“Listen up, you petite cuts of FRESH MEAT,” shouts a towering figure wearing an orange jumpsuit as loud as his voice. “My name is ANVIL, and you’re in MY WORLD now.”
He flexes, sending a tidal wave of muscles and veins rippling beneath the vulgar artwork permanently etched into his skin.
“You know why they call me ANVIL?” he asks, his audience too young to seize a golden American Gladiators joke. “Because I’m BIG, I’m BLACK, and I SMASH HEADS.”
He emphasizes this point by slamming a balled fist into a callused palm, splashing the three nearest troublemakers with beads of perspiration. The human sponges–listed right to left like the old Old Testament–are Elsa, Ahmed, and Jamal. Elsa’s reaction is what you would expect from a snobbish blonde who’s every bit as frigid as the Frozen princess.
“O-M-G,” she says, her bottom jaw extending beyond her training bra.
“OH, pardon me, PARIS HILTON,” Anvil yells, unaware Perez is the only Hilton relevant to Gen Z-ers. “Did your FACE get in the way of my SWEAT?” he asks, hovering over her like an Alien to Sigourney Weaver.
Elsa straightens her posture and returns a smug grin, comfortable in the knowledge that “he has less right to touch [her] than a haunted house actor,” according to her lawyer mother.
“Sweat is the cleanest thing you gonna get on your skin IN PRISON,” Anvil says, and Elsa rolls her eyes, drops her chin and emits a mock snore.
Anvil rears back an open hand and pauses once he hears the Pavlovian throat clear of the guard loitering in the corner. Anvil would love nothing more than to smack the pearly white teeth and privilege out of her mouth, except parole.
“What are YOU looking at, ISIS?” Anvil roars, swooping his massive phalanges just beneath Elsa’s 14K-gold nose ring and stopping his pointer finger between Ahmed’s quivering pupils.
As a Syrian refugee, treading between Texans who don’t want him here and terrorists who want his head, Ahmed’s anxiety level is twice as high as yours when you see him board your plane. It’s not that he’s afraid of the large black man showering him with ethnic slurs and halitosis. He wasn’t even afraid of the prison itself. It’s the threat of deportation that really had him shaking in his didashah.
Unlike Spartan Races–where well-nourished fitness enthusiasts voluntarily traverse a paramedic-lined obstacle course full of intimidating obstructions like mud pits and flaming logs (monitored closely by firemen)–Ahmed and his family overcame gunfire, tumultuous seas, 60’s-era racism, and enough red tape to decorate a Target during Christmas season, just to rest their heads on US soil while we bomb theirs back to B.C. times. In Ahmed’s manic mind, it will all be for naught, because he got caught in a test-cheating scheme.
“You speak English, BOY?” Anvil asks even louder to make up for his lack of derogatory remarks.
“I do,” Ahmed answers in a tone so low only the K-9 unit could hear him.
“WHAT’D YOU SAY?” Anvil explodes.
“I DO, I DO,” Ahmed responds with tears waterboarding his words. “I’M SORRY! DEPORT ME, BUT DON’T PUNISH MY FAMILY.”
Anvil’s nose shrivels like he caught a whiff of his own breath and he puts some distance between himself and Ahmed.
“What about me?” Jamal says, waving his hands in Anvil’s peripheral vision.
“Boy, are you TESTING ME?” Anvil asks, biting his tongue to encourage Jamal to do the same.
“Nope,” Jamal says without an ounce of fear. “I was just wondering why you were skipping the black dude?”
Anvil exhales so hard each half of his mustache divides like twin Moseses are standing in his nostrils.
“Oh, I wasn’t passing you,” Anvil clarifies, “I was saving you for DESSERT, just like these other convicts are gonna do when they see your Usher-lookin ass in the SHOWER.”
“Awww, thanks Uncle Russell,” Jamal says, and Anvil’s face forms an expression it hasn’t worn since the cops kicked down his door on the night of his arrest.
“We’re going to need backup,” the guard murmurs into an inactive radio before dashing towards Russell with his baton drawn. Russell assumes a professional wrestler’s stance and an equally staged performance ensues.
“GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME, PIG,” Russell screams as the guard puts him in a chokehold so light it could pass for PDA, and together they backpedal out of the cell.
“Well, I hope you kids learned a valuable lesson,” Vice Principal Davis says, pantomiming relief by wiping his brow. “One day you’re stealing an answer key, and the next, they’re locking you up and throwing away the keys.”
Davis’s threat is undercut by his pride for his own pun, and the warden arrives just in time to save everyone from another bad joke. They head down the hall towards an iron frame where Russell’s massive arms dangle like a puppeteer with nothing to master.
“Jamal,” Russell whispers as they pass and grabs a piece of Jamal’s t-shirt, “why you gotta play me like that?”
“Nevermind that, why you here in the first place?” Russell asks with the most genuine anger he’s displayed all day.
“They thought I was cheating.”
“Well, were you?”
“Did you tell them that?”
“JAMAL,” Davis yells from the exit. “Come on! You’ll be back here before you know it.”
“HEY,” Russell says nudging Jamal in the chest before his chin hits his collarbone, “he probably knows y’all are taking me home next weekend.”
Jamal lifts his head and he and Russell continue the conversation with their eyes, looking away once the discussion becomes too honest.
“Keep your head up, Lil Homie,” Russell says, breathing deep enough to dam his tear ducts.
His hand forms a hardened ball that’s been used for destruction more often than reassurance. Jamal wipes his eyes and lowers his delicate fist towards his Uncle’s like the moon orbiting Earth.
“I’ll be back here before you know it,” Jamal says and sprints out of sight.