Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / Freedigitalphotos.net
The day had been colder than usual when he arrived on my doorstep. I was sitting in the living room reading Hemingway while drinking tea and could see him from out the front window. His body was so lengthy that it appeared misshapen. His dark grey sweatshirt hung loosely on his frame; the hood pulled up and tied closely to his head. His kept his head down as he wrung my doorbell, by which I was already walking to the door to receive him, albeit skeptically. I hadn't seen him around the neighborhood; there wasn't a kid as skinny as him on this block of two-car-garage houses. I thought he could be some beggar child, a waif straight from a Charles Dickens novel. I opened the door, against my better judgement, and the child lifted his head to greet me.
That's when I noticed his eyes: twin bleak black holes on his face. They looked like the dark, lifeless beads used as eyes on stuffed toys. But his eyes weren't lifeless; they were filled with a malevolent presence. I felt tendrils of fear and disgust emanate from him, and I nearly vomited on the doorknob. Who was this kid, and why did he make me feel so uncomfortable?
His eyes weren't his only physical characteristics I found off-putting. His skin was pale and sickly looking--almost the color of a green traffic signal. He definitely wasn't from my neighborhood. Where did he come from? And how did he get over the security gate and avoid the patrol guards?
Even if he terrified me, he was a kid. No older than fourteen by the look of him. Maybe he was in trouble? Perhaps he came here to visit a friend, but got lost or forgot to call his parents to tell them he was not at home. Whatever brought him to my doorstep, I had to find out if I could help him. It's the neighborly thing to do.
Still, I had to be careful. I wasn't going to open the door for a total stranger to come in and rob me--or worse. "Hello. How can I help you?" I spoke loud enough so he could hear me on the door's other side.
"I'm lost. Hungry. Please help." His voice sounded like white noise, and I didn't see his lips move as he talked.
"Sorry, I can't help." I did my best to keep my voice from shaking as the boy's evil teddy bear eyes bore into me. "Try another house," I added as I backed away. I immediately regretted saying that; I had put my friends and neighbors in jeopardy.
"Please help. Hungry. Lost." The boy repeated this as if some sort of mantra. I did my best to ignore him and returned to my sitting chair, rejoining my conversation with A Farewell to Arms.
"Hungry. Please help. Lost." The child droned on robotically, incessantly.
I turned my head to the window, hoping not to find him vandalizing my property or trampling through my peonies. But the eerie boy stood at the same spot on the porch, repeating that he was lost and hungry and needed help. It was rather pathetic. Maybe he was some foreign kid with a limited English vocabulary.
I clasped my hands over my ears and prayed the boy would go away. I blinked, and the boy's visage was pressed against my window. His eyes bulged, his mouth opened, flashing two rows of needle-like teeth. He hissed at me, banged a hand against my window. I shut my eyes and curled into a ball in my reading chair, afraid he might burst through. I opened my eyes a split second later, and the boy had vanished.
I ran to the door, opened it and got onto my porch. I peered around the block as far as I could see from my vantage point. I wasn't going to leave my porch searching for this child. I didn't see him anywhere.
I returned to my chair and my book. I was ready to put that horrifying event behind me. Even Hemingway's magnificent prose could not stifle the boy's braying in my head. My hands shook. I dropped the book, placed my hands to my ears and slunk deeper into my chair. I wish I could have been enveloped completely within the soft Corinthian leather.
I stayed that way--eyes closed, breathing heavy--for some time; maybe half an hour. Eventually the boy's voice faded away. It never left me entirely; on a lonely night I can still hear the boy calling, "lost, hungry, help" in my head. I tremble every time.
*This story appears in the collection Confessions.
My ancestors built
In full days of scorching heat,
Through long drafty nights.
When they rested –
They were seldom
Afforded the luxury
Of rest from white industry’s yoke –
Rested on Africa.
For some, Africa
Was an earlier memory;
For some, a world of kingdoms
Made manifest in griot lore;
For others, a jigsaw puzzle of broken
Promises to be reassembled.
When you say
You will not abandon
The ancestors’ labors;
You will not leave
Their flesh to be devoured
By pale vultures;
That you will reap the profit
Due from centuries of unpaid wages,
“Good. While you claim
I will fulfill my ancestors’ dreams.”
From Our Stories.
Words = Life
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