His world had been at war his entire life. From the moment he awoke each day, bitter words forged by chronic poverty flew through the home, piercing the fabric of the family like emotional weapons. His father left before the sunrise to escape the verbal pounding and to begin his 2 hour trip to possible employment - a trip that cost the family money it did not have. His mother left for her job shortly thereafter, fleeing the millstones of a system grinding down her family. The
hardscape of the neighborhood directed life, much as conduits channel electricity and water.
At 13 he knew only a world filled with random acts of violence that created a universe defined by terror. Every action from placing a bed against an inner wall to sitting with his grandmother on the front porch was fraught with the possibilities of death.
Only yesterday, friends of his grandmother had been struck down by a car that had careened onto a sidewalk where people had been waiting for the breadline to open. The impact of the car had left its mark in the weathered brick walls, as had the 9mm rounds from last week's yet-another drive-by shooting framed by graffiti art of rival gangs.
He eased out the door, cautiously assessing every movement in the stray shadows of dawn. The neighbor was up first thing, still trying to remove the stench from his car. No one knew exactly how he earned his living, but some unknown someone had put fresh fish and crabs under the back seat a few weeks ago, and now the smell of well rotted sea creatures, heated by the sun in the asphalt and concrete oven that was the city in summer, permeated the block wafting through the open windows where air conditioners were unaffordable.
The sidewalk, buckled and broken by age and inattention, drew his eyes up towards the end of the block. The failing paint and desperate stoops showcased a parsimonious gathering of plant life that, like the residents, came from many exotic places. First arrivals from distant lands still predominated, but, here and there, newcomers from all over the world had put down roots and settled in. And in rare instances even a native or two could be found, though now headed for oblivion. At the corner was the market, a convenience store where patrons were greeted by proprietors behind thick glass who, like all the non native plants,
had little interaction with the community. And yet the lack of connections and the aggregation of species and people from all over the world defined the neighborhood and gave it a feeling of something new, not quite defined, but somehow in the making.
He now faced a decision. To the left, across
Main Street was
safety of a sort. To the left, the modern city beckoned with its busy denizens
facing their daily struggle with paralyzing indecisions of the size and type of
coffee to buy, and the ever vigilant police to guarantee their safety. To the
right along the shadows of decaying buildings were the lands between the '3rd
and Main' and the 'Novas', a shorter route by far, but fraught with choices
that were uncertain. The '3rd and Main'
were the elders challenged by novelty from a different place and
time. Here, along dark untended alleys and doorways that led to neon lit rooms, brave souls put rotted chicken on steel hooks and dared rats to make a stand.
If he went to the left, he would face extra travel time and possible explanations to the private security guards of the old college and nearby stores. He would have to cross a park where the creek once was and the storm water now ran when the fingers of god lit up the sky and the sound of creation thundered across the skies. The well-worn path through the park wandered diagonally through the bramble and wild, unmanaged thickets filled with life with no particular name.
A month or so ago, men in white protective suits with masks and air supply had scoured the disturbed abandoned lot he knew as the park. They had come when dead animals and dead fish began to smell much like his neighbor's car. Adults had whispered about something spilled uptown and mentioned words like cancer, but after a few days the men in white had disappeared.
For him there was a fear in the landscape that was different from the normal terror of his world. He knew the names of friendly citizens of the street. He knew and could tell the peaceful from the dangerous, uncared-for souls who were to be avoided. He was street literate and could read the writing on the wall, but in the park nothing had a name and everything reached out to touch him in ways that only dreams could imagine. Even the sounds of nature had no names; the easily identified noises of the city were replaced by an unknown orchestra that haunted day dreams of the unwary. Down here he knew nothing at all except that
his day's journey ended on the other side.
He had chosen to go left and brave the unmanaged lot and its wild ways. He had avoided the bites of insects; feral pets had avoided him. He had not become entangled in poisonous plants, and emerged unscathed to re-cross the road.
He heard the yelling before he saw the commotion. The shouting and the screaming rushed over him drowning, out the real and imagined threats of nature. He saw at once the well dressed man pull a handgun from his bag and point it at the pursuing police. He clearly heard each distinct bite of gunfire -each individually delivered chance to live or die. He knew he had been hit, and that today he would not learn about someone dead some time ago. He understood as he began to fall that today he would not be going to school.
Special thanks for Cindy McW. @Gemswinc for her tireless edits, constructive criticisms and constant support.
August 25, 2012
August 25, 2012
revised with thanks to @BillNigh September 3, 2012
All rights reserved THOMPSON, John Peter 2012