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  • Writer's pictureAmr Abbas

Worst Kept Secret

To Billy - May your soul find peace. May we meet again. Rest now, old friend.

“Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, you know?” Billy spoke, making little sense of the whole situation. I looked at him, puzzled and confused, my eyes narrowed, and I felt the sweat dripping down my brow. His blue eyes glinted under the blazing sun when he turned his head to look at me, his thick lips twisted and he grunted, “Gimme a hand, willya?”

I was wildly fascinated with both his accent and demeanor. He had tattoos covering his body and the back of his head. They were not particularly well-done, and even the black ink had faded into a greenish, rustic tint. I walked to him lazily and slapped his shoulder. “I thought you didn’t ever need help.”

It was true. Through the few months I’ve known Billy, he’s never asked me for help. Mind you, I never asked him for help either. We worked together, and even when we had to work on the same task, we never really asked one another for help. Whenever we carried something heavier than usual, we just did it without asking the other. We never got confused when we lifted or whether we should lift on three or after three. In fact, we never counted. There was always a mutual understanding between us that didn’t require words. When the work was over and we hung out after, we had fun the way that we did. For him to ask for help that moment was perhaps the strangest thing that I got from him during the duration of our friendship.

“You good?” I asked carefully as I squatted across from him. I lifted with him and noticed immediately the reddening of his face. He squinted his eyes and while his wince was so inaudible, I detected it and pulled the cargo away from him onto my shoulder.

“Are you good?” I asked again, louder this time, but he stood there, holding his side and he nodded his head. He was not in a state to keep on going at all.

He nodded again, I could hear the struggle when he took a deep breath and responded at last, “I’m good.”

I unloaded the cargo into the truck and walked back to him. “So, what’s going on?”

“Stones,” he replied, grunting a little.

‘Stones?’ I didn’t catch it right away, so I think I looked dumbfounded for a moment.

“Kidney stones,” he exclaimed, and then he took a short stroll and sat down in the shade of the truck.

It was a very sunny day; the heat was overwhelming even for me, who should technically be more used to it given my African roots. I watched the man. There were two more pieces to go. He knew well enough that I was going to finish the job whether he asked or not. So, it took maybe ten more minutes before I went to sit next to him. I pulled out a cigarette from the pack that bent in my pocket and offered him one. He laughed, I laughed, and I smoked the cigarette. It was the kind of humor that we two shared. He didn’t smoke cigarettes, but I always offered him a cigarette by the end of each working day.

It was a 2-hour drive back to the drop-off location. “Let’s go,” he said in the same accent that always puzzled me. Had he not been so white, I would have understood where he’d gotten it from, but the man was white, he was somewhere between 35 and 38, and he was not a dumb guy.

“You’re not driving,” I spoke.

“You’re not driving either!” He replied sharply.

“You’ll get us killed,” I said then laughed. At that moment, we both heard the car that was approaching. I stood up and offered my hand to Billy; he grasped it and stood up, wincing, and grunting when he got on his feet.

We looked at the trail of dust that the approaching vehicle was causing. I thought to myself, ‘shit’. I’m sure Billy thought the same. It was the beige of a sheriff’s car. And it drove straight to us.

We didn’t have the time to think about it, but Billy leaned against the door of the truck and held his side, eyes closed and eyebrows meeting. He was in a lot of pain.

The car stopped, the deputy stepped out of the car, smiling smugly as he put the cowboy hat on. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the sunglasses, but from the strange moustache, I recognized that he was quite young. Those were always the ones that wanted to prove themselves, and a person of color like myself was always going to attract their sight. Let alone Billy, who was covered in tattoos like a con.

“Howdy, gents!” The deputy said, the southern accent bristling along with the splattering of the saliva from his mouth. “What brings you here?”

“We’re just transporting dead bodies, you know.” I said, laughed, and so did Billy. Our humor was insufferable, well, at least mine, but he was to blame for encouraging it. The deputy didn’t laugh. That was a bad sign. “No, my friend, here, he’s got stones, and we just stopped for a moment so I’d drive instead. You know.”

“Stones?” The deputy asked.

“Kidney stones,” Billy grunted.

“Oh man! Well, you should drink a lot of fluids!” The young deputy replied immediately. “My old man had those and he always said that it was the worst pain a man can go through.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Well, we best get on our way. Do you know where the closest hospital is? I mean, I’ll find it on the way.”

“Yeah, there’s one about 6 miles south if you’re going that way.”

“Yeah!” I said, “Well, thanks a lot!”

“You know that this is a sundown town, right?”

“Then we best be on our way, my friend here is covered in color.” I said smugly and bowed as I headed to the driver seat. Billy handed me the keys and he got in the passenger seat. The deputy bowed, touching the rim of his cowboy hat with the arrogance of a child then he waited by the car as I drove off.

Billy looked back, still wincing, “Dead bodies? Really?” He said and sighed, looking back into the trunk. “Oh, damn it, you should smoke. This one is gonna smell. It’s all bloody.” I glanced back at the half-covered corpse. It was still bleeding when we packed it.

Written by Amr Abbas.

Cover photo by Accolade Creative.


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