09 July 2006

730 Days, Part II

"Yo bitch, I'm talkin' to you.

"Oh, you must be trippin'. Suck yo' fuckin' teeth again, I'll knock 'em out yo' head."

Rising to his feet, Jonah closed his eyes, clenched and unclenched his fists, and then lowered his head. Three of the biggest, hardest men he'd ever seen were three short steps in front of him. While he knew the guards were watching, he assumed at best they'd make wagers. Their only interest in this fight would be in keeping it from escalating, and that just to protect their own necks. He opened his eyes, but kept his head down.

"Sorry, man. I don't want any trouble."

"You got trouble."

"Look, I'm sorry. I wasn't looking where I was going. It won't happen again."

"Best not. You wanna keep breathin' then move."

Jonah backed away, head bowed, eyes down. After a few yards, he turned, hoping the way would be clear. Three months inside and he'd been able to stay out of trouble. Today he'd been lucky. Today someone wanted trouble.

* * *

He'd loved these days growing up. Dark by four, threatening rain, and smelling like snow. The sudden wind kicking up little eddies of crackling leaves that scattered like children at play. Football games that lasted 'til long past dark. Trying to catch the first flakes of the season on his tongue. Hoping for a huge storm to cancel school. Hoping for a free day with no worries, no classes, no responsibilities.

Under this titanium sky, he just felt cold. The dampness made his knees hurt with echoes of those long ago games. The wind blew grit in his eyes and cut through him like a knife. Tightly clustered groups of sad and angry men were scattered about the yard. There was no hope in here. No free days, no free passes, and no end in sight.

Jonah pulled his collar up tighter and stood near the basketball court. He could sometimes lose himself watching the ebb and flow of the game, at least when there were no brawls. That was when the bangers, looking for a fight, found Jonah. They decided he was standing right where they needed to be, so they shoved him to the ground.

* * *

A light dusting of snow had fallen on the yard. He and Mike used to take their shovels and go house to house in the neighborhood when it snowed, but when the cover was this slight there were no takers. So instead, they'd scrape their shovels across the driveways, writing their names in soft, fat letters of cleared snow. They'd try to outdo each other with their renderings, but Mike would always have the more elaborate graffiti.

Soon enough, fresh snow would erase their efforts and their shoveling became utilitarian as reluctant neighbors became willing customers. Just once, Jonah wanted the snow to stop long enough for their fleeting names to last.

"Rec time's over, ladies! Let's go!"