always said being tear gassed was the difference between protesting and resistance.”

         “We didn’t even make it to the rally,” he said, laughing and choking. “The only thing I’m resisting is the loss of fluids!” 

         Their laughter was silenced by the sound of bullets punctuating through the top of the bus. They threw their arms around each other as a spasm of fear passed simultaneously down their spines.

         “Did they give you any advice for AK-47’s?” he asked. 

         Even as they shuddered together on the dirty floor, a wisp of a smile seemed stuck on her face and a warmth melted through his veins. The vibration of the matatu’s engine felt like a lullaby. Holding his new love, inappropriate though it may be, he fell asleep.

***

         The bully was standing over him, poking Cam with a stick. The poking stopped when Cam opened his eyes. 

         “You’re alive.” The bully spoke with a lilt of surprise.

         Cam nodded, the snow sticking to his wet snowsuit, making it freeze. His teeth chattered with uncontrolled spasms. 

         “I’m cold,” Cam said, lips blue and stuttering. “I want to go back inside.”

         “Why?” said the bully. “You’re fine.”

         Cam pushed his small body onto all fours. His arms trembled with the effort.

         “I am not fine,” Cam said, his words elongated by the cold.

         “Well, I’m gunna stay out here and play.”

         “’K,” Cam said.

         Pulling himself to his feet, he walked back to the bully’s house. Numb hands made removing his frozen snowsuit difficult. It took him so long he peed himself. After stripping off the soiled layers, Cam laid down on the couch naked. He closed his eyes, letting the after images of the day burn into mist. 

***

         Lions pounced, dissolving into smoke as they landed, the next one chasing the wisps of mist left behind by the last. Each puff of vapor formed new shapes that played out like news clips: a group of bandits looting the streets of Nairobi; an order for police to shoot them on sight; a University professor condemning the use of extra-judicial killing; extra-judicial force then used to silence the professor; students taking to the street in protest; a bus, spray-painted and blaring rap music; two people, holding each other in terror. And lions, lions everywhere. 

         When he came to Kenya, he expected to meet lions in the wilderness, but the ones in people’s hearts surprised him. They roamed the city, faked being tamed until they spotted some wounded thing to scavenge. Cam remembered when these animals occupied the nobler parts of his heart; the defiant beast whose inhale was resistance and whose exhale was a roar. But a lion would rather have a meal it didn’t have to work for any day. It wasn’t until he watched a lion kill a cub, nipping at his heels for a bite of dead antelope, and instead applying tooth to testicle, that Cam realized the truth of this personification: that everyone becomes a scavenger when they’re hungry enough.

         Now, laying on the floor of the bus, trying to keep the bodily fluids out of his eyes, he couldn’t help but wonder why. Did he care about looters and extra-judicial executions? Or was he the scavenger, scavenging love from someone sunk deep into its banks, the mud squelching as she tried to break free of its undying friction.

         Gunsmoke and tear gas filled the air and soon the thunderous stampede of footsteps announced the emptying of the streets. Traffic was still at a standstill; some had even abandoned their cars in favor of flight on foot. Whatever presence the protestors had was gone. Looters had come in the chaos and earned themselves the attention of the police were now disengaging the protestors and regrouping for an entirely different skirmish. The street had become a bloodied stage set for the very thing it was just minutes ago organized to condemn.

         Cam met the bus driver’s eye in the rearview mirror. Grim determination passed between them before a bullet passed between the driver’s eyes.

         Vienna’s head was pressed against his chest. More gunshots filled the air and breaking glass showered them. Cam moved to get up.

         “Don’t,” Vienna whispered, her voice shaking between trembling breaths.

         “We can’t stay here,” said Cam.

         “We have to stay here,” she warned. “Stay small, stay low, it’ll be over soon.”

         "You don’t know that. What happens if they decide to loot us?”

         “Don’t leave.”

         He stayed with his arms wrapped around her for a moment before getting up. 

         “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

         Staying low he snaked his way to the front of the bus. Tugging on the drivers arm, he pulled him out of the seat and replaced him. For all the day’s grim deliverance, Cam was relieved to perceive the hum of the running engine.

         Smashing the pedal to the floor, he maneuvered around the cars and onto the sidewalk, knocking aside garbage cans and sandwich boards. Looters dove out of his way, dropping TVs and stereos. He drove as fast as the bus would take him until he came head to a head with a barrier: a flaming car flanked by men wrapped in balaclavas, wielding a variety of weapons; machetes, machine guns, 2-by-4’s, pipes.

         Sinking down into the space between the windshield and the pedals, Cam gripped the matatu’s steering wheel tight, locked on course, still pressing his foot against the gas and the floor. 

         He was aiming for the softest part of the formation, where the men with guns were standing. Shocked by the driver’s boldness, only one of them fired as the rest dove out of the bus’s way. It was just a single burst of gunfire, no more than three shots dug into the matatu as it bore down on the gunmen. Cam heard short screams as the matatu’s momentum carried them clear over those remaining.

         Smooth as flowing water, he swung himself back up onto the seat, his foot never letting go of the gas. Cam glanced into the review and saw a glare-washed horror show. 

***

         Somewhere nearby, a car with a ragged muffler accelerated. Its pitch grew as it approached until sound consumed him.

         Cam opened his eyes, expecting to see the car heading straight for them, but instead found himself on the steps of the statue.

         No cars were in sight, but battle lines had formed.  The rotating wheel of protestors had stopped as they found themselves confronted at each spoke by police. Whatever crowd had formed dispersed as cries of solidarity had turned into jeers. The only observers that remained were cops, daring them to step out of line. There were no AK-47’s but canisters hung in bandoleers across their chests and plenty of damage could be done with batons. Shields forward and linked in a phalanx, they were ready to march to any provocation. 

         Nearby, part of the curb had been broken and some of the protestors who found their way at the back had picked up pieces. 

         The intensity of insults escalated until the street was an incoherent cacophony. A piece of debris flew through the air and thudded off a RIOT shield. Like a bass drum it boomed in the empty street and silenced the crowd.  All at once it stopped but afterwards the air was heavy, as though the affair had left it pregnant with the question: would another rock be thrown? Would tear gas? 

         Cam tried to run to the front, but there was nothing he could do. The lines collided. Fists met night sticks. Loud, formless noise filled the park, part scream of pain, part battle call.

         Snow had started to fall. Its delicacy seemed to mock the blows which rained heavy upon the demonstrators. Clouds of tear gas filled the air.

         Fiery fumes filled Cam’s nostrils and he began to cough and choke. Formless among the tears and smoke, people ran past him, knocking him aside. A cop collided with him. For a second, Cam saw the cop hesitate as he held up his hands. But the baton came out of the mist and hit him on the hip. 

         “Stay small, stay low.” Vienna’s words echoed in his head as he fell to the ground and curled into the fetal position. 

         But her days of resisting were over. 

         Living was the greatest form of protest and she had been beaten by death.

         Just like he was being beaten now. Blow after blow, until it was stopped by a body falling on top of him. An arm dressed in black tactical gear dropped across his face. Another fell. Soon several of them were trapped underneath each other, tucked in by a blanket of tear gas.

         At the bottom, there wasn’t much air, and what was there had been stung by a Trinidad scorpion. Choking and fighting for breath, a word struggled to break free but net never quite made it past his lips, dying with his last breath. 

NAME Magazine UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO 2020