FEAR NO PRIMATE
Atlantic Ave. subway station, Brooklyn, New York.
The humidity down on the train platform makes the act of breathing almost impossible. An organic dampness penetrates every ounce of space down in that cavernous atmosphere. Concrete and steel love humidity. It gives them an appearance of vitality and importance. New Yorkers don’t find themselves thinking about the practicality of construction. They don’t bother with the nostaglic notion that hard men built this station with blood and sweat. The only thing that matters is how long they’ll have to deal with the heat. All they care about is when that next train arrives.
Isaiah runs down the stairs to the platform without any thoughts of steel, construction, humidity, or what kind of men have sacrificed their lives to build a subway station so they could provide bread for whoever awaited their arrival back home. Fear runs through his mind. His DNA is rabid with fear. It has been passed down by the generations of people who came before him. The biology of his forebears cursed him with a genetic makeup filled with anxiousness and bouts of panic. Isaiah walks down the humid platform preparing himself to face anything that might heighten his fear.
He zips past the sweaty New Yorkers waiting for their trains. He studies all their faces. Some look angry; some look impatient; but none of them possess the look of danger. The sweat on his body makes his brown skin glisten. This is downtown Brooklyn. He knows he won’t have to wait long before he encounters some form of humanity ready to challenge his very existence.
At the very rear of the platform he finds what he seeks. A group of teenage boys take over the entirety of the area. They are a cohort of break-dancers who are strong, filled with virility, and ready to assail anyone who might challenge their sense of alpha domination. The two women who are brave enough to wait in this area stare at the boys with a fierce look of apprehension. Isaiah also feels consternation when he sees them. For a brief moment he hesitates. For a split second he contemplates moving to another side of the platform. Somewhere safer. This thought doesn't last long.
His mind wanders back to his readings of Marcus Aurelius. The old Roman emperor believed that all humans suffered in some shape or form. No single human experience is unique to the universe. Humans, he asserted, must live as a social collective, each person helping the other in their minute existence within the universe. Stoicism, as this philosophy is called, calls for people to accept and be content with whatever lot they are given in life. We mustn't shy away from humanity. We mustn't judge others who bully, attack and harass people — no, on contrary, we must accept them and invite them into our lives, understanding that we all come from the same womb, and inhabit the same universe.
Isaiah thinks about Marcus Aurelius’ brand of Stoicsm as he walks over to the back of the platform and places his back on one of the large columns, making sure he is conspicuously seen by the group of boys. His cortisol hormones begin to hyperactively work in his brain. He feels his blood pressure begin to rise while simultaneously realizing his heart is palpitating at a rapid pace. This is ancient DNA speaking to him. This is the fear passed down to him by his old ancestors who also felt their cortisol shooting through their body. What separates Isaiah from them is that he understands the makeup of his biology. Physiologically he knows what is happening to his body. The science is precise. The conundrum is this; no matter how adept he becomes in his comprehension of biochemistry, dealing with his fear goes beyond his scientific knowledge. This is where the philosophy comes in.
Only he finds that Stoicism stifles the resolve he needs to face the onslaught of his inner fear.
The boys are becoming boisterous. They want everyone to know they’re the ones in control of this end of the platform. This type of behavior is also familar to Isaiah. The two women walk to the another side of the platform as they begin to see how iratic the group of boys is becoming. This is the behavior of the mob. People will always act more audacious when they are part of a group. Isaiah remembers back to a book he read about Wyatt Earp. Cowboys, he remarked, were cowards, and they always searched for a way to throw people off guard before they attacked. This is what the group of boy were doing now.
They threw up gang signs, yelled profanities, and a few of them began boxing each other. They still didn't notice Isaiah, until one of them who was sitting on his back pack, looked up and spotted him. Isaiah gazed at him. The young boy gazed back with wild, juvenile eyes, but looked away when one of the boys who was boxing ran into him. The kid sitting on his bag whispered something to his friend, and in unison, the entire group stared at Isaiah.
This startled Isaiah. The cortisol worked harder. Now the stress began to shut down his intestinal mechanisms. This is the biological stress response that traces its roots back to the days of the early hominids. Back to the time where human-like primates roamed the Savannah's of Africa, and only felt the type of stress Isaiah now experienced when an apex predator was trying to eat them.
One of kids makes his way towards Isaiah. He is shirtless, and Isaiah examines his anatomy closely. The boy’s body is firm and lean from years of breakdancing. He flexes his wiry muscles as he passes in front of Isaiah, staring into his eyes with a menacing malice. Isaiah understands these boys are sharp, intelligent, and will use any sign of weakness to their advantage. Isaiah becomes enraged. His fear is now transforming into something more veral, more savage. His blood pressure is at its peak. The stress hormones are moving in his brain at a rapid speed.
The boy makes his way back to the group, and now begins to alert everyone about Isaiah’s presence. The one sitting on his bag looks up again at Isaiah, and says:
“I see you! I see you detective Workman.”
After hearing this, Isaiah can only deduce that the kid thinks he’s a cop. He plans to use this to his advantage. He makes he way over to the boy sitting on his bag. He walks over with his ancestral DNA riddled with fear, his heart pumping through his chest, with no clear, coherent thoughts present in his head. Right now the only thing that matters is the advance.
March forward Isaiah. Don’t give them the advantage. Break your fear. More than likely they will not know how to react to your audacity. He is now standing over the young kid.
“Am I gonna have to make an arrest today,” he asks, pretending to sound authoritative like a cop.
“Ohhhhh, I knew it, bro! I knew this guy was a cop,” the kid says to the group.
The one who had walked past Isaiah, shoots over to him and takes out his phone. He stands next to Isaiah’s left shoulder while raising the phone above both of them.
Isaiah didn’t think about the phones. He forgot that the world can now be disseminated within seconds throughout social media. This is the new identity of the 21st century. How many fights and skirmishes are posted on Facebook live? How many confrontations are filmed on the subway and become nationwide political debates blasted on Fox Five News at Ten o’clock?
Isaiah grabs the phone and throws it as hard he can against against the wall adjacent to the train tracks. The phone explodes brillantly into pieces, each part of plastic and metal falling into the blackness of the tracks, forming a collage of twisted deformity.
This sends the boys into a violent frenzy.
“Crack’em in the head!”
“Grab ‘em! Grab ‘em!”
“Throw him on the tracks, bro! Make him get your phone!”
“Yolk ‘em! Keep hittin’ him! Don’t let get away, bro!”
All these remarks come crashing out at Isaiah. They throw all types of punches and kicks at him. Some of them connect, but most miss. Isaiah weaves effortlessly away from the physical onslaught coming from every direction. The boys come at him like a monsoon of bone and wiry flesh, all of them unleashing a youthful wrath that has been suppressed for quite some time. Isaiah is the excuse they look for to release the aggression that festers inside them.
Isaiah feels the knuckles hit his face. The bones of the young hands smash into his zygomatic. He should feel pain. He doesn’t. Adrenaline, and the intrinsic, paleolithic notion of survival take over and no pain registers in his brain. He now realizes there are six boys in the group. He can’t hold on much longer.
He plunges his body into the pelvis of one the kids and lifts him the air, carefully slamming him down on the cement platform like a marble statue whose sole purpose is to fall and crack into sizable sediment triangles.
A fist connects with his bottom lip. The flesh is punctured by the ivory touch of his central incisors. A small amount of blood travels between the gaps of his teeth, traveling to the base of his tongue like a minature crimson tributary. The taste of blood awakens his savage primate being, and he begins to punch wherever he sees a mass of flesh, striking ribs, skulls, teeth, and even the nose of the biggest one of the group. The punch sends the boy down on his back. Isaiah can see the blood running down the kid’s nose.
It is now a scene of orchestrated violence. A cacophony of bones and flesh striking each other, music written with sweat and blood and manic aggression.
“All right, bro! That’s it bro!” One of the boys yells. The mêlée stops. Everyone is panting and sweating and looking at each other with wide eyes filled with fear and anguish. Isaiah stands in the center of the vanquished mob of boys and smiles. He can hear the train approaching, the sound echoes through the tunnels like the shrieking of some devilish ghoul made of steel who is being tormented to death.
It stops to a halt. As the doors open, Isaiah looks and the group and says:
‘Thanks, boys. I really needed that.”
He steps into the train just as the doors begin to close. One of the boys punches the door and yells profanities at Isaiah, but he can’t hear anything. The only thing he hears is his DNA. The alleles of his ancestors are smiling inside him. They applaud him for having the audacity to challenge their influence over his biochemistry.
He sits down on the shiny, aqua blue bench chair that crosses the horizon of the train.
The blood is still in his mouth and he spits it down on the dark floor.
He looks up to see a young Latino male sitting directly in front of him. This is not a boy. This is a man whose body is riddled with tattoos, making him look like a moving, hieroglyphic organism. Isaiah makes out a tattoo of the infamous MS 13 gang written on the base of his neck. The young man stares coldly at Isaiah.
Isaiah smiles and prepares himself for his next battle. The train disappears into the sweltering tunnel.