B Three is not for me. B Three is not for me. B Three is not for me.*
The Coalition to End Neo-Slavery was just one of several groups of marchers outside the MotoKline Arena. Altogether they numbered in the—dozens? Were there a hundred people there? Nile didn’t know, but he hoped that the reporters would say hundreds, not dozens, even though there were definitely not two hundred people at the demonstration. He was proud still, with his palms sweaty around the megaphone. The call to gather had gone out. They’d seen the news on their feeds. And the surprise death of Sunset Harkless meant they had
Nile had driven his car from Saylesville, where his branch of the coalition was based. He’d packed snacks. He’d been disappointed that Mari hadn’t ridden with him, had ridden instead with her mother, Kai, the chairwoman of the coalition’s steering committee. But he’d come dressed in black, as they all had, and was out here sweating, chanting, not watching Staxxx or Thurwar or Sai Eye Aye, but instead reminding everyone who passed them and entered the arena that they were consuming poison, no matter how savory the package. He was here with his friend to grieve. Plus, it was cool that the other members thought he’d do a good job with the megaphone, a vintage piece of slick plastic that felt like power in his hands.
“B Three is not for me!” His magnified voice led the dozens who followed. They’d marched around the arena more times than he could count. They made their voices heard with each step. They’d been here for over an hour before he’d felt confident enough to accept the megaphone. And now here he was.
“All right, switch it up,” Mari said, gently elbowing him in the ribs. “You got the mic, so keep it going.”
“B Three is not for me!” Nile chanted one last time. Mari’s hair spiraled into an explosion of black curls around her head, and they were held back by a black band that covered her forehead and hairline. Her eyes held a knowing brown simmer, and if her lips curled just a bit, the dimples on either side of her face would come alive. This had not happened much at the protest, which, of course, Nile understood.
Nile listened to the crowd, heard how the words dragged rather than leapt from their throats. He pulled his face from the horn and whispered to Mari, “Okay, so?”
“This is evil can’t you see, we don’t want no BBB,” she replied.
“This is evil can’t you see, we don’t want no BBB,” Nile repeated into the megaphone. The small crowd roared approval as they continued their lap around the arena. With the soldier-police watching closely, they chanted with renewed vigor. Before he’d ever been brave enough to lead the call-and-response, Nile had watched others closely. It was an art form. Quickly, precisely, and honestly choosing words to carry the moment. If you did it wrong, it felt awkward, like running on a bad ankle. If you did it right, it was as if you’d sewn all the souls who had gathered together into a single powerful force, unified and invincible. And if you could gather enough people into one voice, then, Nile believed, you could do anything. This is evil can’t you see, we don’t want no BBB This is evil can’t you see, we don’t want no BBB This is evil can’t you see, we don’t want no BBB
Nile took in the people around them. The soldier-police were their “escorts,” there for their protection, as the permits promised. “Ask for permission and you’re giving them power,” Kai had said three meetings ago. But the local Vroom Vroom group that was leading the demonstration had opted for permits. They’d hoped for a good showing and wanted to make sure things didn’t get too crazy. Now Nile agreed with Kai.
The soldier-police were uniformed in dark blue and rigid black, orbiting the group on their motorcycles or walking with their chests puffed out, their badges shining in the mild late-afternoon sun. And, as was the case for most major sporting events, concerts, and (especially) rallies and protests, a small black tank was parked across the street, the letters VVPD inscribed across the side in bright yellow, a single soldier-police officer’s head poking out the top, an easy grin exposed under his helmet’s visor.** When a car had driven by and screamed, “Bitches!” at the crowd, Nile had seen one of the officers chuckle and give the driver a thumbs-up.
Still, some bystanders did raise their fists in solidarity. Some clapped as they passed. Some laughed. But most of them acted as if the protestors weren’t there at all. And of course, some weren’t acting. Some truly didn’t think about the fact that men and women were being murdered every day by the same government their children pledged allegiance to at school. This is evil can’t you see, we don’t want no BBB This is evil can’t you see, we don’t want no BBB
Nile’s voice was growing hoarse. He pinched Mari on the shoulder and held out the megaphone for her.
“Nah, you got it,” Mari said, taking the cap off her water bottle, making a show of how it refreshed her, almost choking on the water from laughing. Nile swallowed his spit and was about to return to yelling when the music came back. From outside they could hear it just fine—the theme music for one of the most lethal and beloved hard action-sports stars, Hamara Stacker, famously known as Hurricane Staxxx.
“Shit,” Nile said into the megaphone before he could think to pull it away from his lips. He had tried his best to avoid the actual BattleGround. But its brutality was everywhere. Supposedly, SportsViewNet was preparing for full coverage of the games. Thus far, they’d just shown still images of the Links with one person pumping their fists or flexing their biceps or beating their chests, the other dead in the dirt. Now even that small editorial decency was going to be abandoned for full coverage. Rather than the pay-per-stream model, Chain-Gang was about to be easily accessible on standard stream spaces.
Nile didn’t watch SportsViewNet anymore.
The BattleGround made him feel like his organs were exposed. When he’d still been in school, in the few years after the inception of Chain-Gang All-Stars, he’d lost friends because he refused to talk about the deathmatches, except to engage in harsh criticism of the killing. He’d worked for a few years before enrolling. He’d been the age of a traditional senior as a freshman, and his refusal to be down with anything Chain-Gang further othered him on campus. It’s a sport. They sign up for it. This guy’s a rapist, bro. There are some white people on it too, it’s fair. These people are dangerous. Don’t be a pussy.
He’d rejected it all and it had made him a very particular person. But finally he’d found friends who felt what he felt, and then, because they knew they needed to do something, they’d become activists. Or they’d tried. Usually they’d partied and studied and lived young, foolish lives. But when they’d had time, they’d demonstrated and held meetings. They were called the Human League. Nile, who’d graduated three years earlier, was proud that there was still a chapter on campus.
“Boy, move,” Mari said quickly, and pulled the megaphone from Nile’s hands. She took a deep breath and called out louder, more clearly than Nile had, “A man was murdered today.” The first time she spoke, it felt like she was asserting a fact, almost casual. “A man was murdered today,” she said a second time, and lowered herself to her knees. The group around them followed suit in a wave that didn’t quite have the uniformity of falling dominoes. Eventually they were all on their backs or facedown in the South Plaza of the MotoKline Arena, as was their custom whenever a match ended while they were out marching.
“A man was killed today!” Mari said, screaming as if she were watching a family member in front of her. A father. Nile could see her chest rising and falling, could feel her raw energy, violent and true. She had not had an easy life. So much of it had been defined by people she did not know, people who had been taken away from her. When Nile tried to talk to Mari about how she’d grown up, she quickly shut him down. He didn’t like to push, but he decided he’d ask her if she wanted to talk after the protest.
“A man was killed here today!” Mari screamed again, looking up at the sky, taking big breaths between calls. The marchers were with her. Nile was with her. He accidentally grazed the ground with his lips and did not care at all. They were a living memorial. They were together completely. The voices, led by Mari, came out of their mouths and brought their souls to a kind of synchronization. They repeated and chanted. A man was killed here today. A man was killed here today. A man was killed here today.
And then: We hope and pray for a different world. We ask that you see that we’ve lost our way. There is a better way. Please see us. You are afraid. We are afraid and there we are the same. Please hear us. A man was murdered. His name was—
Nile scrambled for his phone, found the information.
“His name was Barry Harris,” Nile said to Mari.
“His name was Barry Harris,” Mari yelled, and the machine made her voice a choir of rage and worship unto itself. His name was Barry Harris,
the group screamed to the world. His name was Barry Harris,
they said, and together they meant so much more. He was born and lived and loved and hated. We do not excuse him or the chaos and pain he thrust into the world, but because we see and know that what he did in a moment of confusion and rage was an assault on all that is sacred, we must remember and see that what we’ve done to him in retribution has promised him that he was right. Retribution of the same kind promises he was not wrong but rather that he was small. To punish this way is to water a seed. His name was Barry Harris. His name was Barry Harris. We’ve sacrificed him to feed our fear. To pamper our sloth. His name was Barry—
“Fuck y’all!” From a sliver of a partially closed window. The car sped by without stopping but the words had punctured.
“Fuck you too,” one of the marchers said, shooting up, tense with fury.
“Hey, it’s all right, hey.”
“No, fuck that guy!”
Kai and a few others went to calm the man now standing with his fists at his sides like little weapons. Nile watched as the soldier-police officer near the crosswalk chuckled, showing his white teeth. The officer dropped the smile for a moment when he realized Nile was staring, then laughed anew before settling back into a weak grin. Nile wiped gravel from his lips. He heard, suddenly and definitely, the thunk of a fist hitting a face. He was confused for a moment, as to how, who, but when he turned, he saw that a new group of men, all wearing shirts adorned with their favorite Links, one with an X tattoo under his right eye, had sprinted into the South Plaza. The brawl was already happening. Mari rushed toward the people flailing against one another.
Mari, who had just lost her father, the man known as Sunset Harkless, one of the most famous Links in the world, ran to fight.
And Nile ran after, feeling full of violence himself. * The Rightful Choice Act, commonly referred to as Bobby’s Bloodsport Bridge, or BBB, B3, or B Three (passed under President Robert Bircher), states that under their own will and power, convicted wards of the state may elect to forgo a state-administered execution or a sentence totaling at least twenty-five (25) years’ imprisonment, to instead participate in the CAPE program. After three (3) years of successful participation in said CAPE program, said ward may be granted clemency, commutation of sentence, or a full pardon. ** The Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) operates the 1033 program, which arose during the administration of President George Herbert Walker Bush and transfers excess military equipment to civilian police departments. The surplus equipment, weapons, etc. are to be used to support drug enforcement.
Copyright © 2023 by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.