Cornelius drives his car through Chico, headed back to Berkeley after the Cal lacrosse game with Chico State. He wears a Cal Golden Bears hoodie, black jeans, and sunglasses. A twenty-year-old African American, Cornelius is tall and extremely fit. As a college athlete, he excels in sports, and revels in his status as a popular lacrosse star at the UC Berkeley campus. His Caucasian wife, Willow, sits in the front passenger seat beside him. She is nineteen with long blond hair and green eyes. Their infant son stirs in his car seat in back, waking up. The baby is fussy and starts to cry.
Cornelius turns around and sings to the baby over his shoulder, to the tune of Lenny Kravitz’s song, “Flowers for Zoe.” “Flowers for you. Love for you. Angels and rainbows.” Cornelius smiles at his son and continues singing to calm the baby.
Willow reaches over and puts her hand on Cornelius’ knee as he sings. The baby smiles and starts to coo at him.
“God is for you. And heaven’s for you. Oh, can you believe...That everything is waiting to unfold?” Cornelius sings softly.
Willow leans over and kisses Cornelius’ cheek as he sings. Cornelius pulls into a gas station. He takes some cash out of his wallet and gives it to Willow.
“Would you get me a bottle of water please, Saucy?”
Willow takes the money and kisses Cornelius on the lips. “Sure, Cornbread. Be right back.” She gets out of the car and runs into the store. Cornelius takes his credit card, pays at the pump, and he fills the tank.
Willow rushes into the store, completely unaware that she’s interrupting a robbery. She bumps into a young black man in a ski mask. He pulls his gun on her. She screams. Another young black man in a ski mask holds a gun on the store clerk. The clerk hands over a wad of cash.
Willow tries to run out the door, but the gunman grabs her by the throat and yells, “Give me your cash, Bitch!”
She gives him the ten dollars Cornelius just gave her. The gunman takes the cash then shoves Willow down onto the floor. She starts to cry. The gunman stands over her with his gun drawn. He kicks her then calls out to his friend at the counter.
“Come on, man! Let’s go!”
The second gunman, the shorter of the two, takes more cash from the clerk and calls over his shoulder, “Chill, bruh!” He waves his gun at the clerk, motioning for him to keep the money coming.
Willow sits up quietly then stands and tries to sneak out the door. The first gunman sees her and without hesitation shoots her. She falls to the ground, wounded.
The shorter gunman turns away from the store clerk and screams, “What the...?”
The gunmen run out of the store. Willow lies on the floor, crying. The store clerk calls 911 on his cell phone, screaming, “There’s been a robbery! A woman’s been shot! I think it’s the Bloods!”
Cornelius bursts into the store and sees Willow on the floor. “Oh God! Willow!” He kneels beside her.
Willow cries to him, “If I don’t make it, please make sure our son knows how much I love him!”
“You’re not gonna die! Okay?” Cornelius takes off his hoodie and presses it against the gunshot wound in her shoulder.
She cries out in pain.
Cornelius wears a tight red tank top underneath his hoodie. Now his muscular arms and shoulders are exposed.
The clerk approaches and kneels beside them. “I called 911. An ambulance is on the way.”
Cornelius turns to the clerk. “Can you get a towel to stop the bleeding?”
“Right!” The clerk runs to get a towel.
A siren wails outside then a police car screeches up and parks. Cornelius runs to the door and sees two police officers get out of their car, guns drawn, and crouch behind their car.
Cornelius runs outside towards the police car. Officer Mark Rush trains his gun on Cornelius as he runs toward the cops.
Rush yells at Cornelius. “Freeze! Put your hands up!”
Cornelius stops, raises his hands. “My wife’s been shot! She needs help! She’s inside the store!”
Officer Rush aims his gun. “Lay down on the ground!”
“What? Come on, man! My wife’s been shot! You got to help her!” Cornelius takes a step toward the police car.
“Don’t move or I’ll shoot!”
Officer Rush does not back down. “Lay face down on the ground with your hands behind your back!”
Cornelius refuses to lie down. He turns and heads back into the store. Then he stops, turns back towards the cops. “If she dies, it’s on you!”
Willow crawls up and screams out the open door of the store, “Cornelius! Stop it!”
Officer Rush’s partner, Blake Brandon, approaches Cornelius with a pair of handcuffs.
Cornelius gets even angrier. “This is such BULLSHIT!”
Willow tries to stand, but she falls. She screams at Cornelius. “For God’s sake, stop fighting them!”
Officer Brandon tries to grab Cornelius, but Cornelius shoves him away. They struggle for a moment then Rush runs up and yells, “Stop resisting arrest!”
In a split-second flashback, Rush sees himself surrounded by young black gang bangers. Then one black kid pulls out a gun. Rush kicks it out of his hand and slaps a pair of cuffs on him. Rush blinks, shaking off his memory.
The baby starts to wail from the back seat of Cornelius’ BMW. Cornelius looks up at the baby. “My son...”
Officer Brandon tries to cuff Cornelius, but he pushes Brandon away. When Cornelius shoves Brandon, Rush reacts instinctively, instantly shooting Cornelius. He falls to the ground, blood gushing from his neck.
Willow sees this and freaks out. “Oh, my God! You shot him!”
A siren wails in the distance as an ambulance quickly approaches. The baby screams from the back seat of Cornelius’ BMW. Officer Rush inches toward Cornelius with his gun drawn. Cornelius’ body convulses then he lies still. Another police car screeches into the parking lot. Two officers run out of their car and approach Cornelius. His eyes roll up in his head and he dies. The baby screams as more sirens approach.
Willow crawls toward Cornelius, crying. She cradles him, hugging his lifeless body, screaming and crying. “Oh my God! Cornelius! Get up, baby!”
The ambulance arrives. Two paramedics get out and run to Cornelius and Willow. They try to assess the wound on Cornelius’ throat. One paramedic feels for a pulse. He looks up, shakes his head.
Another police officer approaches Willow. “Ma’am, you’ve been shot.”
Willow ignores him and cradles Cornelius’ dead body, holding him with her good arm, rocking him back and forth. She’s screaming, “Oh, God! Baby! No! No!”
Lieutenant Sid Wagner approaches Willow. He kneels beside her. “Is this man your husband?”
Officer Rush stands there, looking shocked. He panics, realizing he shot a bystander. Rush quickly crosses himself then kisses the Catholic medal around his neck.
Wagner questions Willow further. “What’s his name?”
“Oh, God!” She sobs uncontrollably, leans down on top of Cornelius, covering his dead body with her body. The paramedics try to pull Willow away from Cornelius.
Wagner persists with his questions. “Ma’am, what’s your name?”
“Get away from me!”
“Ma’am, you need medical attention.”
Willow cradles Cornelius. “I’m not leaving him!”
“Ma’am, you could bleed out if you refuse treatment.”
Willow buries her face in Cornelius’ chest, sobbing. The baby’s crying adds to the mayhem. Willow looks up, suddenly aware that her baby is crying. “Where’s my son?”
She tries to stand, but falls to the ground, fainting. The paramedics quickly tend to her then load her into the ambulance.
A few moments later, the ambulance lurches forward then it speeds away with the siren blaring. Five police cars are now parked in the lot. Police officers swarm the gas station. Crime scene tape blocks off the driveway between the gas pumps and Cornelius’ car.
Cornelius’ body lies on the pavement beside his car. A police detective approaches Cornelius’ body. He puts on gloves and without moving the body, reaches into Cornelius’ pocket and extracts his wallet. He pulls out Cornelius’ driver’s license and UC Berkeley student ID.
Officer Mark Rush sits with Lieutenant Wagner inside a police car parked on the side of the parking lot. Wagner sits in the driver’s seat. Officer Rush sits in the passenger seat next to him, sweating profusely.
Rush exhales slowly. “He fit the caller’s description of the shooter. Just like a Blood.”
Wagner looks straight ahead. “Did you follow police procedure?”
Officer Rush looks out the window, stalling. “I’m telling you, he was wearing
“Did you follow procedure, Rush?”
Rush pounds his fist on the dashboard.
Wagner shakes his head. “You’re a good cop, Rush. But I need to know the facts.”
Officer Rush takes his badge off his chest and hands it to Wagner.
“I’m about to be crucified,” says Rush. Fighting back tears, he gets out of the car and approaches Cornelius’ body lying on the pavement. Sobbing now, Rush kneels beside Cornelius. The air is heavy with the scent of death, the stares of onlookers, and the waves of regret and remorse that flow from Officer Rush out into the parking lot, touching the crowd of bystanders, then rippling out into the universe. One black life, or a million black lives…rippling, rippling, out into infinity in an all-encompassing force, without beginning, without end.
Clouds cover the sun as it suddenly starts to rain. People hurry away, back to the shelter of their cars, back to their homes, their lives, their freedom. After a bit, Rush looks up at the sky, and just as suddenly, the rain stops. In the stillness that follows, dappled rays of sunlight break through the clouds, and the edges of a rainbow reach down from the sky to the horizon in the distance.
Rush glances down at Cornelius, whose lifeless eyes gaze out into oblivion. Rush reaches down and closes Cornelius’ eyes with his hand. The sounds of silence permeate the stillness where only minutes earlier, Cornelius was laughing with his family, singing a Lenny Kravitz song to his infant son: “…Flowers for you. Love for you. Angels and rainbows. God is for you. And heaven’s for you. Oh, can you believe...That everything is waiting to unfold?”
One black life, a million black lives…slipping like sand through an hourglass; past angels and rainbows. Slipping into eternity.