NOT FOR EASILY OFFENDED ADULTS!
(This story was written for a boy who felt he was made to “Eat Shit” by an adult who didn’t get the picture. I hope it cheered him up.)
A., who was European, was visiting the small Carolina town where a relative had a house. He and J stayed in a little loft room over a store because they were artists and needed space to work at it all the time. The time was pretty good. Different, you know. But people stared. He got a little self-conscious so he started walking down the alleys instead of out on the regular street where people were always hanging around on the sidewalk.
Then this one day he was passing a dumpster and saw a tubby little black kid trying to pull out this huge flattened cardboard box. Must’ve been on an appliance, like a refrigerator. It was way too big for the kid to handle, so A — who’s a good guy — went over and helped him get it out. “What you want such a giant piece of cardboard for? You going to make something? A cut-out maybe? It’s so big you could make a cut-out elephant!”
The kid had a big wide white grin. “Naw. I’m gonna break-dance on it!” Now he was towing it along the alley behind them, raising dust, until they came to an empty lot. Eyeing the ground critically and kicking aside some rubble and cans, the boy positioned his cardboard so it was flat.
“What is break-dance? Some American thing?” The kid grinned some more and spun into a routine, first making his feet fly under his baggy pants in a quick syncopated rhythm and then flipping over on one arm, then dropping to a shoulder, and spinning. “Oh, hip-hop!” He began to clap and sing, but the kid didn’t last too long.
“Can’t do as much as I used to. Busted my arm.”
“How’d that happen? Break dancing?” He laughed at his joke, but then felt sheepish. The arm did look a little crooked.
“Oh, it healed pretty good now. My mom’s boyfriends are pretty rough, but she ain’t got one right now. I can sleep at home for a while.”
A looked at this boy speculatively. He was gettin’ the picture. “You know a good place for coffee around here?” A. was curious.
“You drink COFFEE??”
“What can I say? I’m European.”
The boy rolled his eyes. “I thought Europeans all drank wine!”
When they’d settled in a booth back in a corner where it was dark and unobtrusive, a plate of fries between them, he began to probe a little bit. “Where’d you learn to dance like that?” He didn’t eat many fries. The kid doused his in ketchup, but there was no vinegar.
“Aw, it’s a way to make a few bucks — you know, on the street when you can’t go home.”
“I know,” admitted A quietly and decided to chance it. “What happened to your dad?”
The boy lit up like a Christmas window display. “He’s in AFRICA, man!”
“Yeah, he ain’t no ordinary black man. He AFRICAN! Like a warrior. His hair in little braids all over his head and he TALL and WIDE and I can’t hardly even get my arms around him, but he have long arms and he wrap ‘em around me and hold me so TIGHT, on account a’ he love me, man. He come back to get me. Keep me safe forever.”
“What country in Africa?”
“I dunno. It jungle, but he know where there a diamond mine and he gonna smuggle out some BIG ones by swallowin’ them and then when he shit them out, he sell ‘em for enough money to come back and get me.” A had a feeling this was fantasy and more likely the boy’s father was in jail, sitting there getting more massive by the day because of weight-lifting and starchy food.
A skinny black girl was looking in the window with her hands on the sides of her face to see through the shadows. She came in and marched straight back to the booth. “Lonzo! You got to come home right NOW. Mama SAID.”
The boy sighed. “First I gotta visit the shitter.” He dragged himself out and around the corner to the door marked MEN.
“Don’t shit no diamonds,” joked A.
“What you talkin’ about?” the girl demanded.
“Oh, he was tellin’ me how your daddy was gonna swallow diamonds in Africa and get rich.”
“He ain’t got no daddy.”
“Huh?” A had such a clear picture in his head, he just wanted that dark warrior man to be true. He could almost smell lion blood or something.
“He’s my brother, or at least half-brother, but none of us in that family knows who our daddy might be. Whoever was around at the time is all.” She went and pounded on the door of the shitter. “Come outa there, Lonzo!” Then she came back to the booth with her hands on her hips, as angry as if she were a mama herself and likely she was.
A hated her. He couldn’t help himself. He was a little afraid of her, really. He tried to think of something true to say. “Well, I think he DOES have a daddy. It’s just that his daddy lives inside him and maybe some day he’ll BE that daddy.” She glared at him. “And he won’t run off. He’ll wrap his arms around his boy and hug him hard.”
“Hmmph,” she sniffed, “You as much a liar as he is!” and marched off with Lonzo trailing along behind. Lonzo turned enough to exchange a little finger wave.
A got another coffee, black, and sat for a while wondering what it would be like to be hugged by a massive African warrior with brass earrings and muscle bracelets on his upper arms and maybe a leopardskin thrown over his shoulder but no pants. Just one helluva swingin’ dick.
He turned over the placemat and began to draw.