Saturday, October 23, 2010
I'm 9 years old. My friend, Ricardo and his family live in a small, four-room shack behind the house next to ours. He's a little older than I am, and bigger and stronger. He's handsome, dark-skinned and has oily black curly hair, white-white teeth and dimples when he smiles. His father sometimes plays in a mariachi band and Ricardo brags that his father comes home with a literal barrel-full of money when he plays. I'm in awe. It never occurs to me that I and my family are much, much better off than Ricardo and his.
Both Ricardo's family and mine are Catholic, but somehow he takes it more seriously than I do. Ricardo indignantly barges through the screen door of his house one day as I'm standing on his rickety wood front porch. "The Beatles say they are more popular than Jesus! They are going to pay for that. God will make them into nothing!" I'm shocked at his anger and don't believe him at first. How could anyone say that? But, like many things I disbelieve at first, Ricardo turns out to be right. I distinctly remember Ricardo's curse when The Beatles break up about 4 years later and again when John Lennon (who actually said it) is murdered in New York.
Behind our house there's a two-story building with two garages below and an apartment above, where my Chinese grandparents live. Behind that is a grass-filled yard with a big shade tree. The apartment building creates a narrow dirt path between it and a chain-link fence right next to Ricardo's house. Between my grandparent's apartment building and my house there's a little yard. We play marbles in that little yard under a pomegranate tree. We run and play down the narrow path between yards. We use chalk and play hop-scotch. We play handball against the garage doors and it makes my father mad because the ball leaves marks on the doors. There's a basketball hoop and I narrate my own prowess as I shoot. I get embarrassed when Natalie, the girl from two doors down, sneaks up and watches and listens and laughs at me.
One day, Ricardo and I are playing marbles. We each have tins full of marbles and, of course, have our favorites. Being older than me, Ricardo is also better at marbles, so he has won more of mine than I have of his. Today, he decides to play with his favorite. I toss mine and miraculously hit his on the fly on the first try. I can't believe my luck and, arms high, I jump for joy! But, when I turn to Ricardo his face is dark. He rushes at me and I instinctively turn and run. I fly down the narrow path with him hard on my heels. I make it to the back yard and just to the shade tree when he catches me. He throws me to the ground and is hitting me. I've never been in a fight before in my life. I try to block his blows and struggle to get up. I don't hit back because I'm not mad at him, but I'm trying to get away from him and he won't let me. Somehow we both get up and somehow I end up on his back with my arms around his neck. He backs up and slams me into the trunk of the big shade tree. I'm so afraid, I think he's going to kill me. He's flailing me around on his back and in desperation, I bite his arm. He yells, I fall off his back and run as fast as I can into my house.
Later, it's dark inside my house. It's summer and hot and I don't have a shirt on. My mother comes home from work. She's angry at me. She's found out about the fight and about me biting Ricardo. She's really mad about the biting. In the dark, I realize she has a leather belt. I see her in silhouette as she raises her hand over her head. My arms instinctively go up and I turn away. She's yelling and hitting my bare back with the belt. I cover my head...
This was re-posted on L.L. Barkat's In, On and Around Mondays on 11.08.10.