Cult Illustration #48, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"

     This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


What's in a Name?


“Hi Ms. Witch!” a blonde called to Ms. X in her sweet white-girl voice. She called it to the back of the Ms. X so when the sub whirled around, the girl quickly turned and melded into a snarl of students trailing away in the long echoing hall. But instantly a picture of the girl appeared in the sub's mind: a petite female with her white-blonde hair pulled into a tight pony tail, a student she had in class about a week ago. Her first thought was: witch? Did she call me a witch? Then it settled in: yes she did. Her second thought was to dismiss it, feeling good that such a taunt bounced off her armor like a harmless little ping pong ball. White girl’s words were nothing but white brittle plastic, hollow and ghost like spat from a zombie’s mouth. Her third thought was a jolt of alarm. Had that white girl googled her name and seen the Foundation’s website and that ghastly photo of her in a fuchsia tie-dyed shirt? Grasping her sharp and bloodied bamboo knife, standing, grinning, next to a miniature conical hut made of broom cane and grass, looking like some ass-hole hippie with a new raison d’être? She shuddered as she walked down the hall, wanting to be very far from this place, wanting nothing to do with, (in her own words), this psycho-bastard dominated edifice.


She remembered a man, brown skinned and muscled, a large man with dark fierce eyes. She couldn't remember his name, even though he eventually became a pupil very much like her, full of effusive praise for the Foundation and the monarch pair, a glory to behold them. He would put his words into sentences that explored their immaculate character! The monarch pair with impeccable character!


She saw that his arms were tattooed, the inky blue portrait of a young man. Was his hair unkempt like Che Guevara? Or was it slick like Desi Arnaz? And what was his name. The brown skinned man had a rap, a rap about who he was, and Ms. X understood that the tattoo represented a warrior and the brown skinned man was his follower.


When she looked back at it she knew he was just the type to be drawn in by the monarch pair, just the type to take up arms for them. He was used to falling in line, bearing on his body the mark of ownership. How long would the spell last, before the sacrifice of animals was seen as the real power, the awful way in which one could readjust reality? It was not the Guru and his wife who possessed the power, it was killing for the sake of killing that created a separation in the medium of our existence. One could tease out some little privelege for oneself while in the orbit of such witchcraft. And yet, the taste for blood is never quenched, so it was a deep spiral, an undisciplined decent into a life of taking life. It felt good while it happened, but once free of the mindset, one began to see it for what it really was. Murder. Mind control. Possession of a flashlight in a black reality.


This "power" was merely a blindness and latching-on to an artificial source of light. It was paying a tribute to the gods in the form of a gift, a life. This implies that the giver owes a debt to that god. A "thank you" prayer is not enough. This is the same as owing a banker a debt for a loan, plus interest. And here, Ms. X had to halt her brain's topsy-turvey logic machine because she herself was not sure where to place the Guru and his wife. Were they the bankers? Or was the banker those entities, the ones she called out to, the gods and goddesses that slurped up the blood and smiled on the killers? Maybe it was both.


Reading and Writing
One more period left, and possibly the worst, thought Ms. X. She recognized a middle-aged woman entering the room, weaving between the large, boisterous kids. She was a blond, Russian immigrant, an elegant woman with a pretty face. Ms. X thought she was the embodiment of class and beauty. This woman escorted an autistic boy to all of his classes, a kind of servant to him, a guide who would make sure he remained unharmed among the throng of normal humans. Well, thought Ms. X, I would love to let these kids run wild and just ignore them but it would not look good in the eyes of my peer, so she planned to repeat the reading-out-loud assignment after roll call.


Usually, Ms. X read over the names in her free moments between periods so that she would not pronounce them badly. A botched name was sure to draw a put down and these kids were in the mood for it, she could tell. But she did not have time to do this and needed to reign in the class right away before it got too ugly. Half the class was African American and that meant there would be a number of names that Ms. X liked to imagine were invented to confound the white man, yet deep down she thought it might have something to do with taking ownership, feeling pride in their creativity and otherness. Ms. X, coming from Cincinnati, had some experience with Name Ebonics, but with each successive generation the task became increasingly difficult as the names seemed to get more imaginative, even in their spellings. She was about to learn that these names could also confound the blacks.


When she pronouced Dynicka, Da-neek-a, they laughed derisively.
“I’m very sorry. How do you pronounce your name?”
When she pronounced T’aynisha, Tah-nee-sha, they all laughed again derisively
“I’m very sorry. How do you pronounce your name?”


And so it went as Ms. X got the students to say and spell their names as she signaled them. Shaafkhaatim. Jzareyonte’. Shaquavious. Xyarianna. Arithciaca. Ms. X liked to repeat after them, softly and quietly, thinking that she would remember how to pronounce these names. It was the least she could do in this strange purposeless job she held.


She called out Mr. Sword, recognizing the quiet white thug, who had threatened to kill her last year, for making a statement about the unusual nature of his last name, questioning what his ancestors might have done to procur it (this was meant to be a good-natured comment in the spirit of building commradery). He had gone on to say that his mother would come up to school and kill her too. Ms. X thought it a silly thing for a large, muscular young man to say, but then, perhaps his mother was larger and more muscular, and a bit more touchy about the family name. He hated her to the core, for this single, unforgivable act. She, in turn, could not remember his first name, but would always remember his last name.


Finally she completed the roll-call and a dark-skinned boy called out, ya missed one!
Ms. X looked at a name at the bottom of the print-out, hand written, spelled G’uaniqua. Instead of trying to pronounce this one she said, “Who did I miss?”


“G’uaniqua,” said a large black girl and then the other black kids rang out. “What? Quaneeka? Gwanisha? Jarneekwea, Kanneekwia? Hard “g”, soft “g’, Spanish “g’, Hah-neeq-wa?” But Ms. X heard her and pronounced it correctly amid the tumult. G’uaniqua did not hear her back. The sub had to quiet them all and calm the white boys on the other side of the room with a wave of the pink referral slip since they had started their group-bullying-thing, bullying Ms. X even as she was distracted. Finally it became a little quiet, easier this time, now that she was determined to be a bitch. She got the white kids under control fairly quickly, sending the ring leader, whose name she committed to memory, to take the attendance down to the office, (it had to be done to ensure the skippers were caught at the earliest convenience). She would get rid of him for a while, let him walk off his energy and if he was gone wandering around for half an hour that would be okay too and completely off Ms. X’s hands because she merely asked him to deliver the attendance.


To show that Ms. X was educated in the way of black names she called on the girls, Dynicka and T’aynisha, whom she had mispronounced minutes before, proving to them that she could say their names correctly, and the girls dutifully read. Around the room, those who wanted to read aloud, read. Mr. Sword ignored the plan and went ahead on his own, head down, swiftly turning the pages. But when the sub called on him he knew exactly where to read and in a voice that was authoritative and crisp he read, quite well, smoothing over the difficult words, certain of his supremecy. Ms. X wanted to say that Mr. Sword had a good reading voice, a confident voice that might be useful if he were to become a business man, a professor, or even an anchorman, but he was bound for the military. What a shame to waste such a voice, to become the enemy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, or god knows what other country. She imagined him confronting some poor old lady and conjuring a vision of Ms. X before blowing her to bits. Maybe he would find a Doppelgänger for all of the people who treated him so badly in his young life, and get revenge by blowing them to bits. Once back home, he might look perfectly handsome and strong, but with Death's Failures haunting his every breath, he will be an empty husk of a man, so either way, he will die for his country.


Ms. X caught the eye of the refined Russian woman and asked if Richard would like to read. Oh yes she said and the boy read with a piping childlike voice, pronouncing every word correctly, in a halting manner. When he finished one of the black kids said something that none of the whites could decipher and all of the blacks laughed uproariously. Silence then. As if they knew something shameful just happened.


“Richard read well” said Ms. X filling the quiet, “learn from him.”
Now the sub, thinking that she had mastered G’uaniqua’s name, called on her.
“No!” she said, “I’m not going to read until you pronounce my name correctly.” Ms. X tried again, saying it a little differently.
Ms. X nervously tried again, but her voice was lost in the tangle of black students trying too, “What? Quaneeka? Gwanisha? Kanneekwia?”
“You had enough chances, you can’t do it,” G’uaniqua said bitterly to Ms. X.
Realizing the girl was hurt she replied softly, “That’s not nice, okay? Forget it.”
Later, when Ms. X gave her a paper she was missing, G’uaniqua would say, "Thank you, Sweetheart."


The attendance deliverer was back, half an hour later, and ready to start harassing her but she barely noticed him with all the Ebonics excitement and her new interjection into the lesson plan: how ipod ear phones, when used incorrectly, can destroy your hearing, slowly, painlessly, not unlike the blasting speakers at rock concerts from her own generation. They listened. The white bully seemed to be the lesser attraction for everyone and it dampened his spirit. She killed time pretty nicely this last period and left them with what G’auniqua called out, “Only 15 minutes to do all this paper work!” Yes, said Ms. X and it will be graded. Eventually, the bell rang and they all filed out except the Blonde Russian woman, Richard, and the white ring leader whom the sub now noticed, was wearing a bright red shirt as he approached her with outstretched arms. Incredulous, “Now, you want a hug?” Many cautionary thoughts went through Ms. X’s mind as he approached her, red chest blazing, arms beckoning. She decided in a fraction of a second to go ahead and hug him back. He felt real. He meant it as he mumbled something that Ms. X could not quite grasp but she replied, “I’m used to it.”


“You are a nice lady said the Blonde Russian.”
“Nice lady,” said Richard.
“I would have kicked her ass,” said the Blond Russian.
“Excuse me?”
“They are so disgusting. And that girl --- ‘you had enough chances’---- I would have kicked her ass. And they are so big! Fat. All of them, what do they eat? They don’t deserve to be here.”
“I look at all of these kids as human beings. You know, she called me Sweetheart after that. It was her way of apologizing, she didn’t mean to be so rude.”
“Well, you are a nice lady. Good bye.”
“Nice Lady,” said Richard, “Good bye.”
Ms. X knew that she was not a Nice Lady. Ripping heads off chickens that would be thrown into a pit and buried, just so she could alter some little event in her life, supposedly for the better . . . she could maintain the charade, she supposed.


It was another foul day with a glimmer of redemption. Now Ms. X could go home, home to a stiff drink. It was her thinking that a drink should be an after thought, not a goal. It should go something like this: I'm all done with my work, hmmmm, I've worked very hard at this psycho-bastard dominated edifice, and now I am bathed and ready for bed, so maybe I'll have a glass of wine. Let me see, do I have any wine? No, oh well, I'll just go to bed, but wait, there's that little old bottle of whiskey high up there on that shelf . . . the Sub Coordinator interrupted her reveries, explaining that she was the only one with a free period, and she was needed.


Ms. X was summoned to sit in Chemistry class. Thankfully, it was the kind of class where she could ignore the fact that she was there. She began to read a novel, but pricked up her ears as the stocky, jovial looking boy with the confident voice began his monologue.


She could tell that he was from a wealthy family by the way he said “either”, pronouncing it with a long “i”. And he was a natural born leader, she could tell by the way the other students listened to him when he talked, recognizing as Ms. X did, a familiar bravado but appreciating his honesty and humor and tact for telling a good story.


“We were at Fairchild Beach, sitting in the car, in front of the liquor store just waiting, we hadn’t even done anything bad yet. This cop pulls up and he says someplace just got robbed and he needs to check everyone’s ID. So we give him our ID’s and he goes back to his car and after a while he comes back and he shines this bright light on us and he says, ‘So one of you has a warrant out for arrest.’ We were like what? And then he shines the light on me and he says, ‘Is it you? Are you James Gilbert Maxwell the third?’ And I’m like, oh shit! Then he says, ‘Just kidding!’ I mean, how messed up is that?”


“Fairchild cops are the worst!” called out another boy.
“Yea, they beat the hell out of you and then drop you off some place,” said a brown skinned boy.


Ms. X had stopped reading her novel. She sat very still, only letting her eyes flick from one speaker to the other, barely breathing, imperceptible, the way she might hold herself while watching a wild animal in the woods. She was good at that, standing like a tree and letting it get closer and closer so she could observe it until it started sniffing and looking around nervously and then she would say something soft and sweet so that it would recognize her and size her up for a moment before scampering off. But she did not say anything in this instance, she just smiled and her eyes lit up. She didn’t care if they saw her or not and invariably they never did. She was long gone. They were free. The kids continued now, someone calling out James’s middle name, “Gilbert? Gilbert? Is that your middle name, that’s funny. James Gilbert Maxwell the third!”


In response, James proposed that everyone share their middle name. He mentioned that these names are usually a bit strange. He was standing now, by the windows and calling on students.
“Veronica, what’s your middle name?”
“That’s bland”
“John, what’s yours?”
“That’s common, Michael?
“I don’t have one.”
“Really? Okay, Dominick?”
“What’s your middle name?”
“Dominick Fredrick, that’s kind of strange”
“Dominick Fredrick Willoughby the third!”
“Oh, you’re a third too, just like me. Ha-ha!”
“I don’t have one . . .”
“Oh you too, same as Erickson, that’s weird, no middle name.”
“Actually, my middle name is Maria, not Marie,” said Veronica
“Marie, Maria, that is such a common name. Hey, say it with an accent!”
Veronica ignored him, she was too busy flirting with the guy sitting next to her.
“Veronica Maria Velasquez! Say your name with an accent, come on let’s hear it!


Ms. X was still watching, as the class seemed to reconfigure, chairs shuffling, voices rising, bored with the game. The room was alive now with talking, the game extinguished, and no one else seemed to hear Veronica as she defiantly emphasized her point to the boy next to her, “It’s the correct way of saying it, its not an accent!”


Once the chatter lulled he drew attention to himself again calling out,
“Hey Nicole, remember that kid, Lawrence, that got alcohol poisoning? Well, we were at his mother’s house – her other one – and I don’t know who called 911 but the ambulance comes and they are pumping out his stomach and this cop comes in and lines us up and says ‘Okay, where’s the drugs?’. We’re like, ‘there’s no drugs’. Then he starts rummaging through everything while we’re standing there watching him and he starts throwing stuff around and pushing furniture over and then he calls up into the attic ‘Police. I know you’re up there so come down!’ Then he throws a canister of tear gas up into the attic and all this smoke comes pouring out of the opening. We’re like, dude, there’s no one up there!



© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved