The One Person

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two brothers stick together through life's hardships. But how do they face the truth of their uncanny relationship?

Submitted: November 25, 2018

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Submitted: November 25, 2018

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The One Person

 

 

I remember a starry night when we were kids. I can hear the rain beating against the windowpane and I can see your tiny shaven head pressed against the sweating glass. I see your eyes, waiting for him to appear, staring into the darkness, becoming drunk on the image of their own reflection.

I remember you lying on the ground, with one arm around your knees and another covering your head; I remember the dull THUD of the other kids’ boots as they lunged them at your body and the flat SPLAT of spit on your face. I remember how you protected me.

You never cared as much about anything or anyone as you did about me. There were days when you went without lunch, just so I could have some and when ma learned she gave you such a trashing that the neighbors came knocking on the door. A few days later you’d do it again anyway. You cared for me.

When ma got herself a new man she told you you better get your shit together Nasir or you go find yourself another home, cause this momma ain’t putting up with it anymore. It looked like she meant it too. When we saw Robert for the first time he was the tallest man we had ever seen. Big, long, humongous, and ugly. That was Robert. He was nice to us at first, but then he got comfortable and started giving you that look. And you knew what that look meant, he hated me.

At first they kept it quiet. We wouldn’t even know it was happening if we didn’t sneak out of our room at night and tiptoe to ma’s in our socks and press our ears against the door. They were talking about me. Robert’s bass voice shook the walls and ma kept asking him to keep it down. He was talking about a professional and ma was telling him I ain’t got no money for a professional Rob, do you! And then when they’d talk for long enough they’d suddenly go silent. Then the springs of the mattress would go SQUEEK SQUEEK and we’d know it was time to go.

It went on like this for a couple of months until one night Robert came home very late with a couple of other men who were not as tall but just as ugly. We were in the living room with ma, watching TV and having milk with biscuits. She was on the old armchair and we were sitting down on the carpet in our pajamas. She had even placed a plate with some biscuits just for me. It made you very happy. Then suddenly there was a rattling of keys outside the door and then the fat voice of Robert shouting Wendy open the fucking door please. BANG! BANG! Ma sprang up and she looked worried. She quickly got the biscuits off the floor and said go to your room, now! We didn’t, of course. We hid behind the corner of the corridor that led out of the living room and we kept quiet.

When ma looked out of the peephole she gave out a long sigh and then we knew there was going to be trouble. She unlocked the door and Robert barged in, barely keeping his balance. He cried come in boys, make yourselves at home and then he belched and collapsed on ma’s armchair. In walked two other guys with stupid faces and red eyes. They didn’t even look at ma when they passed her and they threw their smelly bodies onto the old sofa against the wall. Then Robert asked where is the little freak Wendy and ma gave him an angry look and didn’t answer. Then Robert laughed and cried out heeeey little freak, hey boy, come here a minute.You told me go hide in the wardrobe and keep quiet, and then you stepped out in the living room.

When Robert saw you he chuckled and pulled himself out of the armchair. He swayed left and right in front of you and his breath made your eyes tear up. He looked at the other men and cried here's my boy. Then he said well good evening lil Nas. Ma said I think you should leave Robert but then he turned around and said shut up bitch. He gripped your arm so hard it hurt and asked where is your brother boy? You said he’s not here, you're hurting me. He squeezed your arm harder and asked again, where is your brother boy? You felt tears running down your cheeks but you said leave him, he's not here. Then he stretched out his long and heavy hand and slapped you so hard across the face that his fat golden ring cracked the skin on your cheek. Ma sprang towards him but he pushed her back and she fell over the armchair to the floor. The men on the sofa were having the time of their lives. That’s how you set em straight, Robert cried. Where is your brother boy? You said leave him alone and then he hit you one more time with such force that you saw the whole room spinning and you collapsed on the floor and remembered no more.

We never saw Robert again, and ma never brought another man home. But after that day, she changed. You could see it in her eyes, no matter how hard she was trying to hide it. She gave you that look now too. One day when we came back home from school we noticed she hadn’t left the apartment since the morning. We didn’t think much of it until it happened again a few days later. Then the next week she left home only twice to go to the supermarket. We wanted to talk to her about it, but we were too afraid and every time we approached her her mouth smelled like Robert’s and she looked at you funny.  She stopped giving us money for school, only a couple of boiled potatoes and some bacon in a plastic box and that was our food for the day. And every time she gave it to you she said just for you boy, you hear? Just for you. She wouldn't even look at me.

Soon after, the beating started, and then it didn’t stop. She would pull out a slipper and start hitting you on the head, shouting where is your brother boy, where is your brother eh, where's your brother gone? She would chase you down the corridor as you ran to the bathroom where you'd lock yourself and cry. She would bang against the door and shout where’s your brother boy (BANG! BANG!), where your brother gone boy (BANG!), come now, where's your brother eh? (BANG!) You would only tell me to keep quiet, hide, shush, and you would cry and cry.

It went on like this week after week, until one day after school, on the way home, you stopped and said we ain’t going back home no more. I asked where are we going to go then and you said let me think. We sat on the ground in the school yard, it was a scorching summer day, the air was still and dry and the pavement burned our palms when we laid them down. We were silent and there was nobody else around. Then you said I just don’t wanna get beat no more. You said we gotta find a better place. You said any place is better than that place. But where are we going to go then? We don't know no other place. We do, you said. We know Robert’s.

We knew the neighborhood he lived in, but we didn’t know his address. For some reason we thought we’d figure it out when we got there. We took the bus for a few stops and when we got out we were in a part of town we’d never seen before. Ma never let us go anywhere on our own except for school and we were scared. There was a friendly-looking old woman waiting at the bus stop and you asked her where are all the apartment blocks at, miss? She smiled and gave you a funny look, and then she pointed down the other end of the street. We said thanks and that’s where we headed.

We walked around for hours, loosing our way, finding it again, returning to places we had passed before. Building after building loomed tall and gray above us, all exactly the same; the exact same rusted doors, the exact same cracked windows, decrepit gardens and empty balconies. We felt like ants crawling about a gigantic labyrinth of concrete that stretched for miles in all directions. We walked and walked and the sun was baking the back of our necks and the air was hot and stale. After some few hours passed we sat in the shade of one of those massive buildings. We were sweating and panting. We had lost all hope of finding Robert, worse still, we had no clue which direction home was. We threw ourselves on the grass near a parking lot. Just for a minute you said, and you looked at the clear sky above. Then we fell asleep.

When we awoke the sun was already down and the frail sickle of the moon shone small and lonely in the darkening sky. The mountains of concrete that had encircled us were now aflame with thousands of glowing eyes whose moving irises were the silhouettes of their indwellers. You looked at them in the dark and your eyes gathered their light and reflected it like miniature skies full of stars. With what longing you looked at those homes and at the shadows of those people who had a home.

When we got ourselves off the grass we found the streets dark and desolate. There was only the sound of crickets and every once in a while a dog barked in the distance. Come on, we better move, you said. And go where, home? Anywhere but, you said and stepped out into the darkness of the streets.

 

Nine years later we saw Evans for the first time. It was a cold winter day and we were camped next to the air exhaust pipes of a large factory building. We had made ourselves a bed out of card lined with a bunch of rags. We were spending most of our days moving the thing around from one spot to another, depending on how long it took till somebody kicked us out. But the building with the exhaust pipes was our favorite spot because it was warm. Of course, the air came out with a noise like the revving of a dozen engines and we couldn’t stand it at the beginning, did we. But being warm is a mighty precious thing when you live on the streets and soon we got used to the noise. We even managed to get a couple hours of sleep some nights, the rest of the time being either too high or too cold to do anything but shiver manically.

Anyway, it was around that time that we saw Evans for the first time. Blond hair, green eyes, pearly teeth, and a friendly face with chubby cheeks. He always brought us coffee, coffee and millionaire’s shortbread bars, every time. He was assigned to keep track of us and make sure we’re doing okay, whatever okay means when you’ve been sleeping on the pavement for a decade. We had been assigned workers before, but he was different. He didn’t give you that look.

The first time he came to us he said hi guys, can I get you something from Costa? We said yes sir, some coffee please sir, god bless. And a millionaire’s shortbread bar sir, kind sir, you added because you were feeling cheeky that day. But every time since then Evans always came prepared. Two cups of coffee and two millionaire’s shortbread bars. You thought that was particularly nice.

We’d had some decent help from social workers before. From places where we could get free food at the end of the day, to free second-hand clothes and books, to places where we could shower once every two weeks, it was all good. But Evans did something for us we had never ever dreamed of. He put us on the list.

When he told us, you spilled your coffee on his jeans out of excitement and sent him howling. You kept apologizing again and again, afraid he might take us off the list immediately, but he just laughed it off and said it's alright pal. The first few nights after that we didn't even get high. We wanted to spend as much time as possible with the thought, the feeling... we were on the list. We kept daydreaming about what it would be like when our turn came. We imagined a Victorian sort of place, with a big window overlooking a busy street and a bedside table where we could keep our books. We also imagined a door. A door we could lock and unlock whenever we felt like it. Maybe some work too. We wouldn't mind gardening, or even sweeping the streets. The roads were open, the possibilities endless, and the only limit was that of our imagination.

Then a year passed. Nothing much happened that year, except a dog bit your leg and we got jumped on by a bunch of drunk freshers one night. We never brought the list up to Evans, afraid we might jinx our luck, but we noticed he eventually stopped mentioning it and we were ready to lose hope. Then a year later, out of nowhere, he said good news boys, they’ve moved you up twenty places. You were so happy, you cried out SWEET BABY JESUS! and sprang up and hugged him. We all laughed.

That year we spent waiting. Every time Evans came to see us you could hear your heart's THUMP THUMP in your ears and your chest felt tingly. But no, there were no news. It was a hard year too. That winter we discovered an old man with a long white beard and a limping husky by his side at our spot next to the exhaust pipes. We told him to beat it, that spot’s ours, but he wouldn't listen. Things got rough and then cops came out of nowhere and we had to spend the night in jail. It was the first time we’d had a good night’s sleep in a long time, but on the next evening they let us out and we returned to the place with the exhaust pipes only to find it barred up and spiked up. We never slept warm again that winter.

Spring came and with it came news. That day we knew Evans was going to tell us something, we had a feeling. When he came he brought the usual stuff, a cup of coffee and a millionaire's shortbread bar. But only one of each. We just looked at him and waited. He hesitated. Good morning Nas, he said, and straight off you knew something was wrong. He didn't even look at me. There are good news and bad news pal, he said, so just uh... there's no easy way to say this.

He gave out a long sigh and his eyes filled with sorrow, it was the first time we had seen him like that. Is something wrong sir, you asked and your heart sank. Then Evans’ eyes shot straight up at yours and you knew it was all over. He gave you that look. You pulled back as he began to speak.

Listen Nas, he said, good news is, you’ve made it to the top of the list. Some time next month, or the month after at the latest, I’ll come by and give you a lift and we’ll drive down to your new home. It’s a great place too, not like those old depressing homes, but a new one, refurbished, where you get your own shower and a TV set in your room. A real home. And it’s a big community so there’s work there too, work that pays. There’s counseling, they’ll help you find a job outside when you are ready. So... You do understand, right? This is good, no, great news!

You nodded along, but your eyes did not meet his and you were backing away from him little by little.

But there’s bad news too, he continued. And I think you know what I’m about to say. You gotta let it go pal. It’s only ever gotten you into trouble and you know it. It’s only ever made you more alone and the more you surrender to it, the worse it gets. Listen now, nobody’s expecting you to just do away with it, it’s a condition and it needs treatment. And that’s all we... that’s all I ask of you. I want you to have a place to sleep, I want you to have three meals a day and a place where you can be safe and with other people. You know I want this and I know you want it too. And you’ve made it, you’re there, you’ve made the top of the list! Listen, I know it has been long and hard, but it’s over. You want this new life, I know you do, but you have to be willing to let go of your old one and—

Cut the crap Evans, you interrupted, tell me what you want short and simple. I want you, he answered, I want you to start treatment next month, start seeing a professional two times a week and start taking medications.

No, you said, that’s not really what you want, is it? You want me to give up the one person in my life who’s never left me. Do you understand that?

But Nas—

Go away Evans, go away now.

But I—

Get the fuck away! you shouted and spat in his face. He wiped himself solemnly with the sleeve of his shirt and said I'm sorry. Then he left.

And now we sit here beneath a blossoming tree and the wind is cool and the moon is heavy. Ha! Pass the joint man. You know, I don't think they get us. They don't understand how important it is to have somebody in this world. Anyway, we better go find a spot for tonight. And you know what, screw their 'real home'! The sky is our home brother, we live among stars.

 


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