“Don’t talk to them, they are all liars”
I sat there listening to what momma said, and thinking that grandma and grandpa had both been born, and raised at the east side of frontier road.
“Do you hear me?”
“Yes momma, I hear you”
I went down the steps of the front porch, jumping two at a time and sprang up the street when I reached the road.
I dropped a 2 cent coin over the counter. The lady looked at me and gave me the cone of ice cream I had ordered. It tasted sweet and acid, they had used some artificial color and flavors. My lips were painted green when I finished it.
The other boys played to chase pigeons in the plaza. I joined them and we ran around trying our best to kick the birds before they took flight. We didn’t succeed. I suggested we got another cone of ice cream but Toby said his momma would get angry and I said it didn’t matter if momma can’t see you, but Toby kept talking and he is tall and strong and I didn’t want him to punch me in the face.
Toby is from the east. I didn’t know until momma said the Robinson kid must be from the east of frontier road, because he wears funny clothes and doesn’t go to our school.
I told her that Toby was a fine kid. Toby never lies.
But she told me to shut up, that Toby Robinson was most certainly from the east and that I should be very careful about him. I didn’t discuss anymore.
“Ok, come here Ryan” Toby said. He patted my head and ran away. “You’re stinky!” I stood there baffled. “You’re stinky!” he shouted again. I smelled my hands and I noticed no strange or foul smell. “If you touch another one, they are stinky and they chase you” I tried running and catching other kids but they were faster than me. I ran until my legs grew tired and I sat on the floor and hid my head between my legs.
“He is crying” one said. And Heff approached very slowly to my side.
“This is not a crying game you Ryny” Heff called me Ryny.
“Stinky!” I shouted after touching him and ran away as fast as I could.
“What did you do today?”
She took the plate away from me.
“No! I haven’t finished”
“Finish fast!” The unfinished plate came back to me. “What did you do today?”
Momma’s eyes are big, round and dark. They looked into mine and I saw her smiling and I saw a strange fire inside her that both filled me with fear and nervousness.
“We played stinky”
“Yes momma. You chase the other kids and pass them the stinky”
She kept quiet while scrubbing the frying pan. The water moved through her plastic gloves, hit the pan and fell through the sink making water like, circular sounds.
“Did you play with the Robinson kid again?” That fire grew inside her eyes and a strange gesture erased her smile.
“Yes I did. He taught us stinky.”
“Alright” She said and took the plate away. I was about to protest but she looked at me with those pear eyes of hers and I stopped.
When I was trying to catch my sleep I heard my mother’s steps round down in the living room and my father’s voice saying something to a neighbor at the porch.
They kept quiet for a while and I heard them turn the TV on. I fell asleep to the dance of blue light that crawled in and out through the bottom of my door.
We stood up when the teacher came in. We then sang, as it was habitual, the national anthem while holding our hand close to our hearts and looking at the piece of cloth than hanged over the blackboard. We echoed with a single voice the last words of the daily prayer “thy will be done” and sat down.
“Today we’ll play a game” The classroom buzzed with excitement. “What kind of game?” ventured Ruffus in a timid voice while we all looked with shinny attentive eyes to Mrs. Jennings. “It is a game of great skill. The winning team gets to keep this box. A murmur spread through the classroom. “
“It looks like a box of chocolates” one said, “No! It is exactly like the boxes they sell at the toy shop!” said another. A loud bang of the eraser on the blackboard restored order in the room.
“Ryan, you will be blue, Ruffus, you go with the reds …” and so on and so forth until all the heads assembled at opposite sides of the classroom.
We lost. They kept laughing at us because we were blue and we lost the game.
The reds lost all remembrance of their victory the next day when Mrs Jennings opened an empty box.
Upon seeing the mix of sad and smiley faces switch to smiley and sad ones she looked at us tenderly and explained. “We all need to learn how to win and how to lose. It is just a game” She then took out another box from below her desk and gave each one of us a cherry covered in chocolate.
“I told you, they were chocolates” said Ruffus. I have never liked the taste of chocolate and gave him mine. He ate it in a single bite.
“Ruffus, have you been east of frontier road?”
Ruffus kicked a piece of rock. It left his foot and rolled through the play yard until it hit the fence at the other side.
“No. I have never been, but you should never go there Ryny”
“And why not?” I looked at him and he scratched his head for a while before replying.
“Because you shouldn’t go there. They are all liars” His eyes were fixed upon his shoes. I looked at him and didn’t like the silence that lingered, like a heavy mist, between us. I tried to catch his eye but he wouldn’t look at me.
“Stinky!” I tapped him on the shoulder and sprang away.
“What are you doing?”
“Stinky!. You are stinky now.”
“Not now Ryny, not now. Gotta go home.” And he said bye and walked away with a pensive air.
“Momma says I shouldn’t play with you anymore” Toby laughed.
“C’mon Ryan, don’t be mad at my, it was only a game. I didn’t want to hurt you”
“Do you play this game at school?”
“Sometimes” He looked as if he wanted to say something more so I kept quiet for a while. Toby laughed. “Once a kid fell so badly the teacher called our parents to school. We played more carefully afterward” I was wondering how would school look like at the other side of frontier road, when Toby touched my shoulder and ran away. “Stinky!”
I ran behind him but he was faster than me, and I ran and he ran in front of me and I kept running until my legs were about to burst and my chest couldn’t do anything else but pant uncontrollably.
I stopped and lay flat on the ground. Toby turned round a corner and kept running. The street was quiet and a placid air flowed from south to north leaving behind a trail of dust and mist. A few people walked on the sidewalk, some walking away, others walking towards me.
I stood up and started walking in the direction were Toby had left. He was nowhere to be seen. I shouted his name, once, twice, and the street replied with furtive glances and an uncomfortable silence. The street became narrower and narrower as I advanced. A few cars moved along the narrow road and less people crossed hurriedly from one side of the road to the other. I started feeling an uncontrollable urge to scratch the back of my head and the sound of my heart pounded on my ears with thunderous strength.
The street emptied and I found myself walking along a long and bare street bordered by old buildings and dark windows.
“Here you are” I heard a voice saying. I turned around and saw the silhouette of a bearded man pointing at me. My muscles flexed in an instant and I started running in the opposite direction. My ears throbbed aflame with excitement and my lungs were about to collapse when the steps that followed me became distant and finally disappeared.
I stopped running and looked around me. Not far from me, at the other side of the road, there was the entrance of a store. Me heart, still pounding, and the cold shivers that escalated my back every time I turned around pushed me to run across the street and enter.
The door closed behind me with a loud bang. The empty sight of the street shone through the dusty window.
I turned and looked around me. There was dark inside and green vessels of different shapes and sizes stacked on shelves that hanged all around the room.
A voice drew me towards the counter. A few feeble steps approached. An old lady looked at me with green eyes as a curtain shaded the dark mouth of a door that opened behind her.
I stood there and she looked at me and I looked at her, and the old woman said “You are from the west of frontier road”. She wasn’t lying I thought and her teeth shone with a yellowish glare sprinkled with gold, and her eye fixed upon mine, and I stood back as she examined me with attentive gaze and walked her feeble steps around the counter. I felt the acre taste of her breath flooding the space between me and her and moved back until the cold touch of glass licked my neck.
The vessel broke and the green pieces splashed the ground. I startled and felt a shriek emanate from my lips while her eyes melted into a single one, and her lips broke into a big red flower that slid slowly through the wax of her face down to the floor. I stood there shrieking, petrified, wile her body melted into a poodle of black oil until I felt a hand touch my shoulder and I turned and saw the cadaveric face of a man, with sunken eyes and
prominent cheekbones approach mine. I fainted.
Toby wasn’t there. There was a man and an old lady looking at me with curiosity. And I looked back at them when I opened my eyes.
“Are you ok kid?” The man asked. “You have been lying on this street for a while. Do you need help?”
There was a short pause, and I looked at him and looked at her and stood up with a swift contraction of my limbs. The flags waved lazily, hanging on the windowsills, shining red and blue.
They said something, they gesticulated and waved and I looked at their faces in silence, their voices devoured by the frantic beating of my heart in my ears and the uneasy movement of my inside.
I ran with all my strength, and I heard some voices call me behind my back, but I kept running and running until the streets, shinning with the red jelly of the sunset were adorned with blue and red flags.
When war broke out momma and papa closed the doors of the house and stood there listening to the sounds of a small battery radio.
The house was dark and there was silence everywhere. It was as if a big crawling shadow had eaten the noise of the streets. I knew little about this sound eating beast but I knew one thing for sure, its head and mouth were made of a terrible scream.
One day momma didn’t open the door after breakfast. She stood in front of the table and turned the TV on. There was a big sound there, and there were people walking and walking in a very long line down what a voice said was Frontier Road.
And the big sound of voices kept roaring out of the screen throughout the day until it roared past our door and down the street.
That night I screamed. Momma came to my side, we hugged and heard together the sound of thunder. I waited and waited while smelling the soft perfume of momma’s neck, for the rattling of rain on our windows, but didn’t hear more than bangs and thunder shaking them.
The smell of smoke filled the air. I don’t like that smell, it itches my nostrils and makes me sneeze. I asked momma why, and she said it was because we wanted to teach them a lesson.
She hugged me tight when I started crying. Her neck smelled of perfume, sweet and soft. “What is going to happen to Toby?” I asked. She smiled and looked back at me and passed her fingers through my hair. “Nothing, he’ll be alright. It is just a game. We just want to scare them so they don’t say or do mean things to us”.
I didn’t want to listen anymore. I buried my head in her bosom until the sounds of the outside were silenced by the rumors of her body and a delicious bliss fell over me. I heard her saying “You will understand one day” And I thought it would be when I didn’t play games anymore and I thought of Toby, and I didn’t think of him anymore. I was falling asleep and I didn’t care.