Alexander Bhaduri, 11 year old adventurer archaeologist, comes home after an adventure.
Alexander Bhaduri #1
May 31, 1999; Portland, Wisconsin
Alexander Bhaduri sprinted down the street, bobbing and weaving around trees and fire hydrants, occasionally jumping over parked cars. The last day of 5th Grade was going to end in a few minutes, and he wanted to greet James as soon as possible. He hadn't seen him since his 11th birthday back in March.
Hopefully, James was still shorter than him.
Alexander rounded a corner to see a man on a bicycle racing right for him. Panicking, the man tried to skid out the way, but Alexander was ready. He jumped over the man's head, kicked off a wall and hit the ground in a roll. In an instant, he was back on his feet running.
'James is gonna go crazy when he sees all the stuff I've learned!' he thought.
Indeed, despite James generally appearing aloof and above everything, Alexander's skills never failed to impress him. Over the last two years, Alexander's parents taught him a wide variety of subjects: hand-to-hand fighting, parkour, free-running, survival skills, world history and geography. Of those skills, James found parkour and free-running the most impressive. The thought of James' mouth hanging open watching Alexander climb the school building barehanded made Alexander smirk in anticipation.
'Five minutes until school ends,' Alexander thought. 'Yeah, I can make it.'
Make it, he did, and in record time: he arrived two minutes before the bell rang.
Alexander slid to a halt just outside the steps to Portland Middle School and gulped down big pockets of air, massaging a stitch in his side. His golden-brown skin glistened with sweat, and he pushed his untidy brown hair out his face. Having caught his breath, he brushed the dust off his brown cargo shorts and red T-shirt and straightened up. His brown eyes scanned the throng of pre-teens walking and talking down the stairs of the school for his friend.
He spotted him: a white kid with dark brown shaggy curtains, black backpack strap over his left shoulder. He wore an unbuttoned red and blue tartan shirt over a sleeveless gray Kurt Cobain shirt. Alexander's face lit up and he started waving his arms and jumping up and down.
"Hey! Hey James! Over here!"
James noticed him and smiled. He ran right up to Alexander.
"Hey dork," he said. "How's it been--" Alexander grabbed him in a bear hug, cutting him off.
"Ack! Help--can't breathe," James stammered out.
"Oops," Alexander chuckled, his face growing a little warm. "Sorry." He released James and was happy to see that his (slightly purple in the face) friend still had to look up to look him in the eye.
"How's it going, small fry?" Alexander taunted, his face a playful sneer. James sighed and rolled his green eyes. Both boys were tall for eleven-year-olds--James was 5'0" while Alexander was 5'3"--but Alexander had towered over James since Kindergarten.
"You know, I'm taller than half the kids in my class."
"Yeah, well I'm taller than all the kids in your class and half the kids in the grade above us, shrimp."
"I can still dunk on you."
James snorted. "Can. I've seen you play basketball."
"That was before I did all my training!"
"That makes it more pathetic. You needed parkour training to learn how to dribble. Pretty sure last time we played, you smashed your foot with the ball."
"That was on purpose!"
"Oh yeah, sure it was."
Alexander blew a raspberry down at James' face, before breaking into a giggle. He couldn't stay mad at James for more than a few moments.
Alexander threw his left arm around James' shoulder.
"Dude, you're not going to believe all the stuff we did!" Alexander said. "I'll tell you all about it on the way to my house."
"Did you actually remember to tell your parents that you were bringing me?" James said.
Alexander gasped quietly, his eyes widening.
"Aw crap, I knew I forgot something!" he said, smacking his forehead with his right palm.
"You always forget to tell your parents."
Alexander recovered quickly. "Well, maybe they're expecting me to forget. So they might not be surprised."
James snickered a little at Alexander's logic. Then he asked, "So, what did your family do?"
"Oh my God!" Alexander let go of James' shoulder so he could use both hands to narrate as they walked. "Best trip ever was in April, when we went to Greece. Jessica and I were cooped up in our family's plane, you know the Aquila, while mom and dad went on some meeting for like archaeologist professors."
"I'm getting to the exciting part," Alexander whined, hands going in every direction, "just hold on! Anyway, I found this treasure map in the plane's dashboard, so Jessica and I followed it and found an old sunken Greek ship from like Julius Caesar's time. We look all around, and we found a bunch of old diamonds still in good condition."
"Wow, shiny rocks. Real special."
"Okay, are you going to actually listen to me or what?" Alexander said, glaring. He hated when people didn't take what he said seriously.
"I'm just messing with you, God," James laughed. Then, reading the hurt on Alexander's face, he cleared his throat and said, "No seriously, I'm listening to you, man. Hope I didn't hurt your feelings."
Alexander smiled. James would never lie to him.
"So anyways," Alexander continued, "we head to the conference room that our parents are having the meeting so we can show the diamonds we found. Then I drop the diamonds--"
"Classic Alexander, has one job and screws it up."
"I can dropkick you at any time."
"You're too nice."
"Punch me right now."
Alexander, after several moments of hesitation, lightly brushed James' chin with his fist.
"Wow," James said. "That was crippling. I think I might need to go to the hospital. NOT!"
"Wow, sarcasm, that's so original," Alexander snorted.
"Nice one," James chuckled. "So, how 'bout them diamonds?"
"Hmm? Oh right! So I drop the diamonds, and some pirates we'd run into a while back grab me from behind and scoop them off the ground!"
"Neither of you noticed you were being trailed by pirates?"
"I'm not very observant."
"So, there's 10 of then and only two of us. They probably like figured it would be an easy fight, right? 10 grown adults on two kids? They were wrong. Like, really wrong. We beat them all in like two minutes, easy."
To be clear, Alexander and his sister did not take pride in hurting people. Most of the time, they tried to stun or scare off their opponents rather than seriously injure them. It was rare that people they fought suffered injuries beyond minor cuts and bruises. What Alexander enjoyed was the thrill of fighting, dodging and blocking attacks, and the satisfaction of winning. He could never understand how anyone could enjoy inflicting pain for the sake of it.
James whistled in appreciation. "Pretty cool, dude. Closest thing I did to that was key Mr. Paisley's car."
"What'd he do?"
"Took my Game Boy Color and called Emily stupid in front of the entire class."
Alexander winced. Emily had dyslexia, which old farts like Mr. Paisley assumed was code for laziness. "Dang. Is she okay? I hope she wasn't upset."
"Yeah, she's fine. I honestly don't think she cares what any teacher says."
"Oh okay. I'm glad most of your teachers are pretty cool. Screw Mr. Paisley though."
"Yeah. Also, I swiped my Game Boy from his desk, which was pretty cool. Oh hey, you said you would show off your parkour skills last time we talked."
"Oh yeah! Let me find a tall enough building."
Alexander scanned the buildings on the sidewalk, finally settling on a tall, stone, church with a giant cross for a steeple. He broke into a run towards the church. When he reached it, he jumped for the first handhold he saw: the head of the window frame.
Pulling himself up so that both feet rested on the frame's head, Alexander straightened up and jumped to the next handhold: a crack in the church's frame. His fingers deep in the hole, Alexander began to climb the church, grabbing tiny cracks and ledges as though they were no different from the grips on the climbing wall at the Portland Zoo.
Soon enough, he was on the roof of the church. Bent low, his stomach close to his knees, he ran to the giant cross and clambered on top to perch on its tip.
"Great view up here!" he called down to James. Even from this distance, Alexander could see James grinning and laughing, without a fade of cool indifference.
"Not bad, dude," James called up to Alexander. "Not bad at all."
With catlike grace and dexterity, Alexander made his way down, dropping to the ground when he was close enough.
"So," James said as Alexander walked beside him, "anything else happen to you?"
"Hmmm...ooh! My dad showed me this book about non-binary genders!"
"Like, y'know how some people go by 'he' and other people go by 'she'?"
"Non-binary people would go by 'they' or 'neither.'"
This wasn't strictly true. The book Mr. Bhaduri gave Alexander explained that some non-binary people used different pronouns including ze, sie, or hir. But it was a simple enough definition to work in this context.
James nodded. "That makes sense."
Alexander wasn't especially surprised by James' nonchalance. Since its earliest days, their hometown of Portland, Wisconsin had been famous (and infamous) for being several decades ahead of the time, in part thanks to having a strong presence of openly progressive non-white and LGBT people. In the 1910s, city councils passed ordinances which effectively shut down the Klan in the region. In the 1930s, young men volunteered in droves to join the International Brigades and fight fascists in the Spanish Civil War. In the 1960s, the town was the center of anti-racist and anti-Vietnam rallies. In the 1980s, the townspeople raised millions of dollars for AIDs research, spread pamphlets which debunked lies about gay relationships, and voted for laws which protected rights for the LGBT community.
Alexander hoped that, one day, the rest of the country would be as willing to embrace progress. He knew it would take many decades, but he'd see it through to the end.
"And while I was reading it," Alexander continued, "I found out that it's possible to identify as both non-binary and as a boy."
"So ... yeah. I just came out to you."
"Wait, really? Dude, that's cool. What pronouns should I use?"
"Either he and him, or they and them."
Alexander remembered reading those fateful words--"Some people do not identify as just a man or a woman"--over and over again. That one, all-important word, just, was like a eureka moment for him. Prior to reading that sentence, he'd felt understanding, a sort of connection that he just couldn't explain or justify. Learning that he could identify as a boy and not a boy (if that made any sense) was liberating.
THEY continued in various conversations about Alexander's travels across the world, gender identity and James' middle school drama until they finally came to Alexander's house: 30213 Haytham Avenue, Portland. Just outside the door, Alexander stopped James with his arm.
"Okay, fair warning: my dad might be writing a research paper in his underwear, so close your eyes as soon as you walk in the kitchen."
"Y'know, that wouldn't be a problem if you remembered to tell your parents you were inviting me over."
Alexander waved that aside and opened the door. Both boys took their shoes off before walking in, putting them beside the door.
"We're back!" Alexander said. Tiny, sharp scratch noises filled the air, and a fuzzy blur--white, brown and black--barreled towards them.
Cupcake, Alexander's Beagle, jumped onto each of them, yipping and swinging her tail and flailing her tongue.
James, who'd never had a dog, picked Cupcake up and nestled his face into hers. "Hey there, sweetie! How's little Cupcake doing? Have you been a good little girl?"
"Is that James?" a female voice said from upstairs.
James inhaled sharply and put Cupcake down, letting her run to Alexander and jump in his arms. James straightened himself up and leaned casually against the door frame, hands in his pockets.
Jessica walked down the stairs and rounded the corner to greet the two. She had her younger brother's complexion and wide, brown eyes. Her brown curls went half way down her back. She stood about four inches taller than Alexander and wore torn blue jeans and a pink oversized sweater shirt.
"Hey guys," she said with a soft smile. "Mom figured you were going to get James, so she had Dad work upstairs."
"See, what did I tell you!" Alexander said to James in triumph.
However, James did not respond. He locked eyes with Jessica and gave a cocky half smile.
"Hello, Jessica," he said, in the deepest and smoothest voice he could. "How have you been, my dear? Did you know that I spent the school year learning Yeats, just for you, m'lady?"
She blinked. "Um ... thanks but no thanks."
The room became very quiet, silent, in fact, save for Alexander's barely suppressed snickers and Cupcake's tail thumping against his side. James' smile became more and more obviously forced and a few beads of sweat began to drip down his face.
"I don't know what you were expecting her to say, kid," Mrs. Bhaduri, a white lady with blonde hair and round glasses, said while walking into the room. "'Yeats?!? Well now, who cares that you're some random skinny kid with no money or car that can't even flirt?'"
With that, Alexander bent over, screeching with laughter, dropping Cupcake in the process. Jessica covered her mouth in a vain attempt to hold in her amusement before letting out a stream of honking laughs. James' face turned a burning scarlet but even he let out a few snickers.
"I-if it makes you feel any better," Jessica said between laughter, "you're a pretty nice kid. Just work on your game and ask out some kids who aren't, y'know, three years older than you, and you won't have any problems with girls."
"Er, um, thanks," James said with a shy smile.
Mrs. Bhaduri cleared her throat. "Well then, don't just stand there, slack-jawed, buggy-eyed. I made brownie--"
She was, perhaps predictably, cut off by the sounds of two stampeding pre-teens running into her kitchen.