Teen Reaper: A Nation Held by an Iron Fist

Teen+Reaper%3A+A+Nation+Held+by+an+Iron+Fist

John Pollock

Caleb Davy

CHAPTER 1

A lot has changed since 2017. Back then, healthcare used to be on a card, affordable even. Now it can only be obtained by the rich and powerful. In my world healthcare is guarded by the Silver Cougar militia. They are the ones who prowl the streets day and night, keeping us in the middle and lower classes. They withhold the resources we need to survive. All this is made possible by the man who rules with an iron fist: my father.

My mother, however, has innocent blood running through her veins. She grew up in the same poverty my father so boldly condones today. When she married my father, she experienced his great wealth and ruthless brutality. As a child I watched my father beat my mother like a dog. There are still blood stains on the walls of our house. In the midst of my father’s wrath, my mother stayed a warrior, teaching me humility and compassion making me a better man than my father ever was. It is a tragedy that I must become a different kind of warrior to end my father’s life.

 

CHAPTER 2

I continue to ponder my thoughts as I walk down the street. I am lost in deep thought as I stare blankly at my report card: a “D” in history, a “C-” in math, and an “F” in biology. My mother would kill me for getting these grades, then again she might kill herself from working too hard.

My deep concentration is broken by a high feminine voice, “Azari!” I know that voice anywhere. I briefly look up and see Wilda and Kimbo sitting on a stoop near a store. Wilda and I have been friends since our childhood days, and people tease us and say we’ll be married someday. I shrug it off and say, “not a chance,” but the sad truth is, no one could have a happy marriage in a place like this. Kimbo, on the other hand, I’ve known since the sixth grade, and we’ve been friends ever since.

The first thing Wilda’s eyes met after my own was my report card. “Bad grades again?” she said with sympathy. I nodded. Wilda knew my situation. Kimbo, however, was more surprised, and less sympathetic.

“You failed biology again? Dude, that’s the third time this year!” Knowing this is all too true, I hang my head in shame.

“I’m sure they’ll understand, with your mom being a single parent and working all the time,” Wilda said defensively. I wanted to nod in agreement, but Kimbo was quick to chime in.

“That’s not an excuse in my book, or in any book, rather.”

“Sure it is,” Wilda says, “He takes time off school to help your mom, right Azari?”

Finally, it was my turn to speak. “Yes, but she doesn’t really want my help,” I say nervously.

Kimbo throws his hands up in exaggeration, “Which gives you the green light to focus on school!”

Wilda is suddenly irritated with Kimbo, “Absolutely not!” She then turns to me, putting her hand on my shoulder. “Azari.” Her voice is calmer now. “Deep down you know your mother is in pain, she is tired. Lighten her burden, ease her suffering. Education is not important right now, your mother is. Family is.”

I took Wilda’s words to heart. My mother was in pain, I see it every day, but my mother’s dream was for me to have an education and I didn’t want to shatter it.

 

CHAPTER 3

I come upon the neighborhood I know all too well, with its streets made of dust, poverty, and sorrow. All around me I see people going about their daily lives, going to their homes, their schools, their stores, and their streets, all as if the poverty they faced was non-existent. The sad part of it is that beneath the business of the streets, there is suffering, and nobody in high authority gives a damn.

I am suddenly stopped by something I’d never thought I’d see: a Cougar militia guard standing at my mother’s store. I do nothing. My mother’s life is in the hands of a soldier and I do nothing, but then again, what can I do? My whole body is in complete paralysis, but my ears are at peak performance. I begin to listen in on the conversation.

“Come on, woman. You know what day it is: It’s Collection Day. Hand over your contribution,” the soldier says in a firm and aggressive tone.

‘Collection Day.’ Out of all the days of the year, Collection Day is the day I despise the most. The government uses this day to rob the good people of Nigeria of their honest source of income and uses this money to further expand their corrupt empire. The militia comes into certain neighborhoods every so often to collect. Failure to pay means imprisonment or even death.

My mother knows all of this, yet she stays calm and at ease, “Y’know jobs like these, they don’t pay very much,” She lets in a weak smile as she says this.

“I’ll take all you have.” The soldier’s voice is thick with annoyance. My mother fumbles around in her pocket searching for some change, “Now where did I keep those spare coins—“   

The soldier cuts her off.“Come on, I don’t have all day! Where is your contribution?” I notice a sidearm strapped to the soldier’s hip. In one instant, in one shot, he could kill her, and that’s when I realize I can stand still no longer: The moment the thought passes, my body comes alive again. I now find myself digging in my own pocket for the one thing that can save my mother’s life: some spare change. I fumble around in my pocket some more until I feel the cold pieces of silver brush up against my fingers. I pull out the mysterious change in my pocket: two dollar coins and a nickel. “This’ll have to do,” I tell myself.

I finally get the courage to speak,  “Um ex-excuse me” I manage to utter, “I couldn’t help but overhear, but you were looking for a contribution?”

The soldier looks at me in confusion. I am now inches away from the Cougar before me, I examine his uniform from head to toe, a bulletproof vest with a sidearm on the right side of his hip, his helmet laced with a red night-vision visor. He is also wearing silver camo pants with black combat boots. The last thing I notice is the rifle strapped to his back.

I hold out the pieces of silver for him to take. “Your contribution sir?” He looks at me with mild disgust, yet he seems satisfied with what I have to give.  “It appears your boy has paid what you owe,” the soldier says to my mother while looking me dead in the eyes. “Next time I won’t be so generous to take from him what you were responsible for giving me.” With that, he takes the money and walks away.\

There is a moment of silence between my mother and I. It’s safe to say we’re trying to process the events that just took place. “That was your lunch money for school,” my mother says, breaking the silence.

“Well, it was either my lunch money or your life. I feel I made the right decision.” I lean in for a kiss, but she pulls away, returning her focus to the dishes she was washing. “Do you need help?” I ask.

“No, thank you, Azari. Go upstairs and finish your studies.” She says. I don’t know why, but what she says angers me. “Ah yes, my studies, yet another way the government uses to drill political propaganda into the minds of children.”  

“Azari—” my mother starts. “I’m serious, mother. In a place like this, in a world like this, school is irrelevant.”

“Azari!” my mother says. Her voice is stern this time. “School is very relevant. School is where you learn to change the world around you, where you learn the mistakes of the past so you can change the future.” She tells me this with sadness in her voice. I’ve heard this lecture a dozen times, which is why I am quick to retort.

“No mother, I’m afraid you are wrong, school does not teach us to change the world around us, it teaches us to be passive with it, how to accept the injustice and poverty we live with.”

“Do you remember you remember your Aunt Anna?” My mother says. Aunt Anna was my mother’s sister, she was killed in a protest for the right to education in her neighborhood. My mother just reaffirms what I already know.  “She fought and died for the right for children to be educated. How dare you dishonor her sacrifice!” Her voice is raised now, anger written all over her face.

This sparks no emotion within me. “And you know what that got her? A bullet in the chest and a place in the dirt!” By this point, I am in no mood to argue any longer. Mother is in tears, unable to speak. This is enough for me to charge upstairs, throw my bag in the corner, and drop on my bed. That night I dream a most pleasant dream: a better Nigeria.

 

CHAPTER 4

I awaken with tears in my eyes. They do not come from the typical morning yawn, but from the dream I had the previous night. It’s rather strange that dreams can move us to feel real emotion, because, in the end, dreams are nothing more than false worlds we create in our own minds. Shaking off that depressing thought, I glance at my alarm clock. It reads 8:42, which means I’m going to be late for school again. 

With more of a sense of urgency, I slip on my school uniform: a pair of tan khaki pants, a white polo shirt, and a gray sports coat. The dress code doesn’t really mention shoes, so I put on a pair of tattered Jordans. With my outfit now complete, I head downstairs. 

I come upon an empty kitchen, which means that mom is either out getting groceries or she has already gone to work. Either way, I’m on my own in terms of transportation. A small container sits on the counter near the sink. As I approach it, I catch a whiff of steam. It carries the scent of sweet cinnamon. As I get closer I see a note attached with bright red letters. It reads: “Heat this and DON’T BE LATE!” Unfortunately, I have already failed at one of these requests and can’t afford to fail another. I heat my food and make my way to school. 

As I walk through the tattered streets of my neighborhood, I notice something off. The atmosphere of the streets seems quieter, and the neighbors usually going about their daily commute are nowhere to be seen. It almost feels as if something passed through here to shock the neighborhood into a disturbing silence. Something or someone… I soon find answers to my question. Just a few feet away from where I stand lies a cougar militant, towering over a beaten and bloodied man. It takes me a moment to notice the two corpses lying on both sides of the man—they must have been the ones who didn’t comply. I hear the man stutter something in Nigerian, and the guard cracks him over the head with a steel baton in response. 

“Did you really think you could get away with such thievery?!” The guard says in a low bellow. The man is clutching something in his hands.  

“P-please sir I had to, it’s m-my son. He’s very ill.“

As the man is struck again, he loses his grip on what he clutched so tightly it rolls from his hands to a position not far from my feet. The item the man was holding so dear was a pill bottle. This man was trying to get medicine for his dying son, and now he is dying for it. 

“Failure to obey the law given to us by supreme leader will result in a public execution. Your public execution.”   

The guard says this as if he read from a script. It would not be a surprise to me if that were the case. As I walk by, I notice the man staring at me. A look of pleading and despair floods his eyes. I find myself staring back at him, frozen, my eyes locked on his. The Cougar seems to notice this. 

“Unless you want to share his fate, I suggest you keep moving, boy.” The guard says to me. This sudden threat snaps me back to reality, and I keep moving, willingly.  

When I get a good distance away from the incident, I hear a shot ring out from behind me. Its echo can be heard all throughout the silent street. I do not freeze, nor do I stop walking. I do not think about what family the man left behind. I do not think about the hopes and dreams he once had or what he aspired to be. I simply keep walking. The only thing I do at that moment is come to the realization that I am no different, no better than the people who condemned that innocent man to die.

 

CHAPTER 5 

By the time I arrive at school, the shock of watching a man die finally hits me. I can still hear the echo of the shot that ended his life; it causes my head to pound. I suddenly find myself unable to move, chills flow all throughout my body like an electric current. Making matters worse, students crowd the halls as if they were a swarm of angry hornets. Nevertheless, I dive into the streaming crowd of bodies. 

As the bodies brush up against me I feel my anxiety wrap it’s cold tentacles around me once again, my hands and feet go cold with sweat, and I’m unable to think clearly. This feeling drags on for another few minutes until I feel a hand touch my shoulder. The warm hand shocks all my nerves, and my body and soul awaken once more. I whip around to see who touched me, my eyes rapidly scanning the random faces in the crowd, until I finally recognize a familiar face: Kimbo. 

 Kimbo wears his iconic mischievous smile, with his teeth barely visible through the slight parting of his lips.  

“Got you again, man!” He says with a chuckle. 

“Yeah you did.” I do not share the glee and cheerfulness that Kimbo does. He seems to notice this, and his smile soon fades.  

“You okay, Azari? You seem, I don’t know… off?” He sounded concerned. My mind flashes back to the man pleading in the street, and the soldier who killed him. Despite my inner trauma, I reassure Kimbo, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m fine, I promise,” I say with a weak smile. “Let’s get to class.” 

His smile returns and he pats my back. “That’s much better! Come on, I don’t think I can stand teenage BO much longer, let’s go.” 

With that said, Kimbo and I are swallowed up by the crowd.  

We enter the classroom and all is silent. Rows upon rows of students stare blankly at the Holo-projection at the front of the room, as if they were mindless drones collecting data. We move along in the back of the class trying not to cause a disruption, our feet shuffling close together, our movement in sync. Unfortunately, my next step is a bit too loud, causing a loud creak on the wooden floorboards. Looking to my left, I see that Kimbo has stopped moving too. 

“Mr. Aggaro, Mr. Peters.” The teacher calls us by name in a tone so cold, so full of conviction, that the blood in my veins feels icy. “How nice of you to join us this morning,” 

Kimbo, desperately wanting to break the tension, blurts out, “Glad to be joining, Ms. Pryce.”  

Not one laugh escapes the class, not one giggle. Their stares pierce into us like glass piercing into the skin.

“Take your seats gentlemen. Please insert your neurochips, scroll to Holo-slide number 32, and please,” she puts a cold stare on Kimbo, “keep silent.”  

I take my seat right behind Kimbo. On my desk is a small black case with a black neurochip laying inside. 

There was a time when learning and information came from books and newspapers, where students in classrooms could ask questions and debate about political issues they were curious about. But when my father took total control of the government, he deemed books a sign of rebellion and disorder. He ordered all books to be burned, and if you held one too tightly, then you’d be burned along with it. 

The neurochip is placed on the back of my neck, and I wince slightly as the chip burrows deep into my skin. There are three beeps, and suddenly all the Holo-slides are visible. All around me, pieces of Nigerian history are shown in the form of holograms and digital images. I scan through the holograms and images until something catches my eye: a picture of my father, with the words “ORDER IS STABILITY. STABILITY IS PEACE. PEACE IS A PRIVILEGE.” floating above. 

That is the civilian code, stability, order, and most ironic of all, peace. Did my father really think he was ensuring peace? By burning, beating, and murdering his people, did he really think he was making our nation stable? An all familiar rage begins to boil up within me, the kind of rage I keep buried beneath my fake smiles and quiet personality. I can feel my fist clench and my jaw tightened; all my insides are hot and my bottom lip trembles a little. I am a volcano ready to erupt.

“Mr. Aggaro, are you still with us?” The A.l. voice of Ms. Pryce interrupts my silent fit of rage, and suddenly my blood feels cool again and my rage nearly evaporates into nothing. 

“Yes Ms. Pryce, I was just reflecting on some content, that’s all.” 

“Good, now let’s begin,” the A.I. chirps with stern optimism. 

The lesson drags on about the history of our broken nation, about the third World War that nearly decimated the Americas and how our supreme leader rose to power. As the A.I. speaks, holograms of historical figures flash before me I soon get lost in my own mind pondering on how far our world has fallen. A tyrant rules the land of Nigeria, and here is our teacher, the one we come to for knowledge and understanding, endorsing the very man who oppresses all. Which also begs the question, how many more children must be brainwashed by teachers until the teachers realize they have been brainwashed themselves? 

“Excuse me, Ms. Pryce,” Kimbo interrupts my deep thinking as well as the flow of the class. “But when did our great supreme leader – who keeps stability peace and order – start murdering innocent women and children? When did our great savior start executing people for wanting resources crucial to their survival? Tell me, Ms. Pryce, what year did this happen?”  

Although I don’t say it aloud, I agree with Kimbo. I admit I admire the way he carries himself, despite seeming light-hearted and humorous most times, he is a rebel at heart. Kimbo is willing to fight for what he believes in by any means necessary. However, I fear that his deep passion to fight the system and his resistance to conformity may cost him his life.