The Boy With the Black Hair

February 13, 2011
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The school was painted blue, like the sky mixed with the color on the label of the hair grease our character uses every day. The windows had bars on them that didn’t belong, not for a place like this at least, and the small step up to reach the building made it an island of its own. Between the houses with windows boarded up and weeds smothering the once beautiful walls, lay this building. To the boy it was perfect.
There was a tall, but friendly fence to the left of the building, simply reminder to of whom really belonged within its reaches. In the carefully marked boundaries lay an absolute disarray of playground . There was a red slide that’s once flat surface was now littered with scratches and bumps, and the air was filled with waiting; waiting for the time of day when their playground would be filled with the children who belonged.
It was in this place, a playground that simply didn’t belong in the city it was built, that Kevin, the little boy, smiled. A smile. It doesn’t seem big, it seems like an action, a daily movement. But you don’t understand the boy yet, you don’t understand what it means when he smiles. Just wait.
This smile wasn’t the same as the ones he would share with his father during the earliest part of the morning, but to Kevin, any smile was a good thing. His face lit up as he slid down the pale red slide, other children too impatient for the concept of taking turns falling down with him. His black hair stood out like a room without a light, and his mouth slowly cracked open and turned upwards. It stayed like that for the forty-five minutes this child frolicked about in the playground on Illinois Ave., and as everyone around him stampeded inside, Kevin walked with his hands dangling behind his back, letting the process of his fading smile drag out for as long as possible. Once inside, his mouth turned back down. It wasn’t a sad moment, just an action that he was used to. Once inside people expected him to talk. When Kevin entered the classroom, it suddenly wasn’t alright for him live a life within his thoughts.
There was this boy, with perfect black hair. It was greasy. Not dirty. Just greasy. Earlier that day that boy had been in a small room, with walls the color of smashed eggshells. His jet black mass, bobbing up and down atop his head, every few seconds disappearing beneath the child’s sheets thrown about on the ground. From the depths of the sheets all that was heard was the rustling of the black mop of hair as it met with the stained blue sheets.
If you zoom out, you see a room trying to look larger than it is, attempting to look like a house, something it wasn’t. You see a thin mattress in the corner where the young boy, with skin the color of butterscotch, is playing. There are two small windows that don’t let in the right amount of light, and walls whose paint is wearing thin.
You see the boy and his mother getting on a bus, you see them getting off, and going up to the school. But were not there yet, right now, he’s still getting ready.
“Kevin, sweetie, lets get going,” a woman’s voice echoed from the room next door. She didn’t wait for a response; she knew there wouldn’t be one.
From an early age her son didn’t talk. At first there was the innocence of baby babbling, but when Kevin began to really belong, to belong in the mess of a life she tried so hard not to live in, he went silent. There wasn’t a day, a specific moment when her boy stopped his talk; it happened gradually. Now he just sat and watched. She could see him take note of all the people that passed by on the street, sit and notice things others didn’t, but never talk. She wished he would say something.
When he emerged from the room the 4-year-old boy was dressed in dirty sweatpants and a shirt too large for his frame. But, with a face like his he didn’t look four. With eyes that were set straight into his head, dark shadows almost swallowing them up, and a small nose that didn’t show the common innocence of a child but knowledge of a boy who had seen to much. He looked older then he really was, much older.
He trampled across the floor, feet dodging the minefield that made up the small room. There was a battered refrigerator in the corner and a fan crowded a lone electric outlet, weak with unpaid bills. A mattress lay in the corner, a brown sheet covering the sleeping body of the boy’s father. His hair was black, like his sons. The man’s head poked out of the chestnut colored sheets, his hair meeting the soft lips of this inky head’s son. Those same lips moved, not enough to make sounds, but there was still a message. Though only four, the boy knew his father didn’t hear him; didn’t hear him because today that sleeping man was too tired to open up the cabinet and pull out the jar of hair grease. His father would rub the grainy oil onto the boy’s head and slick up the hair in a series of uneven waves. Only then would Kevin’s mouth begin to move. Sometimes the man himself couldn’t hear, but the boy didn’t notice. There were things far more important than getting your sentences heard.
But today Kevin knew that wouldn’t happen. The man wouldn’t wake up, and the grease from yesterday would rub out during the day.
After a quick walk to the end of the block, the boy and his mother reached the bus stop. A warm breeze wrapped around Kevin’s sweating legs, another reminder that summer would soon be here. Summer would come, and there would be more time outside at school, there would be swimsuits, and maybe a trip to the pool like last year, with the picture-perfect yellow school bus.
But if it was also like last year that would mean there would be a house without air conditioning. There would be food that would sit in the refrigerator, and go bad a little faster because of days when electricity would stop like traffic. He would go through nights when mosquito’s would create a symphony for Kevin, taunting him as he tried to sleep beneath his dirty sheets. He hoped that it wouldn’t be like last year.
There’s a bus ride with people, people that Kevin and his mother won’t ever remember again. They took the same bus every day, they saw hundreds of people. The details aren’t important, not everything is important. But there were people on that bus. The people were important, they all had stories. There would probably be a woman talking to nobody, a man sleeping, as if he hadn’t woken up yet, and words etched onto one of the seats that his mother would blocked with her tattered hand bag. When they would get out of the old bus it would go limping down the street to it’s next destination. All the people would get out, going in different directions. Some would be heading to the bank, others to a nearby grocery store. One or two of these shady people, the ones with the dirty hair, and clothes that hung off of their frail bodies like sheets, would sit down and wait for the next bus to scoop them back up. The last straggler would simply stumble down the street, not having any ideal destination.
These people might not connect to this story, but they still matter. They have their lives, that fit into their own tales. It’s important to keep them in this one.
Kevin and his mother’s trip wasn’t long now, just across the street to the perfectly uneven building. The building that was blue, it was perfect.
Now we’re in the building, Kevin and his mother have walked across the street, and entered.
This place, this oasis of a life for the four-year-old boy, was the only gift the government had ever felt like giving. Two years ago, in a cramped child service’s office an overweight women had handed his mother a pamphlet, with what seemed like reluctant happiness. The pamphlet told of a school--no, not a school, a sanctuary, for families like Kevin’s. Families that had homes, but not always. There would be a day, usually once a month when his mother would come in with their black suitcases, the ones that were weak with too many homes, too many nights of traveling from one bus stop to another. She would bring Kevin to a new room. Once in a while they went to a church where hundreds of people were sleeping. When Kevin was there, he saw people that lived out of grocery carts, and some, not even that. There was always a lady with no front teeth, and a man that talked to people that weren’t there. Kevin didn’t like those nights; there were too many people in one room, and not enough air to go around.
But every day, no matter what, Kevin made it to this one place. He had taken this same bus through dancing rain and sun that beat down in sweaty rays. It was a school with other people like him, people that had these ‘surprises’ every month.
He and his mother passed the main room where the women sat, now staring off into space and picking away at her drooping fingernails. Kevin and his mother cut down a narrow hallway and entered a room with a rug in the corner and tables backed up to the wall. Lining the shelves like an unorganized army, blocks and books lay against each other, some resting on the floor where they had fallen, and in the midst of it all was a women with shoulder length dirty-blond hair. Her name was Ms. Carla, and from the day he met her Kevin liked her. Ms. Carla wasn’t like the other teachers in the school. She didn’t force him to answer the questions they constantly threw at him.
She was sitting at the table in the far left corner, “Morning, Kevin. I think you’ve already had breakfast.”, she looked over and received a silent nod from the mother, “So you can go have free time before we start activities.”
Head down and hands dutifully stuffed in his pockets he walked over to his mother. She kissed him on the head, her dyed auburn hair falling over the boy’s square jaw. His own hair pressed against her cold leather jacket. It wasn’t the same as his father’s kiss this morning-- there was no equal set of black hair to meet, and no smell of their identical hair grease. The boy’s mother obviously knew that.
Now it’s later in the day. Kevin isn’t there, but you see his mother. She’s in a supermarket, behind a counter. In this life she’s at a checkout lane with a smock worn by dozens of people. She’s not always in the same place, not always wearing the same smock, but no matter what, she always seems to be serving others. She’s bagged other’s food, swept their dirty floors, even sometimes watching their children. When finally done with these tedious days, she didn’t go home with the same bags and bundles as her customers did. She goes home with hard plastic cards, given to her by the government. They don’t give her what her little boy, but they sometimes give her enough to give him dinner.
Now we’re at the school, we’re were Kevin smiles. Back at the playground, perfect in its imperfections, it silently sings with joy as feet met it’s warm, dark surfaces. It’s song is filled with the fresh green leaves, the only thing that lit up when the stale sun was around. Children’s shouts and murmurs were the steady chorus, and the low ‘clunk-clunk’ of feet as they stamped on the boiling asphalt was just enough to overpower the rumbles and clanks of the outside world.
We’re back where we started. Kevin’s inside now, sitting on a square rug. His smile’s gone, it’s disappeared, along with the playgrounds song. He’s playing with wooden blocks. Other children are around him, they’re talking. But not Kevin, he doesn’t talk when he’s inside
He’d heard their whispers before. As he had slowly walked along the damp hallways of his perfect sanctuary, he had heard Susan, Ms. Carla’s helper, discuss with another teacher ‘that boy Kevin who just won’t say a word,’. He didn’t understand why it mattered so much to them; it didn’t bother him at all. Sometimes he just didn’t want to talk; he didn’t want to talk when things weren’t right. There was something about a situation for Kevin; if it wasn’t good then why fill it up with conversation? In the classroom he had a nice time, nicer than those nights he spent on the hard church floors, but he saw the other children around him, he noticed that they were different than others. Not all of his classmates were happy; they didn’t have fathers that made their hair like magic every morning. Kevin was worried that if he talked he would remember the day; he would remember the parts of the day he didn’t want to. So, he choose not to talk at all, unless it was the morning and he was with his father. Kevin wanted to remember that.
For now Kevin was fine with it. He didn’t need to talk if the people he liked were the ones that understood his silence. When Kevin was with some of his friends, he saw the bruises that so often lay on his classmate’s skin, like a smudged piece of dirt on a once clean shirt. He didn’t understand why they were there, but anybody that grew up like this young boy knew not to ask about those things. Kevin saw the unknown bruises and his classmates understood their silent friend.
That day the boy with the perfect black hair walked home with his mother. They took the bus ride home, and there were different people, with the same stories. They walked from the bus stop to the building, and in the building they got to their two small rooms . However, that night was the night when Kevin’s mother got out their tattered black suitcases. When the four-year-old boy saw them, he didn’t need any words to make this memory whole. He stood up and followed his mother out the door. Walking out of the room the women turned off the dim overhead light, and just like that, the young boy’s hair disappeared into the inky darkness.

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