The Counter-Pharma Terrorist & The Rebound Queen by Francois Bereaud


“Damn, a cold one at the end of the day. Nothing much better than that.” Half the bottle went down in his first swig. “Hope you’re not one of those Coors Light kinds of guys. I can’t stand to even see that shit in my house.”

               “I don’t drink much beer to tell you the truth. But this,” Walter held up the bottle of bitter liquid as if some insight could be gained by staring at it, “is good. Where’d you get it?”

               “Just down the street at the liquor store.” Jabari mumbled while firing up his laptop.

               “I’ve been there. Older lady owns it,” Walter felt pleased that on his first day, he already knew some of the lay of the land.

               Jabari looked up from the machine. “Mrs. Park. What’d you get?”

               “I’m not twenty-one, so … they have a root beer I like. Devil’s Canyon.”

               “It’s pretty good but next time try the Abita from Louisiana, it’s got a Cajun kick to it. Alright, good to talk and whatnot but I gotta finish some research here and tomorrow’s another long day. I’ll be out of the house by 7.”

               Jabari became absorbed in his laptop, leaving Walter to wonder about this roommate who on top of everything appeared to be a root beer expert. Walter wrote until almost eleven, brushed his teeth, and went to bed, his mumbled ‘Goodnight’ unreturned by Jabari.

               Although he had intended to get up early, Walter slept until eight thirty, and rose to find himself alone in the apartment. Before brushing his teeth, he called Tasaka. “How was the party?”

               “You should have stayed, tons of food. If I had time, I’d bring you leftovers. Sorry I didn’t call, you know how they are about cleaning up right away, by the time we were done, I was exhausted. How’s the roommate?”

               “Okay, I guess.”

               “‘Okay’? Did you guys talk?”

               “Sort of. We both like root beer.”

               “That’s it?”
               “That’s it. Tasaka?”


               “When you said I should have stayed, did you mean it?”

               “Of course. You would have had to share the guest room with my Uncle Freddy. He drank too much and couldn’t drive home. He snores pretty loud too.”

               Walter thought about this alternate possibility.

               Over the next few weeks, Jabari and Walter talked very little. During the first week of class, Walter audited fourteen classes in the hopes of finding four perfect ones. In the end, he settled on a British lit seminar, intro to social psychology, a women’s studies course, and ecology for non-science majors, in addition to his play writing independent study project. He also decided to volunteer as a tutor at a local afterschool program. For Jabari’s part, Walter was able to learn that he was a fifth-year senior who only took one class and spent most of his time as a tech in the pharmacology lab, and was in the process of applying to pharmacy schools. Also, he drove an eighteen-year-old BMW inherited from his parents.

               On a hot Thursday evening about a month into the term, the day after Walter had been up until three am writing a paper on George Eliot, the roommates found themselves home together, Walter half asleep on the couch, Jabari finishing his second beer.

               “Yo Walter, hungry?”


               “Too hot to cook and your stir fry looks like it needs some work. Burritos? My treat.”

               They walked side by side, the flapping of Walter’s flip flops syncopating with the deeper blows of Jabari’s hiking shoes. Jabari kept a quick pace and Walter had to press a bit to keep up though he was several inches taller. They were silent for a block, Walter rehearsing topics in his head; before he could choose one, Jabari spoke.

               “You write all the time. What gives?”

               “Some papers for school, but mostly plays. It’s kind of weird but I’ve wanted to be a playwright since I was a kid.”

               “That’s cool. Why plays?”

               “When I was around eight, my mom took to me to New York, just the two of us, and we saw one of my cousins in an off-Broadway play. He played a guy returning from the Gulf War. I was fascinated by it.”

               “Have you acted?”

               “No, I just want to write.”

               “Have you?”

               “Have I?”

               “Written any?”

               “I just finished my first real play about a mathematician who loses the ability to understand numbers and spends most of the play talking to strangers trying to figure out what to do with his life.”

               “What’s the context?”


               “Who is this guy? What’s his race? Where does he live?”

               Walter paused. He felt nervous, but had no choice other than honesty. “White, I guess. He could live anywhere I suppose, a university town, big city. Why?”

               Now it was Jabari’s turn to pause and then laugh.

               “Jesus, you are one naive mostly white guy. If you’re white, it’s not so important. But take me for example. I’m an afro-sporting, pharmacist-aspiring, Beemer-driving, non-basketball playing, non-surfing orphan from SoCal. I live in a country where the man, yes, The Man, who holds the nuclear codes which could blow this whole planet up is Black, yet any cop or piece of shit neighborhood watch dude could go apeshit on my Black ass and that’d be it, I’d be another Oscar Grant or Trayvon Martin. So yeah, for me, context matters.”

               Walter fell silent, stunned by the lecture, shamed by his naïveté, not sure what he had to contribute to the conversation, unsure about the worth of his play, of which he had just a few minutes ago thought highly.



               “Don’t get all quiet on me now. I was just giving you my perspective; my two cents ain’t worth any more than the next guy’s. I’m sure your play is great.” Here he stopped and looked directly at Walter. “You’re alright, living here in this black neighborhood with a black guy you hardly know. That’s a context most white guys will never see. I gotta be the eccentric, race chip on my shoulder guy. Just completing the picture for you.” He smiled at Walter. Still unable to respond, Walter smiled back. “What about your cousin?”


               “The actor. Did he ever make it to Broadway?”

               Walter laughed. “I’m not sure he ever acted again. He’s an insurance salesman in Akron, Ohio.”

               Jabari roared. “That’s some funny shit. Maybe you should write about him.”

               “Maybe I will. What about you?”


               “You’re always doing something on your laptop. Are you a secret writer?” Walter felt a bit uneasy here but also saw an opportunity to learn about his roommate.

               “Naw. I ain’t no writer. Just a researcher.”

               “Pharmacy stuff?”

Jabari laughed and turned toward Walter. “Pharmacy? You crazy? I get enough of that shit in that damn lab.” Jabari stopped, giving Walter a look he couldn’t interpret.

               Nervous but feeling that he was on the cusp of something, Walter pushed. “Then what?”

               “Come on now. You seen all those books I got?” Jabari started walking again. Walter nodded. “What are they about?”

               “African-American history mostly.”

               “Black history. I research Black history.”

               “Just like in general?”

               “You heard of the Tuskegee experiment?”

Walter let his silence answer, ready for another blast but this time Jabari started slowly.

               “You gotta look it up. In fact, we gotta get you enrolled in some classes come spring. Broaden that horizon and all. Anyway, the short of it is that starting in the 1930s the U.S. government spent forty years pretending to treat black men with syphilis but instead of giving them the meds, they just let them wither away, some kind of fucked up medical experiment. Clinton finally apologized about twenty years ago. Reparations and everything.”

               “That’s horrible.”

               “You got that right. That’s what I research. Medical experiments on Black folks. I know there’s no way Tuskegee was the only one. Ain’t found it yet, but I might be close. I gotta get out to Michigan.”


               “You wouldn’t believe it, but this place Ferris State University out there has this Jim Crow Museum. Look it up. Largest collection of racist memorabilia anywhere. They also got thousands of pages of documents in the back. My advisor here is friends with the curator. He said he’ll give me access.”

               “Your advisor?”

               “I’m a Black history major, didn’t you know that? Maybe I’ll get myself a PhD, come back and teach idealistic dudes like you.”

               “PhD, what about pharmacy?”

               “Double major.”

               “But you are applying to pharmacy schools, right?”

               “Yeah, yeah.”

               “You don’t sound so excited about it. Why are you choosing that over the PhD?”

               “It’s bank man. Do you know how much a pharmacist makes?”

               Now Walter stopped and stared at Jabari. Before he could formulate the next question, Jabari answered.

               “Come on now. You can’t be that idealistic. Call me greedy but money does make the world go round. Okay, sex too. Besides, have you ever, I mean ever, seen a Black pharmacist?”

               Walter considered this question. “I guess I haven’t.”

               “There you have it. C’mon, let’s pick it up, all these questions making me hungry.”

               The young woman at the counter at Sanchez’ Burrito Shack greeted Jabari warmly. “It’s been a long time, Senor Pharmacist, too busy for us little people?”

               “That’s pharmacist-wannabe to you. Now Paola, when you gonna be true to yourself and go out with me?” Jabari bantered back.

               “Lo siento, no can do, but what about your tall friend here, he’s pretty cute.” Paola grinned at Walter who immediately blushed.

               “Señorita, you know how to really hurt a guy,” Jabari’s voice dripped with false hurt. “This here’s Walter, my roommate. He’s too serious for girls though.”

               “Encantato Walter, a guapo boy like you should like learn to make time for us fair maidens.” Now it was Paola whose voice oozed emotion. Jabari jumped back in.

               “Enough foolishness, he’s too young for you. But hook him up with the special pollo asado, wet of course.”

               “Señor is in a hurry all of a sudden?” Paola laughed but rang up the order.


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