sun filtered through the window to the bed, where my well worn backpack yawned awaiting the things i would take with me. among the comic books, a piece of melted glass from the ashes at Mr. Wilson's house, one pack of Nabs (those orange crackers with peanut butter), a toy compass and my notebook to record my travels, i gently placed my rubber band bound stack of postcards from Sam. zipping the bag shut, i said goodbye to my teddy bear and my writing desk, and walked out into the world.
when i told my friends my plan to leave, the previous night, they were excited, but each had other plans for the day. Johnny said he saw an ogre sleeping under the interstate bridge and his parents had warned him never to go near it, but i figured it was just another way to keep us within the bounds of our neighborhood. i had saw Mrs. Lilly taking pictures there and she survived, so i figured my chances were good.
i stopped at the lot where Mr. Wilson's house used to reside. no one had acquired the lot, since the fire, so the cats had claimed the spot, lounging on black sooted timbers that had cooled. i could feel their emerald eyes crawling over me as i shuffled past on the sidewalk, and they cried a long farewell as i slipped across the asphalt, making the right turn toward the interstate.
approaching the underpass, johnny’s stories of the ogre itched at the back of my head, but were overruled by the desire to get out of the sun. it had almost melted me during the several hundred yard walk from the entrance of the subdivision and my energy was already flagging. the shadows massaged my shoulders with their cool touch and i lay the backpack at the base of the concrete incline that led up to the bottom of the bridge.
"who do we have here"...a voice thundered around me, gripping me in its thick fingers so that i was unable to move. i could hear a great rush of cloth and heavy feet sliding down the concrete, imagining any minute the ogre’s slobbering jaws would clamp down on my neck. the hairs on the back of my neck stood as i felt him draw close, and my legs gave way beneath me.
blinking my eyes, i saw a great mass of hair with aqua colored eyes staring back at me. what little skin i could see was bright red, and long crack nailed fingers prodded at my forehead. “sorry, i did not mean to scare you”, his chapped lips barely noticeable through the strands of his beard, “why don’t you just sit for a moment.” i watched cautiously as, what i could now see was a ragged homeless man, took a seat not far away and began bouncing a little red ball against the incline.
thwop. thwop. thwop.
“want to play?”, he asked.
we spent the rest of the afternoon, there in the shadows of the underpass, bouncing the little red ball in an awkward game of handball. i shared my plans to leave and he told me stories of how he grew up in the neighborhood, but left the first chance he had to escape. somewhere along the way, he got lost, things did not turn out the way he hoped and he found himself returning to the last place he felt at home, only to find it had moved on without him.
“what is your name?” my curiosity got he best of me, but his answer stole my breath, “Tom”
unzipping my bag, i reached inside and pulled out the bound stack of postcards, “i think these are for you.” he stared at the picture on the first card for several minutes and I imagined he saw the same worlds i saw every time i looked at them. then he carefully slid the first one out to read Sam's message, a tear rolling slowly through his beard as he smiled.
he placed the little red ball in my hand and whispered, “thank you.” raising himself up, he tucked the postcards in his pocket and began walking toward the edge of town, whistling as he went. i watched him until he was lost in the haze rising from the road, then i turned to head back home, bouncing the little red ball the whole way.
thwop. thwop. thwop.
This is a Theme Thursday post.