New Prose: “Bystander,” by Nailah King


The little boy screamed when he heard the sound of smashing glass. He crept carefully, his tiny hands grazing the hallway walls. He was petrified, but more scared that he would make a ruckus and make his mother angry.

He knocked on the door.


“Come in,” said the raspy voice behind the door.

The door creaked as he pushed it open. There, sitting by the window, was his mother. The white illuminating her dark brown body, her eyes seemed to glow in the dark.

“I heard a scary sound, Mama.”

She turned to him, all of her warmth filling him like a cup that runneth over. She gestured for him to sit near her. He climbed into her lap. She kissed his head and wrapped her frail arms around him.

“Did you hear it too?”

Her arms relaxed, she patted him gently on the knee.

“Yes, baby”

“What happened, Mama?”

He hopped off her lap, sitting closer to the window, peering out of it intensely, his eyes stirring.

“Where are they taking Daddy?” he shrieked.

She looked at him, sad for her child. Sad that he didn’t yet understand.

They looked down together at a man who had skin like their own. He stood planted, firm, bruises forming. The flashing light of the cop car cast an eerie blanket on the street, covered in red.

The boy whirled around, angry. He didn’t understand.

His mother turned away from the window.

“Mama! What are we going to do?”

She pointed at the cop car.

“Open your eyes, Charlie, and look,” she hissed.

The boy planted his palms against the window, his nose touching the glass, and he stared. The cop car windshield was broken. A bat, discarded, lay on the asphalt.

“It’s not Daddy’s fault,” he murmured, tears stinging his eyes.

His mother merely nodded.

“He did say, if they came back…something would happen,” she said in a sibilant, almost to herself.

He looked out again. There was a woman in a hat staring back at them. He burst out of the room.

“Charlie! Where are you going?” she asked.

But, he was gone.

He struggled to push the heavy building door. Then, he saw her.

He stood there, staring as her blonde hair rustled in the icy wind. Goose bumps dotted his arms. He forgot to bring a jacket.

The cop car was long gone. He didn’t know if he’d ever see his father again.

The woman kneeled, still facing him.

“Did you know the man they took away?”

“You saw it! Why didn’t you help?”

He pushed her and watched her fall to the ground, as if in slow motion. He watched her tumble, instantly regretting what he’d done. Still, he stood with his tiny frame, chest rising and falling with anger. He said nothing, as she had done.

He walked back to the building and reached for the correct buzzer.

Above, a woman in all white looked out the window.

these words by Nailah King were inspired by the work of Mairi Timoney

Published by

Word and Colour

words inspired by colour

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