My response to the book White Teeth Zadie Smith recently includes imagining up a side story based on one of the characters for an advanced writing workshop. I’ve always found writing fan fiction and side stories great practice to writing fiction. The few previous times I have performed this task, the two works turned into novels (in editing with every other story I’m writing). I chose the character, Millat.
Millat struggled to remain in the group. He was not paid to act, but he had to pretend to stay in KEVIN. These rules did not reflect on his true character, and the deeper he involved himself with KEVIN, the more he realized its rules are as rigid Muslim his parents associated with, and who they tried to force him to associate with. No more partying, being with women, watching reruns of the Godfather and Scarface. This was a lot to sacrifice, but perhaps worth the struggle if it meant getting back at his parents, especially his father. No more, would he tell him how to run his life.
He had also met a friendly and dedicated young man in KEVIN who was also so damned curious about Millat’s past. He thought telling him about some of the drugs he had experimented with and the gun he fired triggered the young man to grow even more curious about his world.
“I want to see Scarface,” the boy said, his eyes brightening with anticipation. “We should go to your place sometime. Could we do that?”
Millat didn’t want to return to his home, or bring anyone to it. “Sure, we’ll go sometime.” Not to mention, he left a few enemies behind in his home neighborhood. Something about his place in KEVIN made him feel secured; like being a part of an army, or rather a gang that would have your back for life. Of course, none of this came free. Nothing came free. To be free meant answering to someone, their rules, their opinions.
“I can go anytime this week,” he said. “What day should we go?”
Millat thought about it. This boy wanted out of his world and into the world Millat wanted out of, or maybe once he saw how controlling the world Millat came from was, he’d not care about it.
“Sure,” Millat said. “We’ll go tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you go back? I mean, why did you come here?”
Millat shrugged. “Something different.” Because his parents were oppressing him, forcing him to make the decisions they wanted him to make. But they not only chastised him for the life he’d chosen but expect it. Maybe it was time to take another turn and move up the latter in KEVIN. His visit and business would help decide where he would go next.
There was something about not belonging to any one group, not being obligated. It brought a sense of freedom. There were consequences for actions, for choosing this freedom. One being frowned upon by his parents and anyone for not accepting being a Muslim, for not committing to KEVIN and nothing else.
He picked up Rashid and the two drove over to where Mallat had made his new home after escaping his parent’s oppression. Whether it was convincing someone to buy a drug, pot, or even cocaine, Mallat would to it perfectly. That was how he had grown as one of the group leaders. But now he had enough of it, being there was always a power struggle, and the
“So now what are we going to do?” Rashid asked. “Show me your world away from KEVIN.”
“Right,” Mallet said. He loved the kid’s curiosity and enthusiasm, but he was becoming annoying. “I have some business to take care of.”
He was an 18 year old who instead of going to college, living by everyone else’s book decided to choose is own way, just as Mallet has. However, bringing the kid into his other world he thought could be a bad idea. What if his boss doesn’t like Rashid; therefore, the people who’d admired and looked at Mallet as their leader would fade.
“Business” Rashid’s voice lifted with disappointment. “Come on, that sounds boring. Let’s go do whatever we want, but not work, not—”
“Not anyone else’s work,” Mallet said. “Do you, be you. Don’t let others, not even your parents imprison you with their expectations. Nobody should control you. It’ll just fuck your life up.”
“That doesn’t sound fun,” Rashid said, his bright and wide, mouth slightly apart. He looked like a young trainee trying to learn a new job.
“Don’t sweat it,” Mallet said. “It won’t take long. It’ll be a learning experience.” Though Mallet didn’t know what to do with Rashid; he was no teacher or mentor. He had no time to be either of these. He had responsibility of leading various factions, and soon to lead KEVIN. He thought of himself when he so desired to leave home, learn about opportunities outside the small culture he’d been raised in. So much opportunity.
Mallet pulled up and parked in an alley next to a building. A scarce amount of people walked and stood on the street. An elderly woman stood on the corner wearing a veil, stripped of her freedom her entire life by oppression, religion…
“Wait here while I go in first,” Mallet said, and opens and slides out the car. He walks to the rear of the car, pushes the button on the key chain and the trunk lifts. He reaches in and grabs the bag. He tapped the car and told Rashid he would be right back.
Walking out to the street two men dressed in traditional Muslim clothing – black head scarf and white robe don to their ankles. It was a disguise. He recognized the taller man’s long hooked nose and eyes, as well as the shorter, more muscular man. The stout man glanced at him then got in his car and the two drove away.
The front door creaked as he opened it to a small foyer. He ascended stairs to the third floor. Music was blasting as usual. He paused and thought about turning back, but he could not. This was his gang. But if it was his gang, why did he have to answer to someone? Why did he always feel as if he had to follow orders and look over his back. No more. This ended today. He looked in the bag at the money before proceeding forward, the music louder and the walls vibrating.
He knocked on the door and a man, medium built, and holding a pistol. He didn’t wear any head scarf, or cover his body as men were forced to do, and that he loved about this guy and the others in this gang. However, they were druids, brainwashed like people who follow a dictator or a majority. Americans, he heard say people drink the cool aid when they do what others or someone tells them. They’re too afraid to take control of their lives. Well, Mallet wasn’t drinking anyone’s damn cool aid, even if it was the death of him. The man wore two gold chain necklaces, black baggy pants, and a long blood-red shirt.
“Mallet,” the gang’s leader, Abdel. “You have something for me today, huh?”
The man patted him down then gestured with a nod of his head for him to enter.
He ambled into the room. As the man started to close the door, someone else walked in.
“Badi.” Abdel smiled. “What a surprise.”
In walked Rashid, except Abdel called him Badi.
“What’s going on here?” Mallet asked.
“Badi is my nephew.” Abdel approached Badi and embraced him.
“I don’t understand,” Mallet said, frowning.
“You don’t have to,” Abdel said. “KEVIN has been trouble to our enterprise for some time. They’re difficult to deal with. I had to know information, had to know if anyone I trusted shared sensitive information with them.”
He stared at Mallet, his eyes narrowed, jaw clenched.
“And you, Mallet have been loyal to our business, right?” Abdel looked over at two men counting the money in the bag. “Badi has had good things to say about you.” One of the guys counted the last stack of cash and gave a swift nod.
“You have two choices, Mallet,” Abdel said, walking closer. “You continue to join KEVIN, but with the intent to collect intel from them and give to me. Or you leave here and never return. No harm done… So, what’s your choice, Mallet?”
Here he was again, between choices, his freedom threatened, because he had to answer to so many. He could stab Abdel in his neck, but then his bodyguards would shoot him. So, he’d die no one’s slave, no one’s victim, prisoner. He would die for himself. He saw Badi standing with his chin slight dipped. He looked over at Mallet sidelong, then his gaze slid away to Abdel, then the bodyguards.
Being a leader meant continually fighting for position, because everyone wanted to lead. Fear was a disease guys like Abdel, and himself like to use as a weapon to take advantage of everyone else, make them puppets.