Anthony Theodor Zane. He was called Ätz because in his environment no one had cared enough to pronounce his full name at all. His mother called him Anthony. His brother Tony. He let me meet both of them. After months I got to know the people from Ätz’s stories and I admit it, it made me a little proud of myself.
His mother was an incredibly caring woman. Of course, I didn’t know her very long or especially intensively, but already at our first meeting, she made sure that I didn’t miss anything. She offered me a cup of coffee when I told her I didn’t want anything. She even made me a sandwich because I looked too skinny and ignored my assertions that it wasn’t necessary to put herself out for me.
Not humble, he talked of her, after every time she called in with Ätz. They talked three times a week for more than half an hour over the phone and one day a week, mainly Sunday, he took the remaining hours out of his spare time to spent them with her. He always looked forward to it. At least I never heard him complain. Sure, sometimes it didn’t suit him perfectly, but still, he never canceled even one meeting. She was the fixed point of his life. The pole on which he spun around. He was by no means a little mama’s boy, even if the word came over my lips with pleasure every time I talked about the relationship between the two of them, given he was present, and I wanted to mock him.
Ätz’s brother though was a different beast to depict. He was younger than Ätz, two years and some months, and unlike Ätz he had never met his father. His father, the coward. It always drove Ätz mad when his brother dared to break the taboo and he recognized a whiff of forgiveness in him for leaving the woman, sitting at home with a two-year-old and a baby belly. When his brother then dared to rationalize their dad’s behavior before Ätz and justify his reasons, decorative furniture tended to fly through the room. Ätz always missed on purpose, but he hit him more than once. Both of them really didn’t seem to get along. Their father wasn’t the only subject they collided about, it was just the most potent one. They’re brothers. Brothers argue. Brothers fight. Brothers make each other’s lives hell. That is where love was hidden; In the fact that they could do all these things without one of them starting to think that the other detested him truly.
So, I should see it as proof of love, Ätz explained to me, when they argued about whether left or right, hamburger or pizza, chicken or egg. Frankly, the arguments only showed me how childish I thought when I wished for a brother back when I was younger and alone. They really didn’t have a kind word left for each other. His brother came into the dining room as Ätz and I joked there.
“I’m sure you’re only friends with me because you need a white guy so the cops don’t try to stop you all the time”
“Yes, of course, that’s the only reason” Ätz replied and we both laughed. His brother just stood in the door of the dining room and shook his head.
“This is a serious subject” he interjected, “the police stop blacks a lot more often than white men”
“Have you forgotten where you come from?”
“Statistics show that…”
“Then why don’t you arm yourself with your statistics and go out at 2:20 in the morning?”
“The white man is in power. Systematic oppression leads to the maintenance of the fragile power structure, that benefited on the behalf of our people for years. Racism is found in even the smallest things within society and people of our race like you, Tony, victims of internalized racism, are the reason they don’t get called out”
“Do you really think the white man drives around the neighborhood, looking for the black one the corner, hunting us down to beat us with sticks?” Ätz asked him, making sure he let him feel what he was doing for him. He couldn’t tell him he earned his university money by selling weed, “College boy, you can wrap it up in big words, but when you talk shit, you talk shit. You want to ostracize racists like child rapists? You really going to change minds by that, really. Who do you really fight?”
His brother started to talk, but Mrs. Zane urgently demanded: “Boys, stop arguing – immediately” and instead of continuing to sit and argue they came to her aid, the older one took the pot from her hands, the younger one sprinted into the kitchen and fetched cutlery, glasses, and dishes. The mother hurried back to the kitchen and brought with her a jug of lemonade, which the older one ripped out of her hand.
I just sat there and smiled at the rehearsed ritual. It reminded me of home. Of my father. Even from an asshole like him, I knew what a ritual looked like. His face came to my head. I compared him to the Zanes. Ätz needed his family. My father was once my family. To distract me from the fact that water began to break into my eyes, I remembered that I was the descendant of a dynasty of survivors. That was a peaceful thought. Even if my father is, in fact, the biggest asshole in our known universe, I would survive even without a family, could let the bloodline end if I wanted to…as soon as I would outlive him. Suicide is something, everyone has in his back pocket, I held my decision shouldered, ready to pull the trigger when I saw no more way.
Mrs. Zane placed a plate of homemade potato soup in front of me and I ate and I enjoyed listening to the family tell each other about their week. The main course was a beef chop with potato slices and baby peas, carrots, corn. Delicious. We ate up, dessert with coffee was also served and the mother liked to fish out the rum and drink with her grown-up sons and now me. As a family, they had fun and laughed and were honest with each other, not perfect as Ätz showed me, but open about their feelings, though not sincere with their deeds.
When the sun went down, we went home. While putting on our shoes, little mama’s boy put an envelope on top of the living room drawer. Every week, filled with money, sometimes thicker, sometimes thinner.
Ätz dragged the laundry bag to the cab. If he didn’t have to carry one, we’d usually sit in a bar and talk ill about his brother, but with the laundry bag, we drove straight to him. He organized the clothes in his wardrobe, while I rolled a joint and from the other room he explained his plan for the week and when I could expect him to be home and when he was not. We smoked one, then another one and then I fell asleep. In the morning we ate two pieces of homemade cake. After we finished we met up with Chang.
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