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Chapter 13

Letting her eyes freefall over the 3rd-floor railing like suicide, a jumper off a suspension bridge, K13’s daughter looks down on mall shoppers as they billiard the concourse on the first floor, aimlessly rolling in and out of boutiques, Barnes & Noble, GNC and Verizon, her fingertips on the railing skimming over something Slurpee-sticky as she dawdles along, realizing she knows better than to hold onto public banisters and railings. Sounds from the lower floors float up in an effervescence of echo, a seltzer of voices and noise. She walks the aisle, passing the Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Footlocker. In the food court she passes through a gossamer archway of stir-fried odors from Panda Express, sesame and scallions, peanut oil, nose-widening ginger. Display windows baby the attention with nursery-rhyme primary colors, oversized kindergarten shapes and allurements, arousing the desire for instant gratification, for regression to a time of simplicity and innocence. She knows these images mean come in, be a child again, feed on the nipple of consumerism, nourish yourself on the things you buy. The stickiness on her fingertips is unnerving, like unknown eyes boring into the back of your neck, a stranger behind you. Inside the women’s bathroom with its sparring stale and hygienic odors she waits to wash her hands at the sink, standing behind a shopper her mother’s age who, bending to cup cold water to her face, accidentally hips her purse on the sink’s rim so that the burgundy vinyl wallet in the purse’s side pocket falls, tat, quiet as a mutter of apology onto the tiled floor. The tiles on the floors and walls are an optical assault and vaguely pulse her into a patterned dizziness. She picks up the wallet and when the woman leaves looks through a deck of credit cards, a leafy wilt of crumpled cash. Sixteen, she hurries with the bounce of a tennis ball against pavement, bounding up behind the woman and tapping her elbow. Jerking her arm away spasmodically, turning toward the girl, her face gathers itself for fear like a woman walking over bloodstains, gathering up the hem of her white gown.

The woman takes the wallet from the outstretched hand and opens it, looks and sees nothing is missing, a genuinely puzzled expression clouding her face.

“My money is still here.”

“You dropped it on the floor.”

She pulls a ten from her scramble of bills and tries to hand it to the girl. “Please take this, as a reward …”

With a smile so small it announces itself as awkwardly unpracticed the girl backs away and brings her palms together in front of her chest, bowing almost imperceptibly: she has taken this gesture and greeting as her name, Namaste, insisting gently on it when her teachers call her Meagan. When kids her own age ask her to pronounce her name and she tells them Nam – mas - stay, their eyes hive with hatred, ridicule buzzing from one to another if there is a group – from Haley to Sherice, Paige to Ryan, there is always a group of them – or they ignite Molotov cocktails of laughter, breaking flaming bottles at her feet. When they laugh, everything in or of or about them laughs as well; even their nose rings and tattoos and piercings and peacock hairstyles ignite in laughter. A year ago when she was fifteen, before she discovered Buddhism, her response to such ridicule would have been fuck off; she would have said it without thinking, spraying faces with daggers of saliva. But now everything is different. Her goal – and she realizes that in Zen Buddhism “goal” is just a word for a process with no culmination – is to embrace nonattachment, to stop samsara, the endlessly turning wheel of birth and death. She has come to the mall because she has divined that it is a place of digitally-engineered mysticism, a huge computer-generated mandala playing host to legions of conflicting energies. This place is nothing less than the vacant center of the universe speaking in the turbulent idiom of the Western world. There is no better place to observe desire misting into its manifold shapes and forms than in the transactions taking place between people as they purchase food, books, clothing, furniture, electronics, toys and jewelry, indulging the thirst for permanence in impermanent things. This is not to say that she believes she is better than anyone else. Like all the rest her pulse is quickened by the strip tease of merchandise on display behind seductive, naked veils of glass, and when she sees something she likes – a gleaming Apple MacBook Pro laptop – her heart betrays her, swoons in her chest like the ballerina on top of the music box her father gave her ten years ago, the day after Christmas, on December 26th, the first day of Kwanzaa. She remembers because her father had tried to explain that morning what Kwanzaa was and why it was celebrated, but listening she felt her cheeks bronze with blood, blush with the warmth that always rushed to conquer the cold vacuum left by her five-year-old’s aching and limited understanding. She nodded and pretended to understand, because she knew understanding was expected of her. She had already been told countless careful times, by both parents, that in her veins sparkled both black and white blood, “African American” like her daddy and “Italian American” like her mommy. (Later she would imagine that through her veins twisted a candy cane of blood, a spiral of white and black.) But that morning for the first time it occurred to her that her father’s explanation was a mysterious fact rather than a lesson, a fact embracing and affecting her family, the three of them, and that it was important for her to grasp that fact. But she could not grasp it, not really, and it evaporated between her fingers.

“Christmas was yesterday. We celebrated Christmas, remember how Santa Claus brought you presents? Today is another special day,” her father said, lighting candles on a table that had been set up next to the Christmas tree in the living room. “Kwanzaa is celebrated by African Americans and by black people all over the world.”

“Are you celebrating it?” Megan asked. She was looking at his face, his hands, his arms, all the wan color of pencil shavings.

Her father laughed. “Yes. I’m black, so I’m celebrating it. Your mommy is Italian, she’s white, and she celebrates it because like a lot of other people from all different cultures she believes in what it stands for. And my little girl is celebrating it because she’s exceptional: black like her daddy, white like her mommy, which makes her what?”

Her mother, standing next to her father with her arm around his waist as he lit the Kwanzaa candles, answered the question for her daughter, seeing puzzlement filament the faint light of comprehension in her daughter’s eyes. “Which makes her twice as special as other little boys and girls.”

She had seen white and black children at the Shulman preschool she attended through the week. In her classroom there were boys and girls from other countries, from China, India and Iran and Peru, and she was not confused by the fact that they all seemed to be essentially the same yet essentially different. No, her perplexity began at home, where she had often seen in the family photo album snapshots of her grandparents, the one pair with complexions that mimicked the off-white of heavy custard, the other pair the rich burnished hue of newly fallen chestnuts. Her own mother, skin tinctured olive, nevertheless resembled her parents in the photos. But her father, the vague shade of sand illumined by moonlight, was much lighter than his chestnut-tinted parents, and he looked as though he could not possibly have been related to them. That was the narrow crux of her confusion: her father identified himself as black but he did not look like anyone whom she had come to identify as black. She groped to make sense of this by considering that there may have been some nuanced distinction at work that children were not equipped to understand – maybe her father was not black so much as he was African American? And then what about her, Meagan? Her father calling himself black, his insistence that as his daughter she too was black – but only partly so – left her even more deeply mystified. First there was the stubborn fact of her own appearance. It was as though Meagan had inherited her father’s weak-tea coloration, yet further sifted and filtered, so that she actually approached her mother’s paleness but without the olive overtones. Second, while she knew she belonged to both her mother and father, she did not comprehend how her identity could be divided into parts, because she had no experience of herself outside of her own five-year-old’s narcissistic singularity. It would take years before she developed the sense of empathy and imagination that would enable her to conceive of a world populated by others with existences as legitimate as her own, a world that did not orbit solely around Meagan as its center, with everyone else occupying subordinate positions of dubious reality.

When her father saw her looking appraisingly at him, then down at her own arms, and finally turning a clinical comparative eye on her mother, he laughed again. “Baby, it’s not just your skin that makes you black.”

“Or Italian,” her mother pointed out.

She hid her bewilderment behind her smile, already perceived to be dazzling at the age of five. (This was something else she would learn in a few years – that children of “mixed” marriages, and in particular the children of white and black marriages, were axiomatically believed to possess a kind of mythical supernal beauty that apparently combined the best of both genetic worlds and eluded children produced by mono-racial parents – that is, unless such children – and this, thankfully, happened far less frequently – were unlucky enough to embody a combination of renegade genetic traits that resisted this exquisite harmonious blending of so-called polarities and resulted in offspring who were unattractive in peculiar ways. So of course, her smile, along with her other attributes, was “dazzling.” )

Her father handed her the music box. “Happy Kwanzaa, Meagan.”

When she was in the eighth grade she found that the term biracial, for a time, clarified and made easier the thorny proposition of conceptualizing identity, until a friend of hers, Marina, who had a Vietnamese mother and a white father, told her, “We can say we’re biracial, but if you think about it, biracial is not a race in and of itself. I mean, there’s a white race, there’s an Asian race, etcetera, but there’s not a scientific category called biracial. Strictly speaking, we really don’t have a race. I mean, other than the human race, I guess. We can’t even pick the other category on forms and stuff, because other is supposed to mean something else in particular but that’s just not on the list. I don’t know. It’s weird, huh?”

This conversation took place in the Northfield Elementary School library, where they sat at a long table, chattering rather than going over notes for their Spanish exam. On the table small battered brass lamps stood like ill-prepared lawyers before the minimizing reprimand of a judge. The librarian, Mrs. Dimsby, walked over to the girls and leaned forward, momentarily separating herself from the rigid vertical line of her hyper-erect posture, ferociously pressing her finger against her lips to silence the girls. Without a word they gathered up their books and papers and finished the conversation in the first floor girl’s bathroom, a retreat that much of the female student body sought out for moments of unguarded congress, even though privacy was otherwise available in any number of nearby secluded locales on campus. They stood in front of the long mirror above the sinks, speaking not to each other but to their reflections, a mode of communication that strangely paired the indirect with the direct, intimacy with distance, and was almost universally adopted, as though by tacit agreement, by those who elected to convene in the lavatory. Reflections speaking to other reflections.

Meagan said, “But what you said only applies if you keep calling yourself biracial.”

“What?”

“I mean, stop saying you’re biracial, and you won’t belong to a category that’s not a real race.” Meagan dug a coin from the pocket of her jeans and flipped it. “Heads I call myself black, tails I call myself white.” Her right palm rested on the back on her left hand and she lifted it, peeking under at the coin. “Heads. From now on, I’m no longer biracial. I’m black.” “You can’t just flip a coin and be a race,” Marina exclaimed. Meagan offered her the coin, but Marina refused to take it, her eyes wide with disbelief. “Nah-unh,” she said, “girl, you must of hit your head against something. You can’t just decide what race you’ll be from now on.”

“Why not? Didn’t you say biracial wasn’t a real race? I’m 50 percent one thing and 50 percent another. I think my great grandfather on my father’s side was half something. But forget about all that. Let’s just pretend it’s 50 50. Why can’t I call myself whichever one I want?” It was as though Meagan were working her way for the first time through the fine-print distinctions of a previously opaque proposition. Her thoughts, spoken aloud and removed from the cramped cobwebby inside of her head, were leading her into a wide open expanse, an Antarctica of snowy clarity and light.

“It doesn’t seem right.” Marina struggled to find the precise word, then gave up with a sigh of frustration. “It just seems made up.”

Meagan knew that Marina had been searching for the word arbitrary. “Flip it.”

“No. It’s not that easy.”

“Yes it is that easy. Here, take it and flip it.”

“You can’t just be black because you say you are from now on, forever.”

“That’s exactly what I’ll be from now on, forever.” “You’re acting crazy,” Marina said. Her theatrically loud laughter ricocheted the room, the echo skidding off the mirror’s surface, the porcelain, the sink’s stainless steel fixtures, skimming the geometrically patterned tiles all around that made Meagan think, shudderingly, of an alligator’s hide and inevitably triggered an airy dizziness that was the green-tinged corollary of her repulsion.

“Don’t be a coward.” Meagan grabbed Marina’s wrist hard. The Spanish textbook Marina held fell to the floor and the stout thud, like a shovelful of earth thrown onto a coffin, buried the echo of laughter that had not quite faded. All the while Meagan trying to force the coin into her friend’s tightly balled fist. “White or Vietnamese?”

“I’m not picking anything, why should I when I’m both?”

“You’re the one that said both doesn’t work. Besides, you should pick because if you don’t, other people will pick for you. So just flip it,” she insisted, and the struggle between the two changed to accommodate some unspoken emotional imperative, changed in a nimble instant from playful to earnest.

“Let go of my wrist, you’re hurting me,” Marina cried.

“Flip it,” Meagan said between her teeth, venomously, attempting to pry the fingers open, “I said flip it!”

The bathroom door flew open. Mrs. Dimsby stood there, arms akimbo, her mouth wearing a wreath of surprise. “What in the …”

Whatever Meagan was feeling, it did not at the sight of even the formidable figure of authority imposed by the impossibly erect Mrs. Dimsby retreat into the dungeon from which it had emerged, and she kept repeating flip it to Marina, even as the librarian rushed in from the doorway, crowbarred herself between the wedge of the altercation, grabbed twig-thin wrists in each of her hands and raised her arms high, as though to dangle the girls like prized fish on hooks.

Older still, Meagan learned that she had a passion for reading. Her frenetic entanglements with books were similar to the romantic infatuations other newly teenaged girls tumbled blindly into. She discovered during one such whirlwind of reading – by this time her father and mother were divorced, and she decided during summer vacation that she would barricade herself in her bedroom and do nothing but read, – she discovered, completely by chance, leapfrogging haphazardly from book to book, that there was an archetype perpetuated in American fiction and in Hollywood films centered on the figure of the Tragic Mulatto. At the very least the mulatto cast in this role was the epitome of biracial angst; at the worst, the hapless figure lived in a state of permanent and poisonous liminality, skulking through a shadow existence played out on the sidelines of a society rifted by race. An occupant in the nether regions of identity, the Tragic Mulatto was doomed never to belong, an outcast tormented by as little as a thimble-full of polluted black blood and a sensibility that was the uneasy distillation of savagery (representing the black side) and yearning intellectuality (representing the white side). Typically a fast reader, her eyes tricycled over the pages of novels, absorbing the words one at a time, a slow, almost child-like pace. She was eager to fully understand how the dominant society had historically perceived the mulatto; in particular, she wanted to understand what dynamic, what psychological injunction, had driven this perception. She read Nella Narsen’s Passing, Vara Caspary’s The White Girl, Lydia Maria Child’s genre-establishing, seminal short stories “The Quadroons” and “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes.” She was not a movie watcher, but she watched Imitation of Life, Showboat, Lost Boundaries and Kings Go Forth.

Before she went on to read an analysis of the phenomenon by historians, she speculated on her own that the figure of the self-loathing Tragic Mulatto might have been nothing more than a carefully engineered warning to excessively liberal whites – or for that matter to blacks – who might be prone or tempted to go too far, an attempt to discourage marriage between the races and to draw a portrait of the shuddersome consequences of whites and blacks producing biracial offspring. She had to admit that as propaganda, the stories had been effective, vividly and melodramatically rendered. With the full weight of these cautionary tales pressing down mercilessly on the conscience, who would dare father a child destined to be rejected on all sides while embarking on the already lonely journey through life? Someone whose dented-tin-can existence would be kicked about by a steel-toed fate, finally booted into a junkyard of discarded possibilities? XXXXXX In a way, the whole thing was really brilliant, and for the first time in her life she realized the power and immediacy of images, and to a lesser extent, of words.

The early precocious insight that enabled her to recognize the power of images is still, three years later, with her. Everywhere in the mall they make announcements to her eyes, hang lurid posters on her eyelashes, drawing the lids, as though they were shades on a cord, down to weary slits. The images scream for her attention in ways that are so deeply taken for granted as to seem invisible to the majority of viewers. Manikins, like the ones she sees now in the window of Ann Taylor, are displayed in poses suggesting surrender or trendy degradation, corrupted passion or breezy titillation, desire resurrected and slain. These are the same basic attitudes that fuel the aching images she sees expertly manipulated by famous actors onscreen. Are the actors copying the manikins or have the manikins been twisted into their positions in imitation of the actors? She understands her question is an exercise in futility, a version of which came first, the chicken or the egg, and so she turns away from the window, averts her gaze as though she has seen something shameful. Or maybe shame is what she should direct toward herself for being undisciplined enough to waste mental energy on this. Meagan thoughts, not Namaste thoughts. The only reason she allows these thoughts is because she wonders how the surfaces her eyes skate over are related to what’s real.

But she should be thinking of what to buy her father for his birthday, which is the reason she has come to the mall in the first place. And what about the card? Should the birthday card read Happy birthday Kenyatta! So named by his own parents, after Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the African leader. Or maybe her card should say, Happy Birthday, Kenya! Kenya was what his name had been shortened to by his wife before the divorce three years ago. Or it was sometimes further shortened to Ken, or even K. None of these names seem appropriate, none seem fitting. They slide off him, fall away, like a foot finding ice on a tightrope. He has all but disappeared into the obscure city of secrets he has erected around himself. What do you buy a father like that for his birthday? Sometimes days go by, weeks, and she does not see him, though typically he calls once, sometimes twice a week. This is the reason cited by her mother for her divorce – that he had too many secrets. Her father is supposed to be, what is it? Some kind of consultant, he tells her, a consultant setting up network security systems for corporations all over the globe.

No. No. That reeks of fabrication.

The last time she saw him, two months ago after one of her soccer matches, she told him, “Daddy, you know what? I think you’re a spy.”

Though she said it playfully, she really did think her father was a spy. Not really, but sort of. The game with Marshall High was over, her team, The Puma’s, had lost and left the field, and she and her father were sitting in the top row of vacant bleachers, timbered slabs quilled with splinters. Someone had left a newspaper on the bleacher’s bottom row and the wind, moody as the snarling Pacific, whirlpooled panels of page and sent them in clockwise contortions across the soccer field. There were no birds to watch, so Namaste watched the newspaper and tried to imagine becoming one with it instead.

“A spy. What would make you say that?”

“Because you revolve in, like, a circle of secrets.”

“A circle of secrets. You’ve got the imagination of a paranoid thirty-eight year old.”

“Man or woman?”

“Woman. Divorced.”

“Why not just never married?”

“You gave me a choice, I chose.”

“Just to see what you’d say. It sounds sexist.”

“Entrapment, now?”

“Well? Is it true?” She ran her fingers through the black curly zesty zoom of her hair. She did it because she knew her father loved her hair and used to say that it looked as though it were a swiftly moving stream, one that had been frozen, thawed, and frozen again.

“Should I even dignify? No, it’s not true,” her father said.

Her eyes rolled, described a crescent moon of skepticism. “But if you were a spy, of course, you wouldn’t admit it.”

“Isn’t it enough that I’m telling you no?”

“I would like it to be enough.”

“Meagan …”

“Namaste.”

“Namaste. Sorry. I don’t know what to say. You give me nothing but a lose-lose proposition to work with here.”

Not much later he had driven her home to her mother.

But the truth? The truth is that he is more absence than presence, more water-shaped phantom than solid man able to be routinely located within the world of wholly locatable solid men and women. He withholds explanations for things that need to be explained; he is not evasive so much as clothed in silence. And when he offers himself as a confrontable presence, it is a presence mobile as mist, her life the glass his mist evaporates on. His own life seems an abandonment – not the abandonment in the moment she seeks as a fledgling Buddhist, but an abandonment that intimates an impossible departure, one that has somehow sidestepped the laws of causality, one not preceded by arrival. No, her birthday card will say, Happy Birthday, Whoever You Are!

Daddy is a spy, she told her mother. Who, of course, did not listen. Who could not be expected to listen because to actually listen implies not having instant access to a full complement of answers and solutions. Who rolled her eyes, a huffy mannerism Namaste had adopted, with the punitive intent of letting her mother see exactly how ridiculous she looked when she brandished the gesture on behalf of her daughter. But then the gesture, hurrying into habit, hardened fast as blood coagulating, became a part of her still-formative repertoire of mannerisms.

Or sometimes her mother would say, “If you continue to romanticize it that way instead of seeing it for what it really is, then you’ll finish growing up and find yourself a man who, like your father, will be in one sense or another unavailable.”

“Is that what you did?” Namaste asked.

Her mother was intellectual, well-informed, well-educated and, as far as her daughter was concerned, opinionated and slovenly. Despite her mother’s education Namaste often had difficulty understanding her, not because she used the formidable or rarefied vocabulary that enabled intellectuals to articulate their complex ideas, but because her manner of speaking was peppered with discontinuities and idiosyncrasies Their house was nothing more than a corral where the wild stallion of that slovenliness ranged. When she did not feel a sort of benign animosity toward her father for leaving, she understood why he would choose to leave rather than to confront the perpetual disorder and disarray that exploded from her mother’s fingertips whenever she moved from one room to another, touching clothes, dishes, damning any inanimate object that fell under the entropic dictatorship of her touch. Dust, she had somewhere read, was largely composed of scaling human skin; it was no doubt her mother’s dead skin that formed the clumps of dust that hovered over the furniture in gray galaxies and settled in an unholy film over everything. Namaste refused to clean, knowing that do so even once would be tantamount to assuming permanent ownership of the chore, tacitly committing her to a responsibility she would be unable to shed. But never mind. She, too, would depart one day, leaving her mother to reign in eccentric solitude over her gray-meshed monarchy of clutter and dishevelment.

Namaste realizes that if she does not buy a birthday card she will not have to worry about what to write. She decides to buy him cologne – a gift more for herself than for her father, something that will endow him, however temporarily, with a memorable, definable attribute, etching him into her olfactory memory.

When she walks into Nordstrom, in the corner of her eye is a shadowy something moving toward her. When she turns to face it, she is surprised to see Haley and Paige with two boys she does not know, probably students from Marshall High. These boys do not wear the flaccid jeans low-slung to reveal a five-inch tented rim of designer boxer shorts, a style still favored by some boys in other neighborhoods; their black pants are ankle-high, narrow as an eye squinted in suspicion, and appear to adhere to the skin. “Look who’s here,” Paige says. She is so thin Namaste imagines the word fragile, handle with care stamped across her chest in red, her chest a box containing brittle China. “Oh look. What a surprise. Golly. It’s Meagan.”

Haley forcefully tosses her blond hair like a pitcher throwing a fast curveball through the strike zone. “Her name’s not Meagan anymore.”

The boys look at Meagan with glossy eyes where curiosity has been completely consumed by indifference, only the dry bones left. They do not care what her name is or why it’s no longer what it once was. It is only the girls who seem to care.

“Oh yeah, it’s Namaste,”Paige says, bowing deeply with her palms pressed isometrically together. A plain girl, she is content to play the role of the pretty friend’s easily manipulated sidekick; she is a willing stereotype, the beauty groupie. “Peace be with you, and onto you, and through and in and all about you.”

“Where’s your little gay friend?”Haley asks. “Your little hip-swishing sweetheart?”

Namaste begins to back away.

The boys seem to share something vital, seem connected, Siamese-twinned in their ominous silence. “Don’t be like that,” says Paige, reaching out and touching Namaste innocently, lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t be all insulting and shit. Don’t be all, oh, you can’t even joke around with me cause I’m all that.”

“We were just talking about James,” Haley explains reasonably. “I mean, actually, I think it was pretty awesome what you did. How you saved his little narrow ass when you stopped those boys from totally jacking him up.”

Paige nods. “That was exceedingly cool, how you just jumped in.”

“Even though,” Haley points out mildly, “it wasn’t any of your father-fucking business.”

“Ew-uu,” Paige exclaims, “is that like the new thing to say instead of mother fucking? That’s just wrong and perverted.”

They were referring to the incident in the parking lot next to the soccer field a week ago, her friend James being trapped after school by a group of four boys streaming out the side exit of the gymnasium. They had surrounded him and attempted, bouncing him between their palms and ricocheting him off their shoulders, to steer him toward an empty supermarket shopping cart. That kind of thing, that torment and harassment, happened frequently to James, who was unapologetically gay. They attempted to lift him off his feet and stuff him in the shopping cart, James yelling and trying to fight them off. Then one of the boys had swung his fist and punched James in the back of the head, and James had fallen. He curled into a protective position, knees pulled up to his chest, arms thrown like a rock through a thin window over his head, when Namaste ran over and screamed, thrashing herself into the midst of them and windmilling her arms. They backed off artfully, dancing on their toes like a boxer in the ring, but did not go away; they watched her almost with a kind of admiration, shouting amused jeers and curses. They retreated, and then reluctantly, defiantly, only when a teacher who was getting into his car rushed over and threatened them with detention and, when the threat failed to have the desired effect, with expulsion.

“Why should only mothers have to be used when you have to talk trash? It’s unfair. It’s discriminatory. Men are worse than women anyway,” Haley explains.

“Way fucking worse,” one of the boys says agreeably.

Namaste holds her tone even and careful as a silver serving tray, her voice the long-stemmed glass balanced precariously on it. “I can’t talk right now.”

“Yikes,” Paige says to Haley. “You’ve just been punked – not as in all-in-good-fun punked, but as in treated like one.”

Haley shakes her head desolately. “Dissed, as my would-be hip but oh so outdated parents would say.” “No, rilly, my parents, I hate it when they say cool,” Paige informs them all emphatically. “It’s just so pathetic, all these old farts in their 30s and 40s and 50s running around saying cool this and cool that. Doctors, lawyers, politicians. Don’t you think, Nam-ASS-stay?”

Haley says, “How rude, rude, rude I’ve been. Namaste, these two bad little boys are our friends, Jim Pitch and Brett Creek. Cool last names, huh? We just call ‘em Pitch and Creek, like those were their first names. They don’t care. Do you guys?”

“We just don’t give a fuck,” says either Pitch or Creek.

“Point I’m trying to make, we’re just hanging out,” Haley says. “So you should hang with us.”

Before she can protest or resume backing off, she is swept away, numbly boxed in, with the two boys behind her and Haley and Paige in front, imprisoned by their bodies and unable to extricate herself from their momentum, and in the time it takes to breath in and out she finds herself hustled down a secluded corridor next to the ciniplex and running parallel to it toward the back of this part of the building, a long shadow-hushed corridor with a scarlet exit sign at the end. Hands pressing, pushing, pulling, and then she is on her back, arranged, pinned down, the faces of Haley and Paige bent close, and over their shoulders, higher up and looking down on her with Olympian indifference, the faces of the malevolently silent boys. Namaste begins to yells and a hand as heavy as a manhole cover is clamped firmly and over her lips, causing her teeth to sink into her bottom lip, tart blood to tinge her teeth.

“The only problem with helping your little friend is that these guys are our friends, and your friend owed our friends here money, and you interfered,” Haley says.

Paige nods. “And now these guys are as pissed at you as they were at Jamey-waymey.”

Namaste tries to find something to be grateful for. At the highest level, there are only her mother, her father, the few friends she has at school and the meditation center, and then, buzzing bee-like below this level, there are the elements of her immediate experience, the apprehension that at this very moment builds a rusty tin tenement in her tongue’s taste buds, her eyelashes fringing the faces overhanging her, the concrete cold against her back, the fear-magnified B movie close-up of the scissors in Haley’s hands, and she is surprised to find that she is unable to attach a feeling of Buddhist equanimity to any of it. With this comes the realization that she has impossibly long distances to traverse, oceans of enlightenment to swim through, steep mountains of wisdom to climb. Although she possesses none of it now, it all lies before her. And this realization calms her, quiets her, prepares her for whatever comes next.

Next Chapter

Chapter 14


Article By: dglenn


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