Image by Brooke Bourgeois

Fiction Very Polite

Percival Everett

I drove onto the road from the Goodwill parking lot without a mishap. I wondered whether that was the same as driving out with a hap. I could see that my route was exceedingly simple, one road, Interstate 95 all the way to Washington. I was not driving south because I had been instructed to drive south, though I had been, but because I, contrary to my nature, was concerned with the well-being of another. My lack of interest in the immediate and concrete future of any other human being was well known, and more evident to me even than others, so I was impressed by my action. Impressed in the way that I merely acknowledged a difference from my usual ways and conduct, though I didn’t find my action, or pre-action, remarkable in any way. Though the drive contained many hair-raising moments, any one of which was certainly more exciting during than in the retelling, I will not suffer them now. I managed to negotiate my vehicle through hardly moving traffic from one side of New York City to the other, but in New Jersey I was pulled over by a highway patrolman. The blue-shirted, blue-capped officer approached cautiously, eyeing me through the side mirror, his hand resting on his pistol.

“Good evening, sir,” he said. “Would you be kind enough to let me see your license and registration?”

He was very polite.

“I don’t have either,” I said. 

“Say what?”

“I bought this car a couple of days ago. I do have the title.” 

“Driver’s license?”

“No.”

“Lost?”

“Never had one. Here’s my passport. And my faculty I.D.”

“You don’t have a driver’s license.”

I repeated, slowly. “I do not have a driver’s license.”

He looked back at the oncoming traffic, confused. “You telling me you have a car and no license.”

“That is an accurate representation,” I said. 

“But you bought the car.”

“Yes.”

“Step out of the vehicle, please.”

I got out and he turned me to face the rear door, pushed me into it. He kicked my feet apart and frisked me.

“Anything in your pockets I should know about?” 

“No.”

He looked in the back and saw the child’s car seat. “Do you have a child in the car?”

“No, that’s my dog.”

He looked in. “What’s wrong with him?” 

“He has only one leg,” I said.

“That’s sad,” the trooper said. “What’s his name?” 

“Trigo.”

“Bulldog?” 

“Yes.”

“You know, you can’t be out here driving with no license. This where you teach?” He waved my I.D. at me. “Brown University?”

“Yes. I live in Providence.”

“Where are you going without a driver’s license?” 

“Washington.”

He spoke into the radio on his epaulet. “I have a 36-year-old black male here, driving an ’11 BMW with Rhode Island tags 7-1-6-6-5-5. Individual’s name appears to be Wala, whiskey-alpha-Lima-alpha, Kitu, kilo-India-tango-uniform. About six feet, 160.” He looked at me. “This all the I.D. you got? You realize of course that I have to take you in. You don’t have a license.”

“That’s all I have,” I said.

We waited for a few minutes. It felt like 30, but was possibly two.

His radio sounded. “Ten-nine.”

“Individual has no license. Name is Wala, whiskey —” 

Radio: “Hold on.”

Cars whizzed by. A light freezing drizzle began to fall. 

“Eighteen?” from the radio.

“Go ahead,” the trooper said. 

“Does he have a dog with him?”

“What? Yeah. He’s got a crippled dog in a baby seat. He’s not armed. He is black. You heard me say that, right?”

“Cut him loose,” the radio voice crackled. 

“He has no license. He’s black.”

“Cut him loose, eighteen.”

“Can you hear me clearly? I have a black man here with no license driving a fucking BMW. He’s got a faculty I.D. from some college in Rhode Island.”

“Understood, eighteen. Now cut him loose.”

The officer turned away from me, put his mouth against his device, and said, “He’s black. He really doesn’t have a license.”

“Let him go. Do you copy?” 

“He’s black.”

“Do you copy.”

“Copy that.” The trooper looked at me, but sort of through me. He was terribly confused and, indeed, so was I.

“Thank you, Mr. Kitu, you can go.”

“Just like that?”

“I know, right?”

“May I ask you a question?” 

He looked at me and nodded. 

“Why did you pull me over?” 

“You’re black.”

“That’s it? Because I’m black?”

“That’s usually enough.” He looked south down the highway. “Your driving was a little erratic.”

“That’s because I learned to drive three days ago.” 

“What?”

“The woman I bought the car from took me to a mall parking lot and gave me a basic lesson.”

He stared at me and walked away, on his radio again. “Base, I have to report that this guy doesn’t even know how to drive.”

“Eighteen, you have your orders.” 

“Problem?” I asked.

He turned back to me. “No. Go on, I guess. They told me to let you go. So go. Go before I shoot you.”

I watched the trooper grow smaller in my mirror. It seemed odd that I would feel threatened by having been let go, but that was exactly how I felt. He had clearly received orders from someone other than his immediate superiors to let me go. But who? My money was on Bill Clinton, but I didn’t really know whom he worked for. What troubled me was that they seemed to know where I was at any point in time and just where I was going. Perhaps there was a GPS tracker in my car or on me. Perhaps my apartment was bugged and they heard my conversation with Sill. Perhaps drones equipped with infrared cameras were flying through the dark above me at that very moment. I considered the possibility that Clinton and Mitchell were in a black mid-seventies Lincoln Town Car, following me at a prescribed distance, eating White Castle burgers out of a paper bag. My judiciously paranoid imagination was nothing if not excruciatingly detailed.

Percival Everett is the author of more than 30 books, most recently The Trees, which has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and Telephone, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

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