Turn Up the Volume

A spoonful of puree takes off from the high chair and lands on Nathan's tee-shirt. With a jaded sigh, he replaces the spork correctly in the baby's chubby fist. I snort and go back to doing the dishes. Dang it. The boeuf bourguignon is dried-up. "Mama? Pika dessert." Repressing a laugh, I crouch to face the yellow plush and negotiate. "Pikachu, dessert comes at the end of the meal. Here. Do you want to put this yoghurt down on the table? This way, you can have it as soon as you're done with the courgette risotto." "Pika 'ghurt table." Aaron's hand outstretches from behind his cuddly toy. His head hidden by his partner in crime's, he fumbles to grasp the dessert, then trots back to his chair. My gaze lock with Nathan's. We smirk at our eldest child's ingeniosity. These two months of lockdown and remote working have allowed us to witness his progress in communication skills. At present, he is able to form complex sentences, to express emotions, and to scold his little brother, should the latter do something forbidden. Indeed, once Aaron is settled back on his chair, he notices the bright orange stain on his father's clothing. "No no! Dirty. Bad Daddy." Nathan arches a brow and explains, "I didn't cause this mess. Isaac did." Aaron scowls at the baby. "Isaac no. Daddy dirty. Sorry Isaac." All eyes converge on the toddler, who rubs his palms together and signs "Excuse me" with a toothless grin. On our sixty-inch television, the news anchor concludes with the stores that will reopen next week. Among them, bars and restaurants. I roll my eyes at the people's eagerness to run the risk of dying for a Big Mac. "Urgh." Nathan grabs the remote and lowers the volume at the end of the report. While I gather courage to face the mountain of dishes, the news switches to an amateur video zooming on a forty-something Black man. A police officer is kneeling over him, and another one is standing in front of the camera, keeping its owner at bay. "Turn up the volume." Eyes trained on our toddler, Nathan gropes for the remote. "It's not Covid-related--" "Ssh." I lean against the kitchen island with a tea towel. Interspersed with the handcuffed man's gasping and wheezing, a bystander voice pleads, "He can't breathe!" I glance at my children, worried that the scene might upset or scare them, but they are busy gulping down lunch under their father's defeated stare. The onlooker goes on, "When my homie died..." The rest of the sentence is unintelligible, and my eyes dart to the lower part of the screen. Demonstrations and protests in USA following George Floyd's death Crap. "--about to die the same." On the ground, George Floyd moans. My throat tightens as a burning hand twists my insides. Those are the last living moments of a dying man. "Relax," an officer says. "I can't breathe. My face..." George's sentence trails off with a groan. "Just get up." "What are you on?" The policeman's voice is controlled. Distant. Unfazed. "I can't breathe. Your knee on my neck. Shit." A long, guttural scream escapes George's lips. "Mama! Mama!" With a stifled sob, I dive behind the kitchen island. George Floyd, a grown man, is so terrified he's calling his mother. My side against the cupboards, I let down quiet tears. They stream down my numb cheeks, leaving lukewarm wetness in their wake. The reporter's voice mentions riots and damaged stores. She lists the slogans tagged on cardboards and banners: "Stop killing us", "How many more?", "Black lives matter". I remove my glasses to wipe the tears away, and gently blow my nose in the damp tea towel. "You okay?" Nathan's voice is filled with concern when I get up. "I can't wrap my mind around this. How can this happen nowadays?" Nathan remains silent. He's white, male, privileged, and he's aware of it. I go on, "I'm Asian. For me, racism takes the form of unwelcome Konnichiwa! when I walk down the street. It's annoying, but that's about it. My skin color has never induced fear or distrust." The news anchor bids us a good day, and Nathan switches off the television. In my head, Mama! echoes. The burning hand crawls up my spine and crushes my mother heart. As it often does these days, my mind drifts to the pandemia. Next week will mark the beginning of a new era in France. As long as social distancing is respected and cough etiquette is applied, the citizens' life will return to normal. They'll enjoy coffee on sunny terraces, and lay down in verdurous parks, dreaming of the summer vacations and, more generally, about the future. But what kind of future will they be dreaming of? What will the world look like if we shrug off yet another unjust death? What tomorrow will I leave for my children if I do not voice my outrage? "What are you gonna do?" Nathan's body is tense.. I lean and drop a kiss on his unkempt hair. "What have I been doing these last months to keep myself sane? I'll write, of course."

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Krister Axel

Music Blogger and Memoirist at CHILLFILTR.com

Ashland, United States