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The sweat blinded his vision of reality but he had lived this moment in his mind many times. Each night he would play it like a movie in his head and he would awaken the adrenaline that came with it.
Juan took a look behind him. He knew that the closest boy was at least half a mile behind and there would be no way of catching up with him. He smiled and kept running as if he was running shoulder to shoulder with someone. The people on the side lines looked at him with contempt. There was a beautiful trophy and five hundred pesos for the first place, and it wouldn’t be for their kids.
He moved through the air as if he were part of it. He felt light and fast as the cool wind removed the sweat from his face. People thought he looked like an eskeleto from El Dia De Los Muertos. He had almost no meat on his bones and it didn’t only have to do with the calories he lost while running.
Juan could see the red wide banner that said SUPERLA STORES. He raised his arms and grinned as he cross the white line. There was silence. With hands on his hips and letting his head rest forward, he saw the tape he had put over his shoe had fallen. His big toe was exposed and he could feel color rising on his cheeks.
No one had said a word to him. He waited patiently for the award ceremony, daydreaming of his father’s face when he would show him the money and trophy. Papa Chon never attended Juan’s races, none of his family members ever did. Work, that’s all they knew and at the end of the month all there was money for was frijole,tortillas,chile and if they were lucky a piece of queso fresco.
Juan snapped out of his day dreaming when he heard the first sign of life from the side lines. People were applauding for the boy in second place. Some felt ashamed of applauding this boy who could barely keep running while Juan had looked strong and graceful crossing the line. Juan didn’t care, he was use to it. He was young and there was never an adult with him. It was easy not to take him seriously by the crowd and the judges. When he had asked them if he could participate in the race, the organizers asked if his dad worked at a SUPERLA STORE. He had said no, but one of the organizers upon further examining Juan’s apparent weak body decided he could be no threat, and so he was allowed.
The second place crossed the line. He shook Juan’s hand and said
“Thank you, you too,” Juan responded.
They waited as more and more boys crossed the finished line. By the time the award ceremony was started, the sky was painted red and orange. Juan stomach was growling and Pedro could hear it, but pretended not to notice.
Juan was standing near the judges table when he saw the three of them huddle. They were SUPERLA workers and fathers of some of the competitors. Juan caught them glancing his way and talking back and forth amongst themselves. Their faces looked mean and pretentious. The afternoon had now turned cool and Juan’s body began to feel its caress. He wished his dad to be there with him. He had never wished it more.
Finally, one of the judges, a short chubby man with a revolutionary mustache like Pancho Villas, stepped onto a small podium.
“Your attention please,” he said “congratulations to all of you who participated in this race. I would like to thank our sponsor, SUPERLA STORES, and all of you who made this possible. Now as you know the winner must be the son of a SUPERLA employee and the boy in first place does not meet the requirements. Therefore first prize will go to Pedro Morales.”
The crowd erupted in applause. Juan could feel his eyes turning into heavy clouds. He saw how Pedro stepped up to the podium and was given a golden trophy and a small black bag with five hundred pesos in it. Pedro raised the trophy as his father raised him on his shoulder. Juan stood there. This movie he had never seen in the theater of his mind but now it would be playing for a long time.
The sky had now turned dark blue and the people began to leave. No one would look at Juan. Pedro’s dad could be heard saying,
“Mijo is the best. I don’t even know why they let the other kid participate”
Juan began to walk home. It was dark and he carried a rock in his hand. His mind was replaying the moment when he crossed the finish line and the moment he was told he wasn’t the winner. Juan was too distracted to notice a shadow following him in the dark street. He kept walking with his eyes on the floor. The shadow drew closer to him. If only he had been listening to his surrounding he would have heard the feet approaching.
The street lights began flickering and the light bulb gave out. The street was now only illuminated by moonlight and one could barely see ahead. Juan stopped to get adjusted to the new darkness when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He jumped and let out a gasp.
“Get away from me!”
“Don’t scream. It’s me Pedro!”
“Jesus, why do you sneak on me like that?”
“I’m sorry, I called your name but you wouldn’t hear me, and besides you walk as fast as you run”
“What do you want?”
“To give you what you won of course. You didn’t think I would keep the money did you?”
Pedro reached into his pocket for a small black bag
“I’m gonna have to keep the trophy just for show and my dad’s bragging rights, but I can give you the money. He said it was all for me so he won’t ask for it”
Juan didn’t know what to say as Pedro handed him the five hundred pesos. Pedro shook his hand and then turned around to start walking.
“Thank you Pedro,” he yelled to the faint figure disappearing in to the night.
Walking down the dark street again, he knew his destination. His family would be feasting tonight.