Wednesday, 26 November 2008

We met under the trees

We met under the trees that day; Rhoda, Sanchez, Billy and me.
The sun was so white it bleached the light and the buildings around us. It was hot, but Billy sat outside the shade of the tree. I looked at his arm and hoped it would soon go as red as his t-shirt. I wanted it to become thick with boils and sag, peel and wither.
I hadn’t seen these guys for a few weeks, but I barely spoke. I glanced around the group, but my eyes would linger longest on Billy. I wondered how I’d be the next time we met, but I didn’t think I’d feel this upset.
Billy, for his part, looked at the ground and sometimes at the others, but never at me. He spent a long time rolling a joint; longer than I’ve ever seen him do it before. So meticulous it was, that you’d expect it to be the most amazing, the most perfect joint ever constructed. However, when it was eventually passed to me, I noticed all the usual small flaws in its architecture, all the scattered thoughts that made it such an imperfect work of art. Perhaps Billy had been building these in by design?
I dared to glance up at him and this time he caught my eye. He offered a smile; thin and intangibly curved. I found myself beginning to smile in return. It’s something I find hard to resist, my ability to please. But I couldn’t let him have this smile, I couldn’t let him have this day. So, as my lips began to imperceptibly curl, I slowly blew the smoke out of my mouth, covering his face with a thin blanket of grey.
Childish, wasn’t it? I know it; everyone gathered there knew it and they shuffled uncomfortably. Billy, though, took the hit. We’ll give him credit for that. He knew he had to do whatever it took to regain acceptance and re-admittance to the circle. Still, the line was a tough one to walk. How to not let Billy have an easy ride back from the brink, while also not alienating Sanchez and Rhoda from myself? Ah, they wanted such a quick retribution, a swift ending to hostilities; but I’ve never worked like that.
I had to restrain myself, stop my legs from standing me up and shuffling me away from the cover of those trees. That would have meant a failure on both my goals; but it was so hard seeing him there and thinking of all the things I blamed him for, all I suspected him of, and all I knew he was guilty of.
Probably a few blows to the face or stomach is what everyone had hoped for. That’s how men can sort things out easily; simple retribution. But I was extracting my flesh pound for pound, and the strain was beginning to show.
So, I spoke to Billy. I asked him how his mother was! It was the best thing I could think of. Of course, talk of mothers was the last thing Billy wanted, and the last thing anyone expected to hear from me.
I enjoyed watching Billy flounder for the right words. I don’t think he could believe I’d said this to him, and at last his skin had gone red, all around his face. Waiting a second or two, I then turned my head slowly around the group with a grin stuck to my face to let them know I was having a joke at Billy’s expense and that it was okay for them to laugh.
That’s when they exploded, Rhoda and Sanchez. They’d waited so long to laugh, their bursting faces went as red as Billy’s and they were soon fighting to refill their lungs. The laughter rolled on like a spring tide, and Billy had the chance to join in, and so did I.
Later Sanchez would tell me that he’d been about ready to stand up and scream, before the pressure was released. That, had he a gun, he would have been fidgeting with it; toying with suicide or murder.
I nodded, and told him I knew just what he meant.

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