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And on that late afternoon day the rain fell upon the gray asphalt. It fell unassumingly, some of its freed droplets trickling down the darkened autumn leaves which had begun its cyclical journey into finality. The rain-drops too were destined to this fate but for the ones taking refuge on these aging leaves, fate seemed to be postponed…for the moment. The sky was overcast with that gray hue and the clouds were gathered, all witnessing the slowness of the rainy day. They looked upon the moving city-goers with a certain pity. One man who had been equipped with an umbrella, but the harshness and intensity of the rain fall, accompanied by the wind, sent his poorly built contraption to the east and then west, then where-ever, under the will of the winds. Poor man, we express the greatest grief in the ruining of your well tailored navy blue suit; would be the thoughts of these clouds had they the introspective nature of us humans. Numerous city-goers resigned themselves to this fate with the exception of one young man and the clouds took great interest in him. Though the rain fell upon the city-goers, inspiring brisk walks and a desire for shelter, this one young boy did not submit to the will of the abominable down-pouring.
He was of a short stature. Around his shoulders and shielding the boy from the harsh weathers was a large velcro strapped coat. Its shoulder area had been colored a light sky blue and on other areas of the coat and splashed upon it were darker shades of that blue, finally settling into a darker navy blue at the bottom. The coat was zipped up to the top and around his neck was a wool scarf, but the colors had not matched the sky blue; instead it was black and it had been checkered with red and green. He wore it only because it protected his neck from the harsh winds which would bring unto him, if he were not prudent, the symptoms of the common cold. He was not the child to enjoy the common cold and for several reasons, ones which shall not be explained at this juncture.
Those feet adorned with black hand-me-down boots hit upon the moist and polished sidewalk with no resolve in them. No determination and no urgency. Even under the onslaught of rain, this young man did not quicken his pace. While the others slithered by him with their umbrellas cocked to the side to avoid a collision, he kept to those slow strides, almost envious of their urgency. Look at them, such in a rush to get home to people who adore him. So much in a rush to get home to those people who praise her, and shower her with adoration, accompanying her and giving her that support not deserved by any virtue of work but purely off the fact that she was, who she was, a human being. It was a sight which sent forth waves of sadness through this young man and when he had finished witnessing these urgent movements from the other pedestrians, his head dropped to the floor. Those brown eyes seemed in a trance, counting his steps like the man or woman burdened with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
One by one, he counted not only the steps, but the small cracks which separated each slab of cement. Three, four, five, he rang them off in his mind and he knew he was getting closer. He dreaded that feeling but the inevitability seemed all too real. He wondered briefly what buses ran in this area and the thought of riding the bus to the end of its route crossed his mind. But there was a matter of funds, for this young man had been reduced to a few quarters and dimes. This was not the average amount of money one of fourteen years should have. Typically children of this age were given a decent allowance to enjoy the temptations that rouse adolescent impulsivity. Allowing them the freedom to purchase those tasty-sugar filled cakes, and assorted chocolate candies to give them that sugar high for their unexpected history quiz. But this young man’s father was not the man to waste money on these things and he had the money to waste. It was a sad thing to be honest.
Perhaps he could adjust his path? Take another long winding street. So what if the rain soaked him, he thought. He had a rather decent sized jacket, quite possibly the only decent jacket brought by his father for him and though the jacket had been purchased at a discounted price, the young man expressed gratitude. His scarf secured him and his boots; those hand-me-downs were not subject to extensive use from the previous owner. It could carry upon its back the burden of a few more weighted strides. A few more corners turned and a few more inclined slopes. Those boots could sacrifice a few more steps for the welfare of this young boy.
He continued down the street finally reaching a crossing. The sedans and the coupes sped by, its tires rolling into one of the occasional pot-holes and sending the small puddles in a dance across the skies to the unsuspecting crosser. Auspiciousness smiles briefly upon the boy, for he was not standing in the area that would invite such misfortune, but he was so entranced by the ground, so hypnotized by the counting of his steps and lingering thoughts that he did not notice he was nearing the crossing and when that final car passed and he was in the middle of the small one-way street, a loud honking rang out. Its sound was of the highest pitch and it did so in a legato fashion. The driver slammed that large snake-skin shoe upon the brake and those tires recoiled with a rebellious nature, skidding across the street. The car swerved left and right, and when the braking prompted this sudden shift, the man adjusted his steering wheel to off-set the imbalance.
The loudness of the horn snapped the young boy back to reality and when those brown defeated eyes rose to meet with the car it was but a few feet away. Those pupils dilated and his eyes grew wide, but his reflexes were not akin to the soldier trapped in the trenches on the front lines. It was not of the secret service agent whose duty is to, at a moment’s notice, jump in front of an assassin’s bullet. This young boy was not gifted with the powers of quick and decisive movement and so he stood there, his eyes slowly retreating behind those lids almost as if the young boy had accepted his untimely fate. The screeching came to a halt but the boy had not been upon the ground, body contorted and bloodied from the force of the blow. No, this was not the fate for this young man, not in the least. He remained where he had originally been and what could be heard after that abrupt and screeching stop was the slapping of the rain-drops upon the pavement accompanied by the sizzling of an overtaxed engine.
When the young boy opened his eyes, he was met with the frustrated yelling of a middle-aged man. His head had been poked out the window of the brown sedan and his arm waving with a fleeting annoyance overtaking his countenance.
“Hey, boy what the hell’s the matter with you?!” the man called out from his car.
The young boy had been in such a state of shock that he did not respond to the man’s questioning. The rain continued its barrage and the wind increased in that moment, sending droplets on the boys face but the shock of this accident had been so impressed upon him, it disallowed any removal of the salty liquid. Those brown eyes lifted slowly to meet with the man’s annoyed hand, and the boy stared blankly. He surely had thought his life would be over, and to him, it might have been a better fate than the one which awaited him if he were to continue this walk.
The middle-aged man sat back into his seat, the rain still beating against his front-windshield and every so often, his wipers sliding back and forth, that squeaking sound accompanying its movement as it tossed the remaining rain onto the front bumper. The man flipped his hazard lights on and those black eyes looked upon the child again, who still did not leave the street. What is up with this kid, the man thought. He sighed soon after, the intensity and anger from the sudden stop soon abating and in this moment he felt a bit of pity for the child. The man remembered what it once felt like to be a child and consumed by the flightiness of youth. He remembered what it felt like to be so deep in thought, burdened by the surge of hormones that roam your body during adolescence, sending you into bouts of both depression and euphoria. He even recalled moments where he had been in a state similar to this boy, but not in the same scenario. His state had crept upon him during a meeting of one his crushes in his senior years.
As the middle-aged man stepped out of the brown sedan, the boy regained his lucidity. Eyes locked on the male target and quickly a fear overcame him. It was quite the unusual observation, as children of this age tend to be more rebellious to male figures that project any fatherly like auras. But this boy was quite the opposite. A deep apprehension set into his being, and those hands began to tremble with more fear than what he had experienced just a few moments ago. When the middle-age man began his approach, that boy spoke, his voice trembling and the tone of his voice shaky and cracking due to the surging hormones of puberty.
“I-I’m sorry sir, I didn’t-“ he said. The man had sense a bit of fear in the boy, and in doing so, felt sorry earlier for his harsh expressions of frustration. He had forgotten this young boy was just at the end of a speeding car; only a mere few feet from being resigned to the gods. The man stopped only a few feet from the boy and as he spoke, his voice took on a softer tone.
“Hey kid, you gotta keep your head up next time okay” the man said. Those olive colored hands slipped from his pockets and the man zipped his wool coat up, securing his neck and other areas from the falling rain. The boy nodded silently and he turned to look towards his destination. He was but twenty minutes away from home and the rain came down heavily. The gods know he wanted to forgo the arrival to his destination by any means but if he were to continue he would no doubt be soaked from head to toe.
The man stood there, a bit confused for the boy had turned his back to him. Those hands lifted and rotated so that the cuff of the man’s coat would slide back revealing his gold watch which he then looked upon for the time. He had somewhere to be, but… there was something about this young boy that prompted from him an offer. There was indeed something about this boy and his blank stare-down of the scores of sidewalks that related to the man the boy’s need for a ride. And normally, he would not do such things but under these circumstances it was rather fitting.
“Ay kid…” the man said once more, looking over his shoulder to make sure no other cars had accumulated behind his spun-out sedan.
The boy turned to face the man again, his face had been soaked with rain, still he said nothing but the quick turning prompted the man to speak again, “You need a ride?”
The kid blinked, parts of the salty liquid falling in his eye some. He wiped the isolated droplets from his face and thought about the offer. Initially the boy had felt some anxiety for the approaching male, this is true, but the softness of the tone which accompanied the admonishment and the subsequent offer, did put within the boy a sense of peace. It secured within his mind the thought that maybe this man was not like his father. Perhaps this man was a bit more, merciful.
Plus this rain was too much; curse the heavens for its outcry. Curse the clouds who smile with delight knowing they had won their long lasting war with this young man. They had desired for him to submit to their wills as the other unfortunate travelers have done and alas, the time has come. For good measure and to honor their triumphs, the clouds released a rather dense pocket of rain upon the two and when this occurred, this prompted from the young boy a few steps forward. He spoke once again, that voice lacking in confidence and still shaky.
“Y-Yes sir, I do.”
“Well, come on.” The man said, his hand motioning for the boy to enter the passenger side of his car. Some would look upon this peculiar interaction with a sense of dubiousness, as is well-reasoned for any one reading this to do, but one must understand the reference point from which this boy has to draw. He was not particularly fond of his father and the same could be said ten-fold for his father. One could say this interaction was one of the most positive interactions the boy has ever had with a male figure and so, he on some level desired to bask in this atmosphere. To live within this bubble of peace, for however long it may last.
When he entered the car, he set his sparsely filled stringed-book bag between his legs and on the floor. The man entered soon after and closed the door, his hands shifting to the hazard lights to remove them. The boy took a moment to observe the inner parts of the car. On the front dash board he caught a glimpse of a small figure of a woman standing seductively, wielded into the top of the dashboard. His glove compartment had been opened when the boy entered and within the compartment were various plastic bottles. Some were emptied and one in particular had been filled only a quarter of the way with small pills. The boy had not the time to fully inspect the name but what he did remember reading was ‘hydromorphone’. He had no clue what that word meant and before he could even ponder the origin of such a word, an olive hand came from the left and pressed upon the handle, closing the compartment quickly.
“So what’s ya name kid?” the man said.
The boy jumped at the sudden closure. “Um, my name… Uh, Darryl.”
“Alright Darryl, my name’s Shaide.” he said.
The boy did not say much. His feelings would often shift from acceptance, to skepticism in the man’s sincerity.
“So how far are you from here?” Shaide asked.
“About twenty minutes…,” said Darryl, pointing down a random road. It was quite the manipulative thing to do and Darryl did feel bad, but the thought of him returning home sooner than he expected set within him a terror that would force him to engage in subterfuge. He knew he was twenty minutes from home in walking distance but in this sports sedan and on these desolate and soaked afternoon streets, that time could easily be reduced to ten minutes. After Darryl motioned down that random side street, Shaide rotated that wheel. An olive-skinned hand shifted his car into drive and that snake-skin shoe pushed upon the pedal, accelerating them at moderate speeds down the road. As the car trudged along, Darryl looked outside his window. The partially wet windows dripped the afternoon rain slowly and those eyes of Darryl followed the falling streaks of rain-drops against the glass window, every so often shifting his gaze to observe a few children outside of their homes. A few of them were exiting their cars with their parents. Darryl wished to be in the shoes of these fortunate children; his eyes noting the love in the parents as they gripped upon the hands of their children, guiding them through the rain and into their place of security. This is what Darryl longed for. It was what he had desired ever since he could understand the role of a father and mother. But Darryl was not given his heart’s desire.
Shaide kept his black eyes on the road, as any experienced driver would, but with this experience came a certain confidence and in this, he turned to observe the boy who seemed to be trapped in his own world. Wanting to break the awkward silence of a stranger driving a child home and wanting to remove any potential anxiety that may arise from such silence, he posed a simple question.
“So, what school do you go to huh?”
Darryl broke from his intense observation and those eyes turned, not to make contact with Shaide, for Darryl had learned the harsh lesson of making too much eye contact with male figures from his father. Instead they settled upon the road in front of them. Before he spoke, he motioned to Shaide to make another right turn, taking him farther away from his home. Darryl figured he could do this for a few more minutes until Shaide would grow wise to his game.
“Um… I go over to Center High, over by Charleston Avenue,” his voice losing the shakiness that once accompanied it, but still retaining the cracks of a mid-pubertal boy.
“Ah, you do?” When Darryl had motioned to the right, Shaide rotated the wheel, slowly guiding the sedan down another road, which seemed to be completely unfamiliar to Darryl. He grew worried as he did not want to send this man on adventure riddled with turns that would ultimately end up with both of them being lost.
“I used to go there when I was a kid,” Shaide said. He thought back to his high-school days. The social politics that governed that school; it was indeed a harsh atmosphere to navigate but Shaide did grace those lands with great aplomb becoming one of the popular kids. Those eyes rested upon Darryl though; his complexion, his body type which was way smaller than what Shaide had remembered himself to be. The clothes which adorned Darryl were of the cheapest brand, his pants barely fitting and the coat, if Shaide had been caught in it in his teen years, would have undoubtedly dropped him to the most abysmal levels of uncool.
“Do you know Ms. Eddington?,” he asked. He remembered that teacher. She was indeed the weirdest one he had ever encountered. Her walk was of one who had been afflicted with a broken hip and she was top-heavy, carrying most of her weight from the waist up. She would wear these navy blue pant-suits which seemed to magically collect dust even when she had not been close to the chalkboard. Why there were days where Shaide had seen chalk stains on her pants and she had not even entered the building to start the school day. Darryl’s brows lifted at that familiar pronunciation and it struck a memory. For once, the young boy offered a small curling of the upper lip and those eyes met only briefly with Shaide.
“Yeah I do… I got her for science third period,” he said. The familiarity with this teacher did set within him a certain comfort in the man and this soon discouraged any further manipulations from him. As Shaide approached another intersection, Darryl pointed him in the correct direction. Shaide looked to the boy with a grin upon his lips.
“Is she still weird?” he asked, and before he could answer, those eyes returned to the road and his hand hit upon the top of the wheel softly, his memories flooding back, “ah I remember that lady was crazy. She always had chalk stains on her pants,” he laughed, and soon this prompted a small chuckle from Darryl. He too had witnessed the ridiculous amount of chalk stains on her pants.
“You’d think she’d wear a different color suit, you know?” Shaide offered his reasoning to Darryl and he fully understood it, following up his faint chuckle with a much more satisfying laugh. Darryl had not laughed like that in a long time, and it did offer a bit of levity from what would be a rather tumultuous night.
“I know!”Darryl exclaimed, and for that minute he allowed himself a moment to relax. He would soon return to his melancholic disposition for in the distance he had seen a particular landmark. It was Peele’s sandwiches, a small chain of stores which designed your sandwiches to your heart’s desire. When those brown eyes caught hold of this, the anxiety and foreboding feelings which gripped him earlier returned. As Shaide passed the shop, Darryl rested his head against the glass window.
“Ay kid, listen don’t worry about them bullies,” interjected Shaide unsuspectingly. He had no clue if it was bullies but was only going off the body language he had observed. “Bullies deep down are cowards, you know? They have no power, so they try to take power from people who are powerful,” Shaide went on, that car passing the tool shop and then the old abandoned garage Darryl remembered frequenting with his friends when his mother had been alive. “So they find people who don’t know they got power… you, kid. They know you don’t know, so… they try to take it. Alls you got to do is show them your power and they’ll back down,” he kept his eyes on the road but every so often Shaide would shift one eye on him, one lone eyebrow arched to see if the advice had penetrated the young boy.
Darryl did not turn to look at Shaide though. Those eyes kept noting all the landmarks. Soon those eyes rested on the streets, reciting them one by one in his head and counting down the front-yards preceding his house.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he said, his voice filled with dejection. Yes bullies are afraid of power and will surely back down when approached with such power but what is the plan for bullies who hold the supreme power? An encompassing power to grant a person freedom and set upon you a night in a secluded room after a barrage of insults? What followed that admittance was a sigh for he had set those brown eyes upon that two-story brownstone just a few feet from the approaching street. It was not kept up to date like the surrounding brownstones and each window was covered with thick gray curtains. The front porch was not kept with care and lying upon it were various car parts, painted with oil and other lubricants which stained the dying lawn. There was a lawn mower, but it was turned to the side and it looked as if someone had attempted to work on it; no doubt the father who had spent most of his morning as a mechanic doing odd-jobs for people across town.
That brown sedan rolled up just a few yards from the house and when that car turned into the small parking spot, Darryl turned to face the man, again only briefly making eye contact.
“T-Thank you for the ride, Mr. Shaide,” he said as politely as he could and Shaide nodded.
“Ah don’t sweat and ay,” said Shaide just as Darryl opened that car door. Darryl turned back for that moment and in this short exchange, would spark a series of events which would lead to stunning realization for all those involved on this bittersweet journey, “remember you gotta take the bully’s power away from him, alright?” Again it was rare for Darryl to make eye contact but the gravitas of Shaide’s tone prompted from his eyes an unwavering gaze only for this moment. The gaze lasted a few seconds longer than it needed to and in this; Shaide knew he had penetrated with success. Shaide offered a quick nod for good measure and Darryl turned, grabbing that string bag upon the car floor and exiting the car.
Ah so this one returns for more. The gray clouds opened with excitement, and once more a dense pocket of rain fell upon the lands. Darryl walked through the half-broken gate and navigated his way past the broken car-parts and up the wooden steps. When Shaide had seen he was safely at his house, he shifted that car into drive and push down on the gas with the most power, sending the car into a hasty retreat and to work for which he had been late.
Darryl’s anxiety had increased but he managed to subdue it. He had a certain way of suppressing the feeling and dissociating from conflict, especially conflict involving his family. If he had not he would have not survived this long. As those hands set hold of the screen door, pulling it back, the main door’s knob offered a mild shifting and unsuspectingly the front door opened revealing Darryl’s father. Darryl’s eyes shot up quickly at the rather portly and large man and Darryl stepped back. The large man looked down to his son with the most condescending hawk eyes. The father was dressed in some worn out and dingy white college basketball shorts. Upon his feet were one-strap slippers and his t-shirt had been stained with oil and other automotive lubricants. He stood with his back arched and his stomach hung over his waist, revealing the bottom portion of his belly. Hair was non-existent for his father had begun shaving his head after the death of his wife. He did keep his beard and allowed it to grow as unkemptly as possible. Ears were small but the curvature of the lobe suggested many run-ins with your local drunks at the bar and possibly the police. His nose had been rather large, and the hairs which grew out of them were not plucked, some of them slipping out of the nostril and curving; dark circles covered his eyes showing a man who did not sleep much, for he had spent much of his time fixing his cars and tending to his business.
Those piercing brown eyes kept on his son and Darryl, realizing he had been making too much eye contact with his father tried to shift his gaze. But it was too late. Almost immediately, his father’s hand swung in a bluffing motion towards Darryl and when it did, he flinched, jumping back and releasing the handle of the screen door, letting it fall in front of his father. All that Darryl could see was the darkness on one side of father’s face and the other, only illuminated by a few daylight bulbs in the background.
“Da fuck you lookin’ at boy,” the father said with a growl. Darryl turned his eyes onto the door knob and kept it there until his father had been adequately pleased with Darryl’s display of submission. The father shook his head with disgust and after he grew tired of Darryl, simply turned and walked back into the house, leaving the front door open.