I’m staring at a housefly. Perched on the windowsill, its back to the glass, the insect’s many eyes are staring back at me, probably paying special attention to the throw pillow in my hand. I don’t move. It doesn’t move. Neither of us have moved for minutes. I’m not sure what the fly’s reasoning is, assuming it has one of course, but the cause for my stillness is my mind, or rather what’s going on within it—the nagging thoughts that won’t leave me alone. It all started earlier this week, the same day I first saw this here fly.
I blame my friend Jag. And the white kids I was complaining to him about.
It had been a frustrating few weeks at school. Individually, a number of white students had displayed their bias in the usual ways—not so funny “jokes,” being adamant about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement being “so long ago,” half-compliments, stereotyping me and my friends—and I wasn’t having it. I fully understand how it’s necessary to let a lot fly—I mean, if I stop to correct someone every time they show their lack of racial understanding, I’ll never get anything done—but enough was enough.
So, I called them out. Annoyingly, this led to their being defensive and trying to flip the blame on me for “taking it the wrong way,” which led to a more intense conversation, which led to more biases being revealed, which led to yadda yadda yadda, which led to me excusing myself from them. And while, admittedly, I could tell it was more ignorance than maliciousness on their part, I wasn’t going to keep wasting my time trying to educate those who felt they didn’t need to learn. That time would be much better utilized by going to a friend, a Black friend, and venting about those people.
Except that part didn’t go quite as planned. Sure, once I got to his place, Jag let me vent. He let me vent through the entire first quarter of the game. But he didn’t say anything. Not once did he interrupt my rant with so much as an, “I get that.” Matter of fact, he didn’t so much as nod. Instead, he just faced forward, his eyes on the game, his closed mouth causing me to wonder how open his ears really were.
Once I finished my tirade, we sat in silence for a while. Then Jag decided to note that which I still can’t get out of my head.
His eyes remaining fixated on the television screen, Jag told me that, on the whole, Black folks are but flies in the eyes of white society. Not hated, but deemed annoying if we buzz too close. Left alone so long as we stay outside of their abodes, but sought to be eliminated the moment we enter into their spaces.
That was all Jag said. All he needed to say. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder: If we’re flies, what does that make white people? ‘Cause if they treat us like flies, they can’t be human. Not if we’re as equal as they pretend us to be.
Jag responded without so much as batting an eye, saying that beings in both groups are human, but that our side tends to view white people as spiders. Though interactions with them might be sparse depending on the environment, we remain cognizant of the existence of the webs they’ve woven, keeping eyes on the lookout for the traps we seek to avoid. We recognize the danger, and whenever possible seek to stay away altogether instead of navigating their minefields.
I didn’t respond. I didn’t need to. We watched the rest of the game in silence, then I went back home.
That’s when I noticed the housefly.
Soon as I opened the door, I saw it before me in the entryway. It was just hovering there, as if it had been awaiting my arrival. Holding the door open, I tried waving it out, but to no avail. The fly turned around and sped off.
Without a second thought, I slammed the door and ran to the kitchen. Grabbing the fly swatter from the side of the fridge, I whirled around and started scanning, my eyes the only part of me that moved. Locking onto the fly as it flew into the living room, I crept up behind it, my movements slowing as it came to a rest upon the couch. My grip tightening around the fly swatter, I cocked the crude weapon back and to the side.
Then I froze. Still poised to strike, I stared at the fly. And a moment later, my arm lowered, Jag’s words replaying through my mind. How could I dispose of that which mirrored my own existence?
As if it could sense its newfound safety, the fly left the couch, flying to I know not where as I put the fly swatter away. And over the next few days, the creature acted as a pet, like it was my fly, sometimes letting me be and sometimes hovering nearby, occasionally even resting upon my shoulder. Like any pet—dog, cat, or even bird—it acted like this was its home and that it was thus free to roam about as it so desired.
Except the fly wasn’t a pet. I didn’t purpose it’s being inside my home. And the longer it was here, the closer it got to my person, the more uncomfortable I got, shivers going up and down my spine anytime I heard its distinct buzzing.
Eventually, I’d had enough. The fly buzzing in my ear along its way to the window, I jumped off the couch and grabbed a throw pillow, not wanting to take the time to retrieve the proper device from the side of the fridge. Stalking it like a wild cat their prey, I came closer and closer still until, finally within striking distance, I found myself staring at it. And it at me.
Which leads us to now. I want to put an end to that which bothers me—that which makes me uncomfortable—even more so now than I did upon the insect’s arrival. And I know I shouldn’t be hesitating. Or I think it at least. After all, the fly is a mere insect. Who cares what happens to it? I don’t even know the fly’s purpose. At least a spider is useful. They weave webs that catch all the unwanted insects like this, ensuring that they don’t take over the…
I open my hand and the throw pillow drops to the ground. Remaining in place, the fly and I continue our staring match, and I realize that it not only understands me, but I understand it. For I am it, and it is me.
And here I’ve been calling them an it, belittling them even more.
Seizing the opportunity, the fly takes to their wings and buzzes away. Continuing to look where they had once been, I don’t give chase. Maybe I won’t ever again. Maybe I will. Either way, right now I let it be, my mind pondering yet another thing: Will I or the fly ever truly be free?
One might call me skeptical. I think myself a realist. Regardless, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
J.P. Pressley is a graduate of Lindenwood University’s MFA in Writing program. An editor by day and a filmmaker by night, he is a 24/7 storyteller who resides in Brooklyn with his wife. You can find him at www.jppressley.com or on Instagram and Twitter at the handle @iamjppressley.