by Cheryl Sola
I was born.
Damn. Can’t anything go right?
That was thirty years ago and nothing’s changed. Today’s my birthday, June 6th. Pa said my birthday numbers add up to 6–6–6. And because that number means the devil, my Pa called me the devil’s child, and got an evil grin every time he said it.
Thirty years ago I almost died. When I was being born, that is. I don’t know what it did to my brain, but whatever happened left me in some magical place where I was just enough smart that the government didn’t have to pay to get me extra help, but it left me not quite smart enough to figure out how to do things right and stay out of trouble.
Uh-oh. Ho nang. I just heard thunder. My Ma always said that if you hear thunder, rain’s not far behind. I gotta put on my poncho. And just in time, too, here come the first drops.
“Hey, you idiot! Stop sitting there talking to yourself and move on!”
I look up and behold a cop hanging out the window of a black and white unit, pointing his baton at me.
I wave hello at him.
“I mean it. If you’re still sitting on that bus bench when I come around again, I’m arresting you for loitering. Get it?”
I wave bye-bye, already forgetting him.
Anyway, I like watching raindrops slide down the hood of my poncho. On rainy days, I pretend I’m sitting indoors, warm and dry, looking out the window as the traffic goes by. I especially like watching the buses. They are the T. Rex of the streets. No cops would bother me if I was in one of those. If only I had some tokens.
The rain is falling harder now. It reminds me of that day when I was begging for money and shivering so hard that my teeth were clattering when some guy stopped and pulled out a brand-new, clear-plastic poncho from one of his shopping bags and gave it to me. I couldn’t believe it. I’m one of the few who has one. A poncho, that is.
But being wealthy is not without its problems. I have to be careful or someone will try to steal it from me. They all want it. I know they do. All those down around the Mission, that is. I saw their hungry eyes following it when I went for supper a few nights ago. That’s why I can’t go back. I’m scared of what they’ll do to me to get this poncho.
But one thing they can never take from me, and that’s rain, the sound it makes as it’s falling. Right now, it’s gentle and the drops are sliding down in slow motion. Always sliding, unable to control their destiny, just landing wherever they land. Just like me. Wherever I land, there I am. Funny how that works.
Anyway, I remember when I was ten and Ma left because Pa got a girlfriend on the side. Ma said there wasn’t room enough for three. Pa and his new girlfriend went out a lot and left me home most of the time, proving that Ma was right . . . there is no room for three.
But, Pa’s girlfriend tried to be nice to me. One day when Pa wasn’t looking, she gave me a teddy bear. I think she felt bad about the way he treated me, but she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to him. Anyway, I named him George. The teddy bear, that is. And we became best friends. Life was so much better with George. I finally had someone I could talk to. I wasn’t so scared at night anymore because George made me feel safe.
When I got to be eleven or twelve, the school tested me and told me that I was dis…leck…sick. So, when you’re sick with dis-leck, whatever that is, you have to go to a special class, because people had a hard time understanding me just because I turned letters and words around, and called yogurt lodurt and said ho nang when what I was meaning was ho–, wait, hang … on.
Well, it was downhill from there. First, I got teased so much, I just plain stopped going. To school, that is. Then, I got into trouble for that. So, the school sent me to court and the judge solved the problem by making me go to a school where I had to live until I finished high school. It was up in the mountains so I couldn’t run away.
Everything was okay at my new school until Jafar started picking on me. And it started because I made a huge mistake. I heard another kid call him Jafart and I honest-to-God believed that was his name. Uh oh! Here come the pictures. They make me want to puke.
“What did you call me?” he asked, whipping around, fists clenched. He was a very big boy, the star of the football team.
“Jafart,” I said, feeling something wasn’t quite right, adding, “That’s your name, isn’t it?”
“No, you idiot, it’s not. My name is Jafar. There’s no t on the end. You making fun of me?”
He took a step toward me, his fists still clenched, his face red as a Bugs Bunny cartoon bull pawing the ground and getting ready to charge. I felt like Wile E. Coyote ready to run for my life. In fact, I did. Run, that is. But I didn’t get far.
Jafar tackled me and I ate dirt. He beat my back and head, then kicked me in the side after he got off me. And that mistake is what led to murder. I saw him watching me, Jafar that is. Everywhere I went, he was there. Staring at me. I couldn’t tell the counselors. He’d find out and I’d be toast.
So when he saw George, he decided that I was too old to have a teddy bear and he pushed me around and called me names, saying, “Only babies need teddy bears.”
One morning, not long after George disappeared, I saw him in class. Jafar, that is. He grinned at me, that same evil grin Pa had. After class, he told me that he threw George off the cliff and he was dead and I would never see him again. Then he laughed at me when I started crying.
Why did he have to kill my only friend? He didn’t make fun of my big ears or call me stupid. George, that is. And, I know what you’re thinking, sticks and stones. But I was smart in one way, though. I never told anyone about my 6-6-6 number. I probably would have been burned at the stakehouse if they knew about that.
Excuse me for a moment while I watch this bus go by. I don’t know why I like to watch buses, except maybe because of the memories of the big plastic pink-and-yellow bus I used to push George around on. I would say All Aboard and he’d get on the bus and I would push him around and he would laugh, and so would I. Those were my most happy times.
Anyway, talking about George reminds me of the day we were going on a field trip. All us kids piled onto the school bus and I got to sit next to Jackie, a pretty girl who lived in the cottage next to mine. I kind of liked her, but I don’t think she liked me the way like I liked her. She didn’t talk much. I heard she was aw-tis-tik and that’s why she didn’t talk much. We were going down the mountain road when she grabbed my arm and shook it, pointing up out the window.
I followed her finger and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was George! He was in a cloud. Or maybe he was the cloud. Anyway, I waved to him, but the road turned away and so did he. But that was okay. I sat back in my seat, feeling happy now that I knew for sure that he had gone to heaven. I had wondered about that.
Well, since that day I saw George, I’ve been hoping that maybe one day I can go to heaven so we can be together again. But since I’m a devil child, I doubt I can get in. But, today’s my birthday and I’ve been staying out of trouble. Too bad I don’t have a candle to blow out so my wish will come true. Hey, wait! Maybe a match would work. I ransack my pocket and pull out a worn book. There’s two left. I take one and light it. I make my wish and blow it out. There. Maybe my wish will come true, after all.
Anyway, the rain’s let up and it’s getting steamy, so this poncho’s coming off. The gutters are flowing like a river and I have to take a look-see. A half-eaten Big Mac is sounding pretty good right now, but, no luck.
Anyway, after Jafar killed George, things got better. I was cruisin’ through life when one day the magical place arrived, where I’m either too good, or not good enough, whichever works best against me. This time it was called graduation. It meant that I had to move out of the cottage at school and go out on my own.
I was dumped at the YMCA with three months rent paid and an old pick-up truck to get around in, so I could find a job. I never did find one and when the three months were almost up, and I was wondering where I was going to live, to my surprise the problem solved itself. I got arrested. I had lent my truck to some new guy at the Y, who burglarized a house, and someone wrote down my license plate number.
Bad went to worse because I finally made parole. You’d think I would be happy to get out, but I wasn’t. I was sent by bus back to my hometown and dumped with nothing but the clothes on my back, so I just wandered the streets. I lived on hand-outs and dumpster diving.
But paradise didn’t last long since it’s a condition of parole to check in with your parole officer. Because the state had no money, I got no bus tokens to get to my check-in visit. I did call and tell my P.O. that I had no way to get there, but he didn’t care. I was considered a no-show and was sent back to prison on a parole violation.
For the next six years, this situation repeated itself time and again. I felt like a danged fish, catch and release. Every time I was up for release, I was happy and scared at the same time. Happy to be free, but scared of living on the streets: having to watch my back at every turn, constant hunger, and always living in dread of the next violation.
Well, here I am. Free for the moment, but forever an inmate-in-waiting. They own me. And they’ll reel me back in when they have an empty bed. But look, the clouds have broken up and the sunset is making pink and yellow streamers for my birthday. The same colors as my old plastic bus I used to push George around in. Maybe something good will happen for once in my life.
But then again, maybe not. A cop car just turned the corner. Same guys as last time. I better move along or they’ll nail me on littering laws. I guess that means I’ll be arrested because I’m garbage, but does it matter what excuse they use? Anyway, by the time I get my pack-pack from under the bench, the cop car has pulled over. Too late, I’m a target.
“Hey, YOU! Stop!”
Stop? Is he kidding? I’m sitting on a bench.
“YOU! Down on the ground.”
The cop gets out, pointing his Taser at me. “You were told to move on. I’m arresting you for violation of loitering laws. I said down on the ground.”
Yeah, I hear him, but I just can’t comply. I guess my lucky 6-6-6 number is up. He pushes me hard and orders me down again. I just can’t play the game no more, my knees refuse to bend. His fist hits me in the gut and I double over, the wind knocked out of me. I stumble backward and fall on my butt. Then his boot smashes into my jaw and slams my head back, blood and spit gushing from my mouth. My head smacks the curb, lightning zigzags through my head. I hear water running off in the distance as everything goes dark.
I wake up. Downtown is empty and rain is falling again. I’m too beat to care anymore, but for some reason I open my eyes and, to my surprise, I see George in the sky. Raindrops are blurring his face.
“George, are you crying?”
I’m not sure if I was asking it out loud or thinking it or what.
“Yeah,” George says. “I miss you. Come up here so we can play.”
“I’d like that, George, I’d like that a lot. But I’m a devil child and heaven don’t let no devil childs in.”
George smiles. “You’re so funny, Willie. Don’t you know devils can’t be born on Sundays?”
“No, I didn’t know that. But so what? Why do you say that, anyway?”
“Because you were born on a Sunday.”
For some reason, my eyes sting and something warm begins to run down my cheeks. It feels like inmates finally and forever freed. A bright, white light appears in the sky even though the sun is setting. As it moves toward me, it grows larger and takes on the shape of a pink and yellow bus. I can hear George’s voice, somehow closer, whispering, “All aboard.”
“I’d like that, George.”
I close my eyes and more warm inmates escape.
“I’d like it a lot.”
“C’mon, Willie. The bus is here.”
“Ho nang, George.”
I turn and look down at the broken body lying in the gutter, the river dividing and running around it. I watch a partially eaten burger in a McDonald’s wrapper bumping up against my head. Don’t it figure?
I wave bye-bye, and climb the steps of the bus.
As I do, I hear George cry, “All aboard.”
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student