It is 11:32 p.m., Saturday night in New Haven, chilly after a day of rain. I am waiting with my bike on Elm Street, by the J. Crew store in downtown New Haven next to the Yale University campus, where we had arranged to meet. The late-night food stops are bustling with business. Flocks of dressed-up Yale freshmen grab egg-and-cheese sandwiches between dorm room pregames and a fraternity party. Students from the nearby Quinnipiac University are piling out of buses for a rowdy weekend night at their favorite New Haven nightclub Toad’s Place.
I hear dubstep blaring from the distance. A masked man on a bike appears further down Elm Street, weaving through the traffic toward me. He is wearing a red windbreaker, his head is covered in a black ski mask, and strapped to his shoulder is a scratched black boom box blasting the trap remix of a Snoop Dogg song. The mask on his face is bone white, with hollowed eyes, expressionless. The biker swivels to a halt in front of me and hops off his bike.
“Hey Sabir!” I call out.
“Hi!” He replies.
The self-proclaimed “Masked Maniac” Sabir Askir Abdussabur takes off his mask, revealing the handsome, smoothly shaved face of a 21-year-old African-American man. He’s been biking for a while already, and his hair and brow are covered in sweat.
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, Sabir bikes several rounds downtown with his mask and boom box for two hours, through what the New Haven Independent calls the “most stratified spine of the city — from the Whalley strip to the multimillion dollar Yale University Art Gallery to the lower-income, crime-ridden Fair Haven barrio.”
He’s already finished his first round, and has stopped at the intersection so that I can join him on his ride. He bikes roughly 40 to 60 miles a day, and is capable of clocking 30 miles an hour on a simple hybrid bike.
“Thanks for letting me join you tonight,” I tell him. “Sorry if I can’t keep up.”
My usual bike route consists of a one-and-a-half minute ride from my Yale dorm to a lecture hall, when I’m too lazy to walk.
“Not a problem at all,” Sabir smiles.
He opens up his backpack, rummages around and pulls out another mask, which he hands to me. I accept it with two hands, carefully, reverently. It is similar to his, but black not white, plastic not plaster, nose thinner, face rounder, features more effeminate — a mask better fit for a smaller Asian woman.
“You’re probably gonna need to take the helmet off first,” Sabir says.
Of course. I unbuckle my helmet and slide the mask onto my face. It fits just right. I lift my head and look straight ahead through the hollowed eyes, surveying my surroundings like a prince fresh after his coronation. A police car passes by, headlights flashing. The street lamps twinkle.
“I’m thinking we do two rounds,” Sabir suggested. “And then we stop for a break in the middle somewhere. Maybe Dunkin’ Donuts at Whalley, grab a bite, and then do a second round. Sounds good?”
I nod. We get on our bikes and steer onto the road. “Ready?” he shouts over the din of the traffic. I give him a thumbs-up, and begin to pedal.
I first found out about Sabir Abdusabbur through the “Arresting Patterns” art exhibition and conference hosted this September by Artspace, a nonprofit visual arts organization in New Haven. The blurb in the Artspace newsletter said that the exhibition showcased a group of artists “who sought to uncover the often-overlooked patterns of racial disparity in the criminal justice system” and, through the conference, brought together “perspectives on art, race, community expression and activism.”
I wanted to understand. I was an international Chinese student from relatively racially homogenous Hong Kong, from a place where most people generally looked like me, thrust into a campus where racial prejudice occupied the forefront of conversation, in a city stratified along a color line, in a nation reeling from the aftermath of the Ferguson riots. I had a Wikipedia-level understanding of “Jim Crow” segregation, and was reading W. E. B. Du Bois for the first time, for a survey-level African-American history class.
Before visiting Artspace, I decided to read up more about the conference, and scrolled through the speaker list online. They paired headshots with blurbs introducing the conference panelists — suited-up law students, smiling national correspondents, brooding artists. And then I found a photo of a man in a mask. Bone-white, expressionless.
I’d seen him before, on a bicycle. I was walking back to my dorm from a Thai restaurant last spring, and stopped in my tracks, startled and unnerved. The blurb next to his photo read:
“Sabir Abdussabur is the President and Founder of Youth Day Projects, the Director and Founder of The Youth Revolution: International Youth Development President, and the Co-Founder of Masked Maniacs. He grew up in Beaver Hills and still resides in New Haven today.”
A quick Google search of Sabir lead me to a stocked resume. First Achievement from Amistad High School, 2012. Studied at the University of Connecticut. Degree from Gateway Community College in Human Services.
It took me a while to realize that Sabir, freaky-looking masked guy and Sabir, president and founder of various impressive-sounding youth empowerment programs, were the same man.
How did the mask fit in all of this?
“It started as a social experiment,” Sabir explained, while sitting across from me in a booth at Panera Bread. Sabir and I arranged our first meeting on a Friday afternoon, a rare moment of repose in his busy week. “I wanted to gauge other people’s reactions.”
In July 2013, Sabir was teaching a photography workshop through the Youth Revolution, an organization aimed to empower New Haven youth through the arts. He organized a photo shoot for the kids: they would take photos of each other wearing white masks, and then edit the photos to practice their Photoshop skills.
“Then we decided to take it a step further, wear our masks on the Green, and see how people would react,” said Sabir. Pedestrians were shocked, unnerved, stopped in their tracks to watch. Sabir spiced things up by bringing a boombox to the Green, and one of the kids in the program, a fan of Parkour, brought his bike. Soon, they were biking to and from Dwight Hall, masks on, music blaring.
A few weeks after, on the weekend that “The Amazing Spiderman 2” was being released, Sabir experimented with biking around the city in a Spiderman costume. Kids waved at him, families took photos with him, and police officers gave him high-fives.
But when he swapped his superhero suit for what would become his signature “Masked Maniac” outfit — black shirt, black pants, white paintball mask ordered for $10 off Amazon — reactions changed. Parents pulled their children back, pedestrians avoided him, and cops began to pull him over. By the end of 2014, he had been pulled over by the cops 24 times. “They didn’t know how to deal with something that looks like a threat every day,” said Sabir, “but is actually not.”
The impromptu social experiment evolved into a routine. Sabir began to wear the mask every day. A few months later, he began to do his night rides every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Now, he has over 50 masks in his apartment, bought in bulk from Dollar Tree, as well as a gas mask for the winter to protect him from the cold. He wakes up in the morning, brushes his teeth, grabs breakfast to go and puts a mask on. He walks out of the house every day, preparing to be scrutinized, stared at, misunderstood. How does it feel, darting through the city, as the physical archetype of the feared, unknown other? How will the people of New Haven respond?
We’re now biking midway down Elm Street, about to take a right on Temple. I notice a friend from my English seminar standing next to the gate of Calhoun College, and give a nod of greeting in her direction.
She notices my nod and shrinks away, face full of suspicion.
I remember that I am wearing a mask, suddenly hyperaware that I am being judged and assessed by the people around me. I observe the faces of the other pedestrians on the street and identify echoes of my friend’s facial expression — suspicion, mistrust and uncertainty.
This extreme sensitivity to the judgment of others reminds me of a passage that I had read earlier by Du Bois, on the sensation of the “double-consciousness.” It is a “peculiar sensation,” he writes, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
It is the feeling the black man gets when the pedestrian walking toward him on the street throws him a wary glance and walks a little faster to keep her distance. It is the feeling he gets when the passengers on the train avoid the empty seat next to him like the plague.
The mask, in some sense, is like a physical manifestation of this veil, a replication of a heightened double-consciousness that forces its wearer to perceive himself or herself through the validation of the other world, a world that has historically regarded him or her with fear and disdain.
The sensation is novel to me. It is also temporary. At the end of the night, I get to take my mask off.
Du Bois’ sense of the “double-consciousness” is nothing new to Sabir. As a 21-year-old black, Muslim man, he has learned to be sensitive to the judgment of others all his life. In his AP History class at high school, he served the role of the token black kid, who represented the entire oppressed history of his race. “Every time I walked out of that class, and we were learning about slavery,” said Sabir, “my friends were like, did you see the teacher look at you when she said colored people?”
Sabir has grown up conscious not only of his black, but also his Muslim identity. Sabir was raised Muslim, homeschooled until seventh grade and learned to read and write Arabic from his parents. Having a name like Abdussabur carried a whole slew of stereotypes of its own, particularly after the September 11 attacks by Islamist terrorists. “In high school, there was a group text going on with my friends where somebody said Sabir’s parents are going to drive planes into a building,” said Sabir. “I was so pissed.”
When he started attending the University of Connecticut, Sabir explicitly avoided the African American Cultural Center. “ I did not want to just be that black kid on campus,” he explained.
At UConn, Sabir also found that he loved to dress up, and that dressing up was an effective way to evade stereotypes. He wore a three-piece suit, a fedora and glasses every single day of the week. “Everybody thought that I was 35,” said Sabir. “The first time I met my sophomore English professor, he asked me what class I taught.”
Today, Sabir still dresses nicely. Every day, he wears glasses to Starbucks, where he works as a barista, even though he has 20/20 vision. Glasses, according to Sabir, make him seem like “a bigger deal.” With his glasses on, he sometimes gets mistaken as the manager, but more importantly, he isn’t mistaken as a threat. When the police first started getting 911 calls about a masked man walking into Starbucks, they would always be surprised to find a respectable-looking guy in glasses and a collared shirt.
“They’d be like, oh it’s just you?” said Sabir. “Because how many black men do you see with glasses on, in a mug shot?”
Wearing glasses, donning a collared shirt, leaving the saggy pants at home — these are all ways to cope with the fear of being pulled over, being arrested.
These are also all pieces of advice that Sabir’s father, Shafiq Abdussabur, a law enforcement officer in New Haven, must give to not only his son, but to all young black men.
In 2010, Shafiq published a book called “The Black Man’s Guide to Law Enforcement in America,” which aimed to help communities of color — in particular young men — avoid unnecessary and potentially injurious encounters with the police. His guidance is straightforward and pragmatic. “Be courteous and polite,” Shafiq advises in the book. “Pretend that your grandmother is watching. Don’t pretend that you’re [radical civil rights activist] Al Sharpton.”
“When you have a black son, a son of color, who lives in America, particularly in an urban city,” Shafiq explained to me over the phone. “You need to give them the right guidance they need to get through the day.”
According to Shafiq, the young black man in New Haven, in particular, is in urgent need of this guidance because he is under a lot of pressure. “Riding through Newhallville [a neighborhood with the highest crime rates in the city] he has to be worried about getting shot. Riding downtown, he has a high chance of getting pulled over,” Shafiq said. “Riding through the Yale campus, he needs to be prepared of being accused of something.” If he wants to protect himself and navigate through all this successfully, he needs to look sharp, wear the mask, play the game, be twice as good.
“Growing up, my son probably experienced a great deal of pain from others, because he’s black and Muslim,” Shafiq explains. “The mask is probably a coping mechanism. With his mask on, he’s able to remove his race and religion entirely out of the equation.”
“My mask protects me from more than just the wind,” Sabir posted, on the MaskedManiax Facebook Page in February 2015. “It protects me from your assumptions about my stereotypically black face.”
The mask, perhaps, is more than just a social experiment, more than just confrontation. It is, as Shafiq says, a “coping mechanism,” a form of protection. It allows provocation, but also concealment, allows for differentiation, but also anonymity.
“Once, I forgot my ski mask at home, and a kid saw the back of my neck and was like Oh he’s black!? New Haven has a black superhero?” Sabir recounts. “And I thought, why can’t I just be a superhero?” After that incident, Sabir started wearing gloves too, to cover his hands.
Sabir can don a pair of glasses, button up his collared shirt, put on a suit; but perhaps the most efficient way to free himself from the burden of stereotypes is simply to cover up his skin entirely.
We’re on Temple Street and a car drives precariously close to my right, trying to swerve in front of us. Sabir turns his head to make sure I’m ok. When we reach the traffic light, he bikes vigorously toward the car and pulls out two metal bike locks attached together out from his backpack. He twirls the locks in his right hand so that they make a loud clanking sound, brandishing them in his right hand like a police baton by the car window, to try to get the driver’s attention.
“Hey,” he shouts at the car, “Watch where you’re going!”
Over the last year, Sabir’s night rides have transformed into a kind of community-policing effort. He rides alongside pedestrians to make sure they can cross the road safely, protects bikers from aggressive cars and makes sure that drivers are following the rules. He’s taken it on himself to act as a kind of traffic vigilante, a superhero of the streets of New Haven.
It certainly feels this way as we speed down Temple into the bright, fluorescent lights of the storefront of Dunkin’ Donuts, where we decide to stop for our break. “Harlem Shake” is blasting from Sabir’s boombox, we cruise in on our bikes, and a homeless woman standing in front of the store greets us, beaming.
“Hey it’s you! Oh wow! I’ve seen you before!” she exclaims as we walk over. “Oh wow, you’re a pair now, I like that. I’m such a fan.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Sabir.” He takes off his glove and shakes her hand. I bask in his glory and shake her hand too.
“I used to think you were so creepy and crazy. I remember sitting on the Green hearing you bike by, your music going dahnananana,” she exclaims. “And then I saw you the other day, next to Starbucks, and was like, oh he seems like a nice guy.”
Sabir smiles and looks away.
“Can I ask you something?” she continues. “Why? Why do you do it?”
Sabir shrugs. “Just because.”
She purses her lips, and thinks for a moment. Perhaps, she like I, was hoping for more of a snappy slogan — the manifesto of the Masked Maniac, the eloquently worded political agenda of New Haven’s superhero on wheels. “Well, just keep doing what you’re doing,” she says, opening the door for us. “Take care!”
We order at the counter and sit down.
“Seriously though, why do you do it? Is that what you tell people?” I ask.
“I mean, it changes every time,” said Sabir. “Sometimes I tell them it started out as a social experiment, sometimes I tell them it’s to protect my face, and sometimes I tell them just because.”
“Ok.” I try something else. “What does it feel like? What does it feel like when you’re on the bike, with your mask on?”
Sabir paused, and thought about it for a second.
“It’s kind of like when you’re at a party and the lights are dim,” he said. “Ordinarily you’d be afraid, but when the lights are dim, no one can really see you and you can just dance and do anything you want.”
Growing up, Sabir wanted to do a lot of things. When he was seven, he wanted to be an architect. “I used to get cardboard boxes and cut them up and make buildings and mosques and stuff,” he said. (He was obsessed with Bionicles and still has a big box of his childhood collection in his apartment.) In middle school, he got into programming and computer hardware, and made it his responsibility to go around and help the neighborhood kids learn to use their new Macintoshes.
He also liked being active. His father had taught him how to fish, how to shoot a bow and arrow; he got his hunting license at age 11. He flirted with the idea of being a firefighter, but after watching the film “Ladder 49,” decided that it wasn’t the path for him. In high school, he decided he wanted to be an artist. At 16, he started his own hip-hop production company “4Real Productions,” and named himself executive producer.
By the time he graduated from college, Sabir realized that what he was most interested in was teaching. “Youth empowerment. That is the one thing that Sabir has always kept pushing all his life,” his father Shafiq explained.
“The Youth Revolution,” the organization that Sabir still spearheads today, was actually founded by Sabir in eighth grade, after he was inspired by a skit he performed with his class on drugs and violence. Through TYR, he created the Youth Day Project, an annual citywide arts event to showcase the artistic talents of New Haven youth, a program that is now in its sixth year. In addition to their annual showcase, the Youth Day Project organizes events throughout the year, from leadership training sessions to fashion shows to video game competitions.
Currently, the members of the Youth Day Project are organizing an open mic, which will take place in a downtown cafe on Black Friday. I joined Sabir and four other Youth Day members — Naani, Giovanna, Nigel and Jordan — one Saturday morning for their weekly meeting in Westville Public Library to discuss the event. We are seated around a table in one of the private meeting rooms, eating Pop Tarts and brainstorming potential performers who could feature at the event.
“Do you guys know of anyone we could reach out to?” asks Sabir.
“I could get Ty Ty, Christian and some of those guys. But I gotta pull some strings,” says Naani, currently a senior at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven. (Nigel and Giovanna are juniors there right now, and Jordan is a freshman at Gateway Community College.)
“Wait a second though,” Giovanna asks. “What if people don’t wanna come because they’re all out shopping during Black Friday?”
“We don’t have to worry about that,” Sabir shoots back wryly. “People who are coming don’t got no money to go shopping on Black Friday.”
Later, when Sabir goes to the bathroom, I ask Naani what it’s like working with Sabir. “Sabir’s funny and he’s cool,” said Naani. “He knows when it’s a good time to get serious, and when it’s a good time to joke around.”
Sabir is indeed capable of speaking in many tongues. He can quickly and seamlessly assume the role of the “serious” leader and inspiring rhetorician. During the meeting, he reminds the group of the importance of their work. “Every other open mic in the city is adult-oriented. It’s either at the community center or in bars,” said Sabir. “Remember that you are hosting it in prime location. Remember, that you are the only open mic organized by and catered to youth.”
He also talks to the Youth Day members about race, and the prejudices that they must face as persons of color. His words are hardboiled and straightforward. “Sabir had the three-strike conversation with us,” explained Giovanna. A strike, as defined by Sabir, is a “stereotype that you suffer because society thinks less of you.” According to Sabir’s metric, as young black women, Naani and Giovanna have three strikes against them — “1) they’re black 2) they’re female 3) they’re under 21.”
We talk about the recent Yale fraternity party scandal, where brothers of a fraternity allegedly turned away non-white students, saying that the party was for “white girls only.” A fraternity brother was also accused once of insisting on touching an African-American female student’s hair, before she could be let into the party. (Sabir does not bike by this fraternity anymore, which used to be part of the route of his night-time rides.)
“I hate it when people ask me if they can touch my hair,” Giovanna says.
“It’s so annoying,” Jordan adds, “once I was walking with this girl with this huge fro and every she went, I could hear people saying — Can I touch it? Can I touch it? At one point I couldn’t stand it anymore and I was like you can touch my …” He pauses and turns toward me with a sheepish grin. “I’m not gonna say it, there’s a reporter here.”
“Serious” Sabir is equally capable of assuming the role of the “funny and cool” older-brother figure, well-versed in adolescent concerns and high school lingo. He gives them a space to let out their frustrations through wit, laughter and commiserative banter.
“Sabir, what did someone call your boombox that one time?” Jordan asks.
“Oh yeah. Once, this lady walked up to me and says,” Sabir pauses and puts on a mock, shrill voice, “Hey I saw you the other day biking around with your ghetto blaster!”
We break into laughter. A ghetto blaster.
“When I heard that, I was like, he doesn’t even play ghetto music. He plays dubstep and Nickelback,” Jordan says. “And Fall Out Boy.”
In addition to planning open mics and talking about race and doling out advice, he fixes bikes. Jordan lugged his broken bike over on the bus to the Westville library today, so that Sabir can help him fix the jammed wheel. Sabir came over to Jordan’s house two weeks ago, but his bike was acting up again. “I’ll take a look at it after the meeting,” Sabir promises.
Matthew Feiner, the founder of The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, a bike store in New Haven that has catered to the community for the last 15 years, says that Sabir drops by the store nearly every other day. “He’s either bringing in a kid, to help them look for parts or fix their bike,” says Feiner.
According to Feiner, there is a sense of apprenticeship unique to bike culture, one that Sabir has taken advantage of. “When you first become a biker, you don’t know how a bike works, so you have to engage somebody to help, be it a mechanic at a shop or a friend who is handy with tools.” said Feiner. “You have to be taken under someone’s wing.”
Among the young people that Sabir has taken under his wing are six young and wiry seventh- and eighth-graders — Leandre, Lewis, Jahard, Anthony and DeVante — aspiring young Masked Maniacs.
One day, they were biking in downtown New Haven and bumped into Sabir with his mask on. “He told us that if we followed the rules on the street and stuff, that we could be part of the Masked Maniac bike club, and bike with him every week,” Leandre said.
The following Saturday, they were invited to come to the bike club tryouts and bike with Sabir through the New Haven Green, down Orange and up Crown Street. Sabir shows them how to bike single file on the streets, and calls out a car that does not follow the rules and give them the right of passage. (“See that?” he asks them, after biking up to a car and berating the driver at his window. “A car like that should not be speeding down Crown Street like that, especially on a weekend when there are families around!”)
We stop at Aladdin Pizza. He shows them how to prop their bikes upside-down, without locks, outside the storefront, so that they do not get stolen. Sabir has offered to treat everyone to lunch, and orders two large, steaming pepperoni pizzas to share.
Over lunch Sabir demonstrates that he is capable of not only sparring verbally with high school seniors, but is also equally proficient in the lingo of the pre-pubescent, Chicago Bulls cap-wearing, BMX-loving middle schoolers of his bike club. He mediates a tussle over slices of pizza (“Everybody gets two slices!”); he ensures that the boys are healthy and patched-up (“Leandre, let’s get you some bandages and ointment for that hand after we leave,”); he coordinates the Bike Club meeting times around all of their schedules. (“Is 3 o’clock the only good time for y’all on Saturday? DeVante, when do you get out of basketball? What time does everybody gotta get home? Eight? Ok we’ll get you all home by eight.”)
I ask them why they think Sabir is doing what he is doing. “I don’t know. I guess the bike shops is more comfortable with us riding with him than riding with other people,” explained Leandre, as he takes a bite of his pizza. “It’s fun. And I guess it keeps us out of trouble.”
Shafiq appears to agree with Leandre. To him, through the Masked Maniac Bike Club, Sabir is “giving kids opportunities, creating a relationship with young people that builds their self-esteem and gives them an alternative to a life of drugs and guns.”
In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin writes: “Every Negro boy, reaches a point, where he realizes, at once, profoundly, because he wants to live, that he stands in great peril and must find, with speed, a ‘thing,’ a gimmick, to lift him out, to start him on his way. And it does not matter what the gimmick is.”
For Baldwin, the gimmick was the church, the gospel, the Christian faith. For Sabir, the gimmick, perhaps, is biking around with a mask. Biking, as Feiner explains, “keeps you off the streets, gets you out of your shell.” The mask serves the same function. “It allows the wearer to step out of himself,” says Feiner. “As soon as you have a mask on, you’re a different person, you can be whoever you want to be.”
And Sabir’s gimmick is simple, exportable and accessible to all. “What I do can be done by anyone — that’s the craziest thing about it,” Sabir explained in an interview with the New Haven Independent.
“He does not have an endowment fund, or donations from hedge fund people, or a youth center,” Shafiq explained to me. “But he has a concept, a program, a passion. And he has a bike, and he will come to you.”
We’re finishing up our pizzas and getting ready to head out. Sabir takes out another mask from his bag and gives it to Leandre.
He slides it on. It swamps his small face. “Does it fit?” he asks. “How do I look?” I give him a thumbs-up.
Leandre will get a mask of his own, if he passes the tryouts and proves himself fit enough to bike with Sabir. “Sabir says that we get to have a mask,” says Leandre. “If we keep up.”
But it is hard to keep up with someone like Sabir. He is constantly on the move, speaks in many tongues, operates in different communities, always thinking about his next project; he is a jack of all trades, difficult to pin down.
Throughout the week, he is darting around, from home to work to meetings and back home again on his bicycle. When he’s not working his regular 9-to-5 shift as a barista at Starbucks, he’s tutoring kids after school, leading workshops in everything from hip-hop to spoken-word poetry, writing flyers for The Youth Revolution or managing its online presence. Friday mornings, he attends service at the local mosque. Saturday mornings he’s running Youth Day meetings, afternoons he’s running the Masked Maniac Bike Club. He also to make sure he spends quality daylight hours with his girlfriend, Tila.
“When he comes into the store, he always has a new story to tell,” says Matthew Feiner at The Devil’s Gear Bike Store. “Something interesting is happening to him every day because that is the energy that he attracts. I’m like Jesus Christmas man, is there not a day that something nutty doesn’t happen to you?”
“Sabir and I both love Star Wars, and we both think that we’re Jedis, in a corny way,” his father Shafiq tells me over the phone, laughing. “Listen to me, I tell him. You can do anything. You’re the force.”
When I asked him for his contact details so that I could reach him later, he handed me a name card that read:
The Masked Maniac
Misunderstood … Cyclist, Artist, Athlete, Activist, Entrepreneur
“Is there anything that you are not?” I asked, jokingly.
Perhaps that is the appeal of the mask. It allows him to be elusive, shape-shifting, enigmatic. In hyperracialized America, a society where your potential as an individual is constrained by your appearance and bound to the color of your skin, Sabir has the freedom to re-create his image again and again. He can have an identity in constant flux, and evade and deflect the assumptions that others are so keen to slap upon him. Unrestrained by race, by religion and by other people’s expectations, Sabir can do anything he wants to. He can do things just because.
It’s 12:45, and we’re still at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s getting late and time to keep going. Sabir finishes his tea. We get up, put on our masks, and get ready for round two.
I get on my bike and Sabir selects a song from the #MaskedManiax playlist on his iPod Mini. The playlist features: the soundtrack of Empire, the dubstep remix of Immortals by Fall Out Boy, and some number by Montreal punk rockers SkullNBone. I request the Fall Out Boy.
We bike down Crown Street back towars Elm, towards where we started our night. The street is lively. Clusters of tipsy 20-somethings stand outside bars, around tall tables, flocking to the warmth of the wine and conversation.
“Wayho!” Somebody calls out to us as we bike past. Somebody else whistles.
Sabir turns up the music and begins to pedal faster. We’re flying down the streets now, and it’s hard to keep up with him, but I try anyway. I imagine the others joining us — Leandre, Jahard, Lewis, Anthony, DeVante — racing down the street next to us, exerting their wiry young legs, struggling to keep up but trying anyway. Naani, Giovanni, Nigel, Jordan, all the young people of New Haven whom Sabir has taken under his wing, join us on our ride, biking alongside us.
He takes his hands off the handlebars, and we are following closely behind, exhilarated.
Biking down the street, masks on, it feels like we’re at a high school party. It’s like the lights are dim, and we’re dancing.