"There's no place like home."
Wizards of Oz
Tremondre had to admit that finding Fatima Said was a challenge in itself. Not only did he have to find her without the support of his best friend (because even Samir had enough sense to think Tremondre was out of his mind), but Fatima was the kind of girl that remained relatively homebound with little to no social media that can be traced back to her. So unless he managed to coerce his best friend into coughing up the exact details of Fatima’s home address, he had no evidence to lead him anywhere.
Or so he thought.
One night as he lied awake in his truck, he was struck with a burning realization. If everything Samir said about her was really true, then she must have made a few enemies along the way. Because if there was any truth Tremondre knew well, it was that all people were insecure about something. And when people were insecure, they became most susceptible to the cruelest tendencies. Fatima Said was no impenetrable fortress; he just needed proof.
Tremondre threw himself in the front seat of the truck and yanked his phone out of the charging outlet. Upon doing so, the phone screen blinded him in the bleak darkness, searing his vision and drawing tears from his eyes. Wincing, he turned his phone at an angle to relieve him of the brightness and scrolled down his contact list, hovering his thumb over the infamous name that brought him so much pain.
He pressed it anyway.
As the phone rang, Tremondre felt his heart climb out of his throat. Blood rushed in his ears, roaring as his eardrums set the rhythm. With every ring, he became more and more certain that calling him was a mistake. His immediate reaction to his cowardice was a nauseating urge to vomit. He reasoned to himself that if one painful phone call brought him one step closer to saving his friend from heartache, then it was worth it. Samir’s friendship had saved him in more ways than he could begin to describe. To him, Samir was worth it. To him, Samir was the Cassio to his Othello, the salt to his pepper, the dark to his light. It was time to return the favor.
A wary man’s voice answered on the other side.
Tremondre’s voice buckled under the pressure of his nerves. “Hey Cus.”
A sharp gasp stabbed him from the line. “Yo.” He said it louder for the people in the back. “YO! LOOK WHO FINALLY DECIDED TO CALL!”
In the background, Tremondre could hear a stampede of footsteps as a bunch of shadowy figures crowded around the phone and took turns greeting him from the other side. In his head, he imagined a face to every body and wondered if the images in head were still valid. He had been gone from home for too long. Children grew. Hair grayed. Voices changed. A giant hand squeezed his chest until he could hardly breathe.
Tremondre blinked back tears. “God damn, Michael. Did you really have to wake the whole neighborhood? It’s three a.m.”
“Boy, quit playin’. You know no one sleeps around here. Fuck man. The cholos keep blasting their music every Saturday so we just kinda gave up on sleep, you know? So how you been? You don’t call us no more ever since CPS took you away all those years…”
Tremondre cradled his phone to his ear with both hands as if he was afraid that the phone might fly out of his hands and with it his family.
“Aw, you know. It’s been good. I got a job working at the warehouse down Carrier. It’s not much, but it’s stable.”
Tremondre heard Michael run a hand across his durag, a terrible habit that conveyed his anxiety. A brief sigh of relief sounded through the line. “That’s good. You not still sleepin’ in that truck, are you?”
Tremondre clamped his teeth on his tongue. “No. I uh...just got a lease on an apartment.”
“Roommates ain’t bothering you?”
“Good. Good. Because if they do, I’mma fuck ’em up. Show ‘em how it’s done in the hood, know what I’m sayin’? No one mess with my lil’ cus.”
Tremondre couldn’t help but snort air through his nose. It was so much like Michael to look out for his own kin, even if that kin was bordering on the age of nineteen. The brief pain of happiness sunk Tremondre even deeper in his pit of loneliness, and he suddenly became aware of how small it was inside the truck.
“You know, there’s always a room for you at home. Gran asks ’bout you sometimes. Katrina just started middle school. You should visit.”
“I will.” Tre cringed at his own lie. “Soon.”
“Yeah. That’s what you said last Christmas.”
“Don’t be. No one leaves the hood and comes back. It’s fact. Black and white. It’s simple.”
“No, Michael.” Tremondre was crushing the phone without realizing it. “It’s complicated. Don’t think like that. Don’t think that I believe I’m superior or shit ’cus I left. You’ve always been better at me at everything. At football. At school. Picking up girls.”
This time it was Michael that snorted through the phone. His chest swelled up with pride. “Yeah, I guess I’m pretty cool, huh.”
“It’s kinda why I called you. I need you to do some research for me.”
Michael snickered through the phone. “Ooh...this better be good. Who da thug?”
Tremondre rubbed the back of his neck anxiously. “She ain’t no thug. But she ain’t good either.”
“She?” Michael’s voice heightened with interest.
“Her name’s Fatima Said. I need to know where I can find her.”
A short laugh made the phone tremble. “That’s it?”
“If you find any dirt about her, tell me. It’s for a friend who doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.”
“Sure,” Michael said with an air of disbelief. “A friend.”
“I’m serious,” Tremondre urged.
“Fine. Hold up.”
It only took about fifteen minutes before Michael found a lead. “Alright. Fatima Said. She’s twenty-years old. 4.0 gpa. Takes all honor classes. She attends U.C.B. on a full-ride scholarship and is the only daughter to Omir and Sara Said. Apparently her momma underwent a risky surgery to remove a nasty brain tumor seven years ago, and it left her physically and intellectually disabled. Her father works as a dental hygienist in Piedmont, and I think she’s an English major minoring in criminal justice.”
Michael’s technological prowess rendered Tremondre speechless. “H–How did you find all of that so fast?”
He heard Michael chuckle on the other side. “I found her on an old page of Tiller high school’s website. Total nerd. Won several debate tournaments in high school and other academic competitions. I also happened to find her college admissions essay displayed on the school newspage.”
Tremondre was taking mental notes in his head. “What’d she write?”
“About how hard it was to raise herself and take care of her parents since the age of thirteen and how she was robbed of her adolescence.”
A cruel laugh escaped him. “Life’s a bitch. What else?”
“Hm...I’m goin’ through Twitter and filtered the search to anyone attending U.C.B.”
“She doesn’t have any social media accounts.”
“True...but apparently she’s gained an interesting rep at her university. There’s over three hundred tweets with #medusa and I think they’re about her.”
“Ain’t that the snake lady that turns men into stone?”
“Mhm. Because the fear she strikes into people is so great that it’s petrifying. In one tweet, it said that she confronted a girl who relentlessly bullied another girl to death. After their encounter, that same girl was delivered to a psychiatric ward after someone discovered her after a failed suicide attempt.”
A brief wave of silence crashed over them both, submerging them deep in a pool of inquisitive thoughtfulness. As each agonizing minute passed, Tremondre realized that he couldn’t delay their fated meeting any longer just like he could no longer ignore the truth facing him. His perception of Fatima Said had shifted. What once was an intolerable woman was now a dangerous threat–– to herself and to others. She was a beacon of forbidden knowledge. With one look, she could earth the most hideous secrets and hidden desires. And because there was no telling of an intent or design, there was just as fair a chance of her using her power for self-gain or destruction. She could ruin someone’s life if she wanted to. And the more secrets someone held, the easier it would be for her to destroy them.
Who else had more secrets than Samir?
The idea, once planted inside Tremondre’s head, was set in stone. Fatima Said needed to stay far, FAR away from Samir. And Tremondre was going to do everything in his power to make sure they never crossed paths again.
“Where can I find her?” The words rammed into each other on the way out of his mouth.
Michael sighed. “I can find her address, but I would advise you not to show up at her house demanding to talk to her. Your best chance is running into her at U.C.B.”
“But U.C.B. is huge!” Tremondre whined. “Can’t you hack into her iphone and send me her location or something?”
The dead of night and his age was catching up to Michael. Now that he was twenty-seven-years-old with two daughters to raise, he found it increasingly difficult to pull all-nighters like he used to in his youth. A yawn escaped from his rounded mouth.
“Listen Cus. I’m just a brutha with adequate research skills. I’m sure you’ll find her eventually. Maybe you’ll catch her dining somewhere. Holler at me if you need more help. Imma head to bed.”
Now realizing that it was, indeed, four o’clock in the morning, Tremondre felt a stab of guilt. He had been ungrateful. Who was he to call his cousin, whom he had avoided for years, and ask for his aid in the dead of night? Who was he to expect his full cooperation which he had done from the generosity of his heart? He felt like he had taken advantage of his cousin somehow, of his love. And when he imagined Michael getting up in the next three hours to fry some eggs (which were most likely burnt around the edges) for his girls and see them off at the bus, he felt worse.
Perhaps it was guilt or a sense of indebtedness. Maybe it was a desperate act to relieve his own conscience. But for whatever reason it was, something had prompted him to do the unthinkable.
“Hmm?” Michael groaned with his head collapsed in front of his laptop.
“I promise I’ll visit soon. Next holiday. We’s gonna fire up the grill and shoot bullets into the sky. Aight?”
Tremondre could hear Michael roling from one cheek to the other against the grid of his checkered keyboard. “...aight.”
Tremondre hung up the phone and laid back down in the backseat. Darkness enveloped him, wrapping him like a comfy black blanket. The smell of the leather seats brought a sense of familiarity to calm him down, but it wasn’t enough to slow down the thoughts running through his head. Because that was what he was best at. Running. And this time he was running to his doom.