The end of another rough day. When you walk out the door, the fresh air shocks you back to reality, reminding you that none of it really matters. All of the stress and anxiety you’ve felt all day is just a side effect of life in the fast lane, a life you’ve been told to want.
As you wait at the crosswalk, the noise of your day drifts away. Slowly relaxing, the person next to you quietly waits, their eyes shifting between you and the cars passing by, and as you embrace your new-found clarity you decide to share it. As a smile clings to your lips, it’s met with a look of contempt from your crosswalk acquaintance, their nose now pointing to the sky without a hair shifting from its place.
Their disregard for your friendliness ignites something in you, and as the light at the crosswalk changes, the race begins.
The engine rages in your head as your hand wraps tightly around the imaginary stick shift buried in your pocket. Your eyes lock on red, hand holding your beast at bay, and in a flash pixels of white signal the green to go and now the rubber meets the road.
You keep pace with them, your new nemesis, battling it out for the longest stride, until a gust of wind causes them to waver and fall behind. In front of you lies more commuters. No, more competitors, merely obstacles to the finish.
Suddenly, without warning, another appears, well-dressed and sneaking into your periphery, matching your pace with two inches on your stride. The unspoken gauntlet has been thrown and the race is on.
They use those two inches to their advantage, extending each stride and quickening their pace.
But, no, not today. Today you need a win. Today you need that feeling.
When you feel there’s nothing left, you suddenly pull out all the stops, heeling and toeing each step, your pace quickening, closing the gap, step by step, inch by inch.
To your former competitors the race looks tight, but in this moment there can be only one. In this moment you have your small victory.
Written by Jamal A. Bilal
Illustration by Creees
It was the music. It’s always the music. But maybe it was the alcohol. Could it have been the alcohol? No, no, now I’ve got it, it was the moment. Yes, hundreds of them. Hundreds of moments colliding, swirling, devouring and ingesting each other, all combining to create the one. The one moment.
I can remember only the last time I remembered this moment. Tables being turned by the man with a fist in his ‘fro, his head down and ears open reading the room. His hands showed us his heart, while molding our energy into a masterpiece.
Strange bodies surrounded me, absorbing the chill from the first night in October. Every pore on my body open and crying with joy as I tried to merge with the stranger in front of me, halted only by layers of weaved fabric.
What the hands played may have been heard by all, as I listened it elevated me. What I smelled, what I tasted, what I touched and what I heard became intoxicating.
As I looked into this stranger’s eyes it all melted away, leaving only possibilities, revealing that every breath taken before now was practiced, all practice for this moment.
A moment that can never be relived, can never be recreated, a moment that will change yet remain the same. In this moment the quest ended; in this moment love was realized.
Written by Jamal A. Bilal
Illustrated by Josephine Lee
It wasn't the norm for them to meet, or for the occasion to last very long, but after traveling to Italy via their taste buds and crossing the Sahara of tar and asphalt they now lounged in Mark’s living room with the smell of melted mozzarella, spinach, and pepperoni permeating their skin.
Mark's home had become a hub for holidays, birthdays, and brunches. It was the unofficial den for ideas, bullshit, fun, and food: an oasis for the wandering mind.
Mark, Sam, and Dustin weren't always the Three Musketeers; they had a fourth. And after waiting, chatting, eating, and repeating, two hours had passed and the fourth, known better as Will, was nowhere to be found.
As they lounged, a fifth pottered around. The new edition to the clan was Jasmine, Mark’s best friend and co-owner of the den, who never missed a beat.
This lazy Sunday afternoon, they embarked on tirades from gentrification to higher education, career expectations, and, of course, Will.
Sam and Dustin had accepted Will's non-committal behavior, his ability to be there one minute and gone the next, his mastery of flaking—but they couldn't understand why Mark wouldn’t accept it.
Mark refused to accept Will's behavior because he thought by accepting it he was condoning it, and he refused to be treated like a second-class citizen. (Mark had his own issues of abandonment.)
On this particular day, after Will's third no-show in a row, Dustin suggested a game, mostly to quell Mark’s annoyance. The game was simple: what happened to Will?
The glee in Dustin’s voice as he posed the question was slightly unnerving, bordering on maniacal, as if he knew the answer already but kept it to himself.
For a moment Mark thought the game was silly, but as he looked at Dustin and then Sam he said, "Fuck it, I'll go first.”
"Last night Will was at a bar." They all looked at each other with the same expression of no surprise.
"What started as a routine night at his local turned into a night of road drinking…”
Will, Mob-Tony, Black Jimmy, Mickey Bones, and Butch all stumbled into Mob-Tony’s Sentinel.
The road drinking took them upstate, and without their knowledge, Mob-Tony gave them a tour of where the bodies were buried.
When Tony reached for another beer, taking his eyes off the road, he heard the familiar thud and crunch of the bumper hitting fabric and flesh at 60mph, sending his thoughts to bury the evidence.
Tony knew all of his passengers heard the smack, thud, and roll of the body hitting the ground behind the Sentinel, but he also knew they all shared his questionable moral code.
When Will heard the wet smack he knew his weekend was shot, so he fired off his last text saying he wouldn’t be around—Looks like weather will be disgusting tomorrow. As he hit send, Mob-Tony turned to his passengers and requested their phones. Now doomed to be sober, he handed Mob-Tony his phone and reached in the cooler for his last beer.
Will, Mob-Tony and the others stood in the shade of the forest as the moon illuminated the fresh plot of dirt in front of them. Mob-Tony spoke in an unwavering tone, “This day never happened. Tomorrow we talk to no one, and Monday is just another day.” With those words weighing the air down, Will looked at his friends—now accomplices—and knew he was tied to them forever.
As Mark finished his story of Will’s misadventure in the woods, Sam seemed eager to go, almost as if he was only listening to know when to take his turn.
Sam’s sense of humor wasn’t much different from any of the members of the group, except he tended to apologize for things he thought weren’t PC.
“So I think Will’s been gone for weeks now. After a long day of drinking, blow, hookers, and Netflix...”
In a haze Will watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a reminder to him that he loved road trips. While he enjoyed the euphoric afterglow from The Mouth of an Angel, he looked up to see Desperado was now playing. From that moment, he decided his life would be better anywhere but here.
After convincing The Mouth of an Angel to join him on his journey, he was on the road—in her car—creating his very own Hunter S. Thompson adventure.
One night, after traveling closer to the border, Will and his Angel stopped for free HBO and a place to sleep. And while she retired to the shower, he retired to the bed and ingested The Hangover Part III. As the hangover marinated in his mind, the excitement of a solo adventure gripped him, sending him out the door, car keys in hand, leaving Mr. Chow cackling on TV and his Angel washing the grit away.
“As we speak, Will’s ruling a small Columbian town, selling contraband, loving life, and hating the heat, while his pet spider monkey wreaks havoc on the villagers.”
A small smile and apology followed Sam’s story. “Sorry I had to make it a little racist.”
Sam seem satisfied by his story, it ticked all the boxes for an extraordinarily cinematic reason why Will was MIA.
Read on >> Missing Will (Part 2)
Written by Jamal A. Bilal
Illustration by Fabian Lelay
Have you read >> Missing Will (Part 1)
Dustin was up next and after helping Mark make fun of Sam’s apologetic tone, he began his story. “You know what I think happened? Last night Will was out drinking with a bunch of people…”
And once again Will was on the road, but this time with a destination—a strange one, but a destination nonetheless. Will and his gang of drinkers were off to find cows.
North they drove, searching on Google Maps for a dairy farm to go cow tipping. This wasn’t an original idea, but one As Seen on TV. The slow drip of Tommy Boy playing on the bar television next to the Bulls game seeped into Will and his gang’s consciousness.
Will mastered the search engine and was the first to find a cattle farm in Salem. He was also the first to stand at the peak of the meadow and take in all the sleeping cattle as they shimmered in the moonlight.
As his friends paired off and rushed to their respective cows, Will watched, and began his rapid descent alone to what he thought was a slumbering cow.
What Will didn’t know was this cow was a light sleeper, and as Will thundered down the hill, the cow awoke.
When Will collided with the black and white maiden, with enough force to tip a smart car, his cow only groaned and galloped away, leaving him disappointed and breathless.
The sound of the galloping faded while he caught his breath. Will then headed toward his friends, who all proudly stood next to their toppled cattle.
“And out of nowhere the cow appeared from the darkness and drove her head into Will’s back, sending him flying face-down in the dirt. And that’s where he’s lying, unconscious in a field.”
Dustin’s story had Will performing the least criminal act of all, leaving the group feeling that this could happen—and if it did, they would be tipping cows with him.
While they digested each other’s stories, Jasmine continued to potter around until Dustin asked, “Jasmine, what do you think happened to Will?”
And like always, without missing a beat, her vision for why Will was missing bloomed.
“I think Will was out last night and on his way to the bar when he meet a girl…”
This girl wasn’t like any girl he had encountered before, an unconventional beauty with a wit sharper than a razor’s edge. Her name was Lily. She was a flower from France, visiting the concrete jungle of NYC.
As Lily and Will walked to the bar, they matched each other’s ever-slowing pace, trying to savor this insanely rare moment. And after standing outside talking for 30 minutes, which felt like 30 seconds, Lily reached for the door to head into the bar and a sudden uncontrollable urgency gripped Will. He gently stopped her and offered himself as a guide to his city. She made him promise not to murder her or keep her in his closet, and once he agreed he wouldn’t—at least on the first night—they were off.
Will and Lily wandered the city, from Flushing to Astoria, Williamsburg to Coney Island, never an awkward moment between them. And after watching the sun rise over the beach, they found their way to Lily’s room at the Plaza.
“And that’s where he is now, sleeping, totally unaware that he’s missing your lunch.”
The mic had been dropped and Jasmine smiled, thinking about the happy ending she had created, when a cell phone ring interrupted the silence of the room.
Written by Jamal A. Bilal
Illustrated by Patrick Boutin-Gagné
The way she moves.
Her body recites every show she’s ever seen. Her sexuality preprogrammed before 13.
Like directions on shampoo. Watch, memorize, and repeat. That’s what she’ll do.
Her hips swivel and swing and so do your eyes, locked and loaded on her thighs.
The pendulum drops when her fingers reach her hair, sliding up, jzeushing, flipping, yet going nowhere.
Your mind darts, left to right.
The taste, the touch, you want to steal.
Then you realize, it’s not real.
You’ve been programmed by your screen.
The life that you want isn’t your dream.
Written by Jamal A. Bilal
Illustrated by Brydon Everett
When you arrive after your flight, you may not remember the first night.
The feeling of belonging you once had, drifting away with the jet lag.
As you rise through the ranks you smile and say thanks.
But behind the smile no one sees, you’re searching for identity.
Your culture, your ways, how you spend your days, all of these things are now in a haze.
What you read, watch, hear and see, make your reflection harder to be.
With those around you talking about back in the day, when things were different, how they wish they could stay.
You hear the music, listen to the words, on some occasions you taste the bird.
Your senses loaded as reminders begin to fade, and you find yourself seeking a new cave.
In a new world where you have to adapt, find a presence or feel trapped.
As things move forward, you start to see how many have created their identity.
You watch and learn how they belong, their heart tethered, their love strong.
Taught by those who came before, the wonder, the beauty, never to long.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days, you feel connected, day by day.
Time drifts by as your anchor drags, beneath the surface you hope for a snag.
Written by Jamal A. Bilal
Illustrated by Michael DeNicola
In My Head
Inside my head there is one sound, a quiet unlike any around.
A rumble and rhythm that surges through me, that feeds the quiet that few can see.
The world is still from behind the fiberglass, lending me a focus that I hope will never pass.
My pulse quickens as air rushes by. Nothing I've known has given me such a high.
A peaceful moment consumed in speed. All other things begin to bleed,
Disappearing in the moment I hear the sound, that rumble, that rhythm unlike any around.
I want my time back.
Didn't realize I was giving it away until I had a heart attack
Seconds, minutes, hours fly by and now I'm starting to change, react.
Feeling the change in my brain is starting to make me go insane. Seconds, minutes, hours, days—all this time just slipping away.
What else am I supposed to do, exchange my time? Nah. Fuck you.
My time is mine and mine alone. Forget about working my hands to the bone
To bring to life other "people’s" dreams so they can profit off my steam.
Exchanging my time for a little bit of green—that's starting to feel obscene.
After the attack, I realized I can't have my time back, and that put tears in my eyes.
But now I can see that where I put my time should represent me.
My time is now and that's all I get. Either I move forward for me or I live with regret.
What I do with my time matters more than I know, ‘cause who knows how much time is left? That shit’s unknown.
Words by Jamal Bilal
Picture by Heather Zabriskie
Caution That's the first feeling. Then apprehension mixes with wonder, and soon it all swirls in and around you and you accept the knowledge that every dollar in your pocket is about to magically disappear.
You tether on the edge watching, listening then finally you inhale and the wave of euphoria crashes and engulfs you, you smile. That was your first mistake. Then you sit—your second mistake—and just like that the night is lost. Everything disappears but the blood rushing to your head and as your brain begins to drain, the rest of the world begins to feels.
Now it’s over, and the magic you once feared has consumed and digested you. You reflect while relishing the memory. Your curiosity has been satisfied and the calm surf retreats, leaving you at peace, but wondering… Will it always be that good?
I tire of my desire,
To see the world on fire,
And make every pessimist a liar.
I tire of my desire,
Of looking on higher,
For others to fuel fulfill my firer desires.
I do not dare to stand here clear.
But only aware of how fear can steer.
Know my desire is to see us inspired.
To be fueled by passion that does not tire.
Know that I stand here fully aware but still unclear of where we steer.
Tired, unaware, gripped with fear, with little to nothing clear.
I now stare, and little by little become aware,
My mind slowly cutting through the glare.
and dare, to wrestle with the fear, as I search for a lens that will
cut the glare. I feel the heat everywhere.
I feel the fire rising and I become aware, that those who care
Will help me will steer.,
But my desire will light the world on fire,
And I will never tire. and our desires will the light world on fire.
Poem by Jamal Bilal
Photo by Yaoqi LAI
I lived in it, like a pig in it’s pen. Reveling because I never knew when.
Realizing now that I am not my own, but piece of others grafted to my bones.
I see the kaleidoscope shimmer and change, allowing my fingers to relax on the reigns.
Unsure and uncertain is now how I ride, wondering what now grows inside.
The fire still burns furious and bright, but is only a flicker in the darkness of the night .
It all makes me weary as it does you but what are our option but to keep moving through.
One step forward because there is no back, one step forward off or on the track.
Open the gate to be set free, running towards the only light see.