“So, the city: is it ours?”
Elephant was turning away from work to light a cigarette, when the sensation hit him. It hit him quick, made him dizzy: he no longer saw the one alley, the one street sign, the one traffic lane, but instead found himself seeing everything in three. In essence, his vision was a spiral. The sensation marked his insides, twisting, turning, and shocking; he was nauseous. He wanted to light the cigarette but his fingers suddenly held still. The cigarette fell from his grip and the tiny flames met their end on the concrete. When his lighter began to slip, he thought about the sadness that would follow if it shattered. The lighter was one of his favorite instruments, and that particular lighter, his third one, carried so many stories, so many memories; and he did not want them to break. It felt like a million years, watching the lighter fall. All he could do was watch the descent, expecting the worst. He did not expect, however, that another memory would be standing in front of him. This memory – a man whom Elephant sometimes saw again in his dreams – caught the falling lighter. And like a ghost come to haunt, he smiled at Elephant in perfect way: this smile made of incredible confidence and the cool of winter.
“Still not practicing, aye?” the ghost laughed. Elephant attempted to stand but couldn’t, and the ghost helped Elephant ease down to the curb. “Calm down, mate. You’re alright.”
Elephant wanted to rage, but physically couldn’t bring himself to do it. So he looked up at the clouds, letting the feeling pass through, calming down.
After a moment Elephant said: “I can’t believe this. How are you here? Why are you here?”
“Couldn’t be bothered with the Brits too long. So here I am.” Lloyd joined Elephant on the curb. Elephant let his eyes rise to meet Lloyd’s: and America is any better he wanted to bite back. Instead Elephant put his palm out, and like clockwork Lloyd returned the lighter. Lloyd knew that some things were universal to smokers: a sharing of drugs, a keeping of lighters.
“Here you are? That’s it?” Lloyd nodded. Elephant let the air pass between them. He didn’t intend to say a word, and soon felt the sensation, the pressure, die away. His strength slowly returned back , and with it he hurried back to the street. Elephant continued, “You know, I found a good place to smoke and you fucked it up.”
“Where are you going?”
Ignoring Lloyd, Elephant exited the alleyway, wanting to head back to work, but everything
was at a halt. Every inch and every atom across Philadelphia, save for the two of them, he was sure, had been delayed – almost completely frozen.
“Let them go, please?” Elephant turned back to Lloyd.
“I only did that to get your attention,” Lloyd explained. “ I just…I want to play with you some more.” Elephant kept forward and the world around him came to life once more. And there was the smile again.
“You want to play with me…? That’s why you came all the way here, out of the…to play with me? Well, I don’t have time for games right now, Lloyd. I’m sorry.”
For Elephant, Lloyd made too light of the situation: barging back into someone’s life thinking the arms of circumstance might be wide open, always ready; and if not, immediately pried. Elephant found it hard to imagine a solid trust between them, despite their instant connection. They knew each other’s darkest secrets. The wild, the scary, the hurtful, the joyous moments – they shared some of that over wine and weed, over a city far away from here, once. One night.
“Well, I’m here, mate. So show me around, or leave me dead – your choice. I wanna try those uh – what were they called? – Sweetzels! The sweetzels spiced biscuits.” Elephant was ready to turn away forever and for good. He could not, however, help but chuckle hearing the word “biscuits”. He could not help but blush at the sound of Lloyd’s voice – the faint accent that always came swinging hard on words like remember. He was spiraled back to the night they met. The night they spent. In Paris.
It was a frigid Friday night, and Elephant was not shivering for once. And on that Friday, the Black American child of the hood he was, Elephant was on a mission to find an outlet for his phone charger. He knew three phrases in French, but because he was quiet, polite, and always paid for food before he sat to charge, he was sure he’d find a spot. Two dudes who looked around Elephant’s age were chilling on the wall of a small building. A slim, tall, white boy with a cap pushed over to the side, and a shorter, stockier, black dude with thick dreadlocks. He noticed they were speaking Enlglish (though maybe not american English) and thought it would be easy enough to ask them for help. “Hey, excuse me guys – either one of you staying here?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m checked in. What’s up?” the white boy responded first. He was rolling a cigarette.
“Do you know if they have outlets in there? I’m tryna charge my phone.”
“Yeah, they should.”
The black dude peered through the window and noted the Christmas tree: “You could go unplug that tree. If you mess anything up, just say you’re waiting on a friend. They’ll charge some poor rando and they’ll will have to pay for the damages!”
They all laughed.
“They definitely should have other outlets though – I can’t see why not,” the black boy continued. Elephant got nervous. Suddenly he felt they were judging him – like they would remember him as the small American loner in a big foreign city only concerned with the battery life of his phone and not of the world around him. Of course, Elephant had no way of knowing what they thought of him. But in his moment he felt stuck, unsure, and maybe a little uncomfortable with the idea of leaving these human beings for technology. Elephant had ventured to Paris alone, and since landing had interacted with no single person longer than five minutes. He decided to take a chance, and he adjusted to the situation before him. Fuck the charger – for now. They made regular small talk at first, but that soon gave way for something more genuine. Elephant came to know the duo as Desmond and Lloyd. They talked about travel, and coincidentally all of them were linked to London in some way: Desmond born and raised in the city, Elephant living a study abroad semester at University of London, and Lloyd set to visit Brixton at some point. Desmond didn’t have too much to say on Brixton – and that wasn’t a surprise, given that white english natives preferred the more hipster Shoreditch. Elephant offered comments about the market, the Black Archive Center, and the overcrowded tube station diagonal to the petite McDonald’s. Lloyd talked out his plans to backpack Europe – after having saved up enough from working in Australia, his birthplace – and Elephant instantly felt connected to him as a brotha in travel. He wanted to know more about Lloyd, but Desmond pulled a Mountain Dew from his pocket and suddenly they were middle schoolers obnoxiously talking of sperm count. They echoed each other to be careful about the Mountain Dew – or not. Someone mentioned it could be an easy form of birth control for men before they all broke down cackling. Desmond left soon after, and on that Parisian street, 4 Rue Robert Planquette, Elephant and Lloyd were alone. Elephant asked more about Australia, and Lloyd shrugged, “It’s alright. Not much to feel special about.” Did we all feel that way about our hometowns, Elephant wondered. He didn’t press further, worried Lloyd was done talking about it. Elephant understood though: probably because his answer about the United States would be similar. Elephant thought often: yeah, I’m from there, I guess, but no need to dwell on it. So they talked about other things. The night moved, and kept moving. Somewhere along the way they made the decision to be alone together – and though Elephant never got to charge his phone right away, he was alright with that.
When the cold finally became too unbearable, they settled on a restaurant around the corner from the Moulin Rouge; and sat comfy, drank cafe americain, and grooved to the jazz erupting from the stone cellar below. Lloyd ordered a bottle of red wine to share. Elephant showed off his tasting skills: whirl the liquid, holding the glass at its stem; inhale the wine’s scent through your nose; and have a nice sip. Lloyd did none of this, waiting for Elephant to be finished, and gave a toast instead. Elephant got the feeling Lloyd was looking right through him. He blushed his way through this engagement.
Then Lloyd said, turning away to look out the window:
“You know, we might be destined to run together.” Suddenly, Lloyd check his watch and then dashed from their table. He took off toward the door, and from inside Elephant watched Lloyd head straight for buzzing traffic. Elephant mustered, mostly to himself, “What the fuck?!” Elephant didn’t have time to process much, but four things became clear in that moment:
1. Lloyd was not struck by any motor-vehicles.
2. Every thing and every person around them came to a halt. Completely still.
3. Lloyd could will a kinetic world to stopped.
4. Lloyd was just like Elephant.
Lloyd smiled that cool smile for the first time at Elephant and leaned against the hood of one of the frozen cars. Elephant slowly got up from his seat, exiting the restaurant.
It had been years since Elephant last used his own powers – and he never thought to mess with them in public. Ever.
“What are you doing? How did you -” Elephant could barely get it out.
“Don’t have to play dumb, mate. You’re gifted too: or else you wouldn’t be moving right now. So: what do you do?”
Elephant swallowed hard, and found no easy effort saying: “I can move time, too.”
“I knew it! I sensed you damn right.” Lloyd jumped for glory.
Elephant backed away until his back struck the window of the restaurant.
Elephant wanted to run – to seriously get away – but there was nowhere he could go. The city was, in this hushed state, under Lloyd’s control. Elephant might be able to move a door, but an entire transportation system, for instance, was out the question. He was not strong enough.
“Wait. I’m sorry,” Lloyd stopped smiling. “You don’t want to be outed, do you?”
“No…No I don’t. Just…not what I came here for.” Elephant leaned against the window of the restaurant, looking up at Lloyd, breathing in the air passed between them. Lloyd pressed himself against the glass, too, and the traffic sped back to life. Over the sound of small motorbikes and clicking heels, Lloyd asked, “So what now, then?” Elephant took his time, wandering through the silence, considering…considering. And then something about Lloyd, something about Paris, something about the seductive fluorescents coming through the foggy night,, something about the jazz under their feet, and definitely something about the once-in-a-lifetime-ness of it all made him turn and smile right in Lloyd’s face.
“I haven’t met someone like me in a long time,” Elephant admitted. “I haven’t met used my powers in a long time, either – so this is…a little weird.”
“Well, if you want to be re-acquainted, there’s no time like the present. The city is ours.” There was that smile again – a dime.
“I guess you’re right.” Elephant felt like he was buckling himself in for some crazy rollercoaster ride. He had no clue what the rest of the night would look like, but was pleased with every bit: they ate in the Moulin Rouge for free, raiding the kitchen; stuffed themselves with gelato for free; on the other side of the city of lights, they squeezed their way into the lift up the Eiffel – and did the subsequent walk down – for free, all thanks to Lloyd. He showed Elephant that in fact nothing was completely still when they used their powers, but rather vibrating at extremely low levels. Lloyd helped Elephant to look closely for the shimmer – that low hum of potential in every object.
Lloyd’s powers were well trained: he could will the most minute things to move or delay, even while in a big crowd – as he did in the Eiffel lift. Elephant could only delay single mechanisms, but never could he both move and keep multiple delays going at the same time — if he tried, he would surely find himself throwing up or fainted.
They ended the night with blunts and red wine on the roof of the small hostel where it all began in the first place. They had a personal view of the City of Lights, and Elephant could not believe it. He ran the last juice of his phone battery into the ground, taking portrait after portrait of this foreign skyline, and all the quaint European architecture below.
“So, can I ask you something?”
“Go for it.”
“Do Americans cuddle?” Lloyd laughed.
“Ummm, yeah, I’m pretty sure we do. That’s a ridiculous question,” Elephant laughed.
“Well, my american friend – may I?” Elephant gave a firm yes, and on that view Lloyd wrapped his arms snug around Elephant, kissed his neck. Elephant turned, and as if Lloyd’s predictions were true, they ran together, meeting their lips like they’d rehearsed this before. Lloyd pulled away: “When I’m done with Europe, I’ll come visit you.”
“Yeah?” Elephant questioned. “Don’t say that if you don’t mean it.”
“I’m sure I mean it. Gimmie a year.”
Elephant was about to lose himself in the giggles but fought to be serious: “Nigga, you’re high.” Elephant pulled them back into the kiss.
When the Sun rolled over on the 18th Arrondissement the next morning, Elephant was in a state of disbelief, a state of worry. He stared at the ceiling, not knowing what to do in the lavish bed covered in pink, lying next to another brown man. He thought they looked beautiful together, like two special dark coins: one taken from the night sky, the other from the black of the Earth.
Elephant thought about how fragile moments can be, how easily you can slip into futures you didn’t expect to come so fast. For a couple minutes, he thought of what more time with Lloyd might be like, then he kissed Lloyd’s shoulder and got dressed. His bus waited, London waited, and Philly called from a distance, too. Before leaving, Elephant gave Lloyd a last look: the kind of man who knew that dreams were just made of dreams, the kind of man holding rocks in his hand and making something out the more concrete things. Elephant wasn’t so much like that, and so he admired Lloyd’s courage. He would remember to always keep his eyes open for a sight of Lloyd. He was hopeful, although he wanted not to be.He shut the door and headed for le Metro.*******Lloyd chased Elephant down the street. He was a faster walker than Lloyd remembered.
“Slow down!” Lloyd pleaded. Elephant finally stopped, but didn’t bother to look at Lloyd.
“Look, I missed you, alright? When I said I want to play, what I meant is that I like you. I like being with you. And I know last time we did things my way, but this time I’m willing to try it your way. And I’m sorry I disappeared. I did come here to see you, though.”
They were harsh in the middle of the sidewalk, and people sucked their teeth having to go around. Elephant wanted to suck his teeth right along with them, after hearing Lloyd’s plea. “Right now, I don’t know what I want. I did missed you.” Elephant hadn’t even considered running into Lloyd would be on today’s agenda, but there he was — face to face with this past. The safety called again. Elephant looked around, reminding himself where he was: surrounded by roads that were brick on one end and cobblestone on the other, horse-carriage and bikes sharing the same streets. The Olde City. He decided to pay attention to the signs: the mix of people, places and things around him – most of which he would never fit in like he did with Lloyd.
“Alright,” Elephant decided. “We’re close to the Liberty Bell – is that interesting?”
“Honestly, man? No offense, but not really.”
“Well, shit, I ain’t never been either, so none taken.” They laughed.
“I guess it could be an adventure for both of us?” Lloyd tried.
Then they were off.
The line was long and dipped outside of independence square, but they waited and caught each other up on their respective lives – at almost two years away from each other. Elephant relayed that the cigarettes were a total result of stress and low-access to a quality dealer: “so you’re smoking rubbish. Good on you mate,” Lloyd would say. Lloyd moved in with Desmond during his London stay, and found the English gloom relaxing, refreshing even, “See, how do you stand that? It always looks like it’s gonna rain, but then never does!” Elephant responded.
By the time they got to see the Liberty Bell, the Sun was setting. Not nearly as thrilling as sneaking up the Eiffel Tower, but just as necessary, Elephant thought. It was nice to talk again – feel and hold words in direct association with the body. After the liberty bell, they ate at the Cheesecake Factory, which Lloyd lamented, “Feels like I’m sitting on a piece of Heaven.”
“What?” Elephant laughed.
“No, I’m serious – these two person booths are especially rare.”
Elephant stopped eating and tried mimic Lloyd’s smile – all about the intent.
“You alright?” Lloyd stopped stuffing his mouth.
“Yeah. I’m just…this is like our first date, right?”
“I guess it is, isn’t it. Our first date: in America. How traveler extraordinaire of us – Wait, what are you doing?”
Elephant tried to channel the Lloyd’s Aussie accent.
“Oh, boy do you sound stupid.”
“Oh, boy do you sound stupid,” Elephant mocked.
By the night’s end, they found themselves in a supermarket. In the chips and cookies aisle, Elephant yanked the orange box of Sweetzels Spiced Wafers from the shelf.
“I can’t wait for you to try these,” Elephant started down the aisle and then remembered who he was with — what they could do. This was against everything he’d tried to be in life: orderly, respectful, quiet. But then and there,Elephant ripped the box open. The plastic wrapping was no match for this lifelong affair between man and cookie. He gave the first cookie, crunchy and perfectly baked brown, to Lloyd and took one for himself. Lloyd took his time.
“Damn. Wow. These are good. Do they go with milk?”
Elephant scoffed, “I forgot you like milk. Sick, sick person. But yeah – I think they might.” Elephant started away from the aisle, “Well, we got the goods – you ready?”
“Your city, not mine. Lead the way.”
“It is my city, isn’t it?” Elephant said, mostly to himself.
Elephant and Lloyd exited the supermarket with ease. Elephant knew he and Lloyd could have something special. The piece of himself he was most afraid of, the magical bits, the bits that could slow time, he ran from for so long. And so his boring, routine Philadelphian day was made different in the supermarket; for it was there, in the recklessness of eating what one hadn’t paid for with someone he cared for, where he saw love. Love was a constant once in a lifetime chance to do something, to act. Elephant slowed the world’s time, delaying the seconds, the minutes, the moments, the entire day, right there in that supermarket.
Elephant delayed everything; and so the cookies were a steal.
Afros in the Future. It gets weird where I am.
MFA Canidate for Screenwriting, Brookyln College, '19
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