First chapter and a half draft of an old piece.
What do you do when you’re eleven years old and your mother has just died? It was nothing expected, quite a tragedy actually. She had stepped out of the house to meet with a client (she worked in real estate), and not five minutes away from their home, her car was sideswiped by a man driving while on his phone. This had been a mere four days ago. Four days that seemed like weeks, months, years. He had slept very little, often in the company of government employees, in homes reserved for those with nowhere to go. He cried once, but it was a good cry, a long, healthy, deep cry. It was when he had to pack up his things.
Now, here at the courthouse, he waited for a man who was supposed to be his godfather. They had sent word to him immediately after she had passed away. Though he lived in the city, they were unable to get hold of him until earlier that day. He had arranged to pick Daniel up at four in the aftenoon. It was currently nine.
It was during a particularly harrowing run on a game called “Snake” that the courthouse doors flew open and, with the wind howling and the snow circling him, that the old man made his entrance. He exclaimed:
“My name is Restituto Magsaysay and I am here to collect the boy!”
His voice echoed through the near-empty courthouse and carried with it an authority that comes from being old and wise. His sing-song accent was thick which made it hard on the ears sometimes. When he spoke, he preferred to use big words, though sometimes it seemed he had no idea what they meant. He always smiled, a wide toothless smile, but seldom laughed.
He stood no taller than five feet. His shaved white hair grew so thick on his perfectly round head that it appeared as if he was always wearing a white helmet. A deep furrow gave him the appearance of one always angry. His dark brown skin was clear and free of blemish but his age showed itself as the wrinkles that formed on his brow and around his eyes and mouth. Quick, alert eyes hid behind thick, black sunglasses he wore at all times. A thick white mustache sat above his thin brown lips, and a few strands sprouted from his chin.
Around his neck, he wore a thin gold rope necklace; no pendant hung on it. He always wore the same brown tracksuit with bright green stripes running down the sides. He would often pull up the arms and legs to his elbows and knees. His arms and legs looked like fragile, knobby, leathery sticks but his hands and feet were big knobby things. His calves and forearms were sinewy and thin and the veins bulged and pulsed with every move.
On his feet, no matter the weather, he wore a pair of old flip-flops with blue thongs. On his right wrist, he wore a simple digital watch with a black plastic band; and, always with him, was a smooth rattan wood walking stick slightly bent from years of use.
He moved with purpose; never faltering, never failing, never lagging behind, no movement was wasted. He moved with a slow deliberation because yes, he was old, but there seemed something very dangerous about him. He commanded respect without asking for it and though he barely measured five feet, he seemed like a giant to most.
Everything about Mr. Magsaysay was either quick, sharp, dangerous, or curious.
“Mr. Magsaysay,” began the girl who was interrupted abruptly by the old man.
“Young woman, I do not have the time to dilly-dally with this sort of excursion in
discussion. I have arrived here to retrieve,” he pointed to Daniel with his cane, “this boy.”
“I understand, Mr. Magsaysay, but, “and she began to sound quite cross with him, “You are five hours late, we’ve still a lot of paperwork to get through, and. . . “
At this point, Mr. Magsaysay raised his hand, pulled out some papers from his a pocket and placed it in her hand. She glared at him as he turned towards the vending machine, she realized that this would do nothing so she decided to read whatever it was he gave her. Here, she read through the note over and over, for it was a short notice, but it seemed that with every reread, disbelief washed over her anew. He came back to her with a drink in his hand and finished her sentence: “. . . And it would seem that everything is in order. Come, boy, it is time for our departure.”
And with that they left.
The streets were near empty. It had been snowing now for almost a whole day and the Picasso statue at Daley Plaza had now the look of a giant, angular snowman. It was not freezing but cold enough and while Daniel was bundled up in two shirts, a light jacket, and a heavy coat; Mr. Magsaysay walked out in his trademark flip-flops and velour tracksuit. He did pull up the hood over his head but that was about the extent of his preparation.
Snowflakes caught in Daniel’s hair as they walked towards the trains. Already, the pavement was slick and the salt on the ground underneath him crunched. As they walked, Mr. Magsaysay lead and never looked back while Daniel followed as fast as he can. “Mr. Magsaysay, wait for me, you’re walking too fast!” And without looking back, all he said was, “Boy, you need to cut your hair, it is slowing you down.”
They waited in the underground station for the train. For such a cold night, and at such an ungodly time, there were more people than was to be expected. The businessmen, the late night partiers, the lost tourists had all had their rule of the trains; the night belonged to those who worked the graveyard shifts: the security guards, the construction workers, the grocery baggers, the 24 hour burger turners, the unsavories, the dopers, the crackheads, and the like. The uninviting white light of the fluorescent beams cast a sickly hue on everyone there. Though it was late, Daniel was not sleepy. Mr. Magsaysay stood behind him, both his hands on his cane.
A train came up to the platform, to the left of them, and Daniel started towards it but Mr. Magsaysay held him back: “Not our train.” They waited some more and, after about half an hour, their train came. It screeched to a halt and they boarded the last cab. As they found seats towards the back, eyes on the train seemed to follow them, the odd pair: an old Asian man, and a small black boy. Daniel could feel the prying eyes.
The cab was filled with the usual late night patrons: homeless people fast asleep on the seats, very late-night revelers fighting off drunken stupors, those who just wanted to get home after a long day and longer night, and others with more malicious intents. The train rattled around in the subways, its roars echoing in the concrete tunnels. The rhythmic stops and starts of the train lulled Daniel to sleep. He opened his eyes once, when the sounds of the tunnels had ended and the train had made its way into the snowy dark night. For the first time, in that short moment of clarity, he realized that he had never come this far on the train and yet this all felt more real than all the years he had spent in that suburban ranch home. He stared at the big yellow streetlights as they mixed in with the dusty snow, turning into hazy halos. And with that, he fell asleep.