The Ninny

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Redemption comes from strange places.

“Every time it happens, I just want to strip him and wash him off completely.”


These words were spoken by my own mother.  In front of me. To the mother who lived next door.  Her son, my friend Andrew, was there and he heard it too.  I was in grade six at the time. I excelled at sports and music and art.  I was the emcee at the public speaking competition, and I knew what the F-word really meant.  Yet, I was also the victim of a Catholic boy who spit in my face every time our paths crossed on the walk to and from school.


It’s no wonder my mother reacted the way she did.  After each incident, I would come home shaking with fear and pleading to stay home from now on.  I was so traumatized and humiliated that I was beyond defending myself. I didn’t have it in me to throw punches or rough house with other boys.  I was the perfect son, the favourite grandson, the popular cousin and the gracious nephew. How could this be happening to me?


I think the Catholic boy’s name was Kevin.  My friends and I referred to him as the red-haired kid but his freckled face was the more menacing feature.  Those freckles covered his entire head like a rash and helped the whites of his eyes stand out like sensor beams.  He lived down the street and around the corner. Our respective schools were separated by a footpath. That was where his acts of terrorism were usually carried out.  I would go out of my way to avoid that path but sooner or later he would find me.


He always walked alone.  I could see him approaching from far off.  He seemed dejected most times. Until he saw me.  Until he knew that I saw him. Then he would change.  Metamorphose. Evolve into a demon. His shoulders came up until they seemed even with his ears.  His chin lowered just enough so that his wide flat forehead and bushy eyebrows seemed to reach for me.  He could lock eyes with me a hundred paces out. I was too afraid to run because I was afraid that the torture would be worse when he caught up with me.  


It became an act of submission.  Something in my throat would break loose and fall into the pit of my stomach.  My feet would go soft and lifeless. I would walk right up to him with head bowed and receive my punishment. If I happened to be walking with other kids, they would all stand back and let it happen lest they end up on his list of targets.  He never said a word to me. Nor I to him. He would grab me by my shoulders, tilt his head back as if he were about to butt me with his forehead and land a big gob right between my eyes.  Then I was free to go. I’d wipe it off as soon as I passed him. Why I was singled out is still a mystery.


I went to bed fantasizing that I fought back and beat the literal spit right out of him.  I woke up praying that he would be held back after school long enough for me to make it home in peace.  At 8 a.m., I trembled as I walked out the door. Throughout the day, I daydreamed of the Kung Fu and Karate movies I had watched on TV. At 3:30 in the afternoon, I dreaded hearing the final bell. It was a recurring nightmare from which there was no waking up.


My mother wanted to walk me home from school.  That alone would have been embarrassing enough but she would have had to bundle up my baby sister in the stroller.  I vehemently declined the offer. I would have rather faced my tormentor alone than have him see me weak and shielded.  Pride and dignity are not beyond the grasp of an eleven-year-old boy.


Oddly enough, I found strength in resisting all forms of help.  Seeing the fear in the eyes of my friends and the anger in the eyes of my mother put the step back into my feet.  The experience of being spat on became less frightening and more annoying. I learned to act as if it pissed me off, even though I worried that I was only encouraging the red-haired kid.  I was developing a thick skin. And learning soul-felt anger for the first time in my life.


One day, as I was walking home along the footpath, I saw some girls from the Catholic school giving my sister Juliana a hard time.  She was walking ahead of me with her friends. One of the Catholic girls, a tall and heavy set girl, blamed my sister for something that had happened to her earlier that afternoon.  She pushed Juliana violently to the ground. I lost it. I went up to the girl, grabbed her right arm, turned my right shoulder into her chest and leaned over, flipping her over my back in one perfectly executed move.  Fortunately, it was the middle of winter and there was a snowy pad for her to land on. Otherwise, I may have caused some serious damage to the sidewalk.


Everyone, myself included, was stunned by my sudden action.  I had never even attempted that move before. The girl was up and yelling obscenities and threats at me soon enough but there was no fire in her voice.  There wouldn’t be anymore pushing and shoving for a while. We all went our separate ways and the Catholic girls kept their distance. My sister thanked me all the way home and my friends as well as hers treated me the kind of respect that, without the ability to withstand all the spitting and the spontaneous mastery of martial arts, would have been spent elsewhere.  My own troubles were not over yet, but I derived a tremendous amount of satisfaction from my encounter. Even the fact that it was girl whom I had stood up to did not haunt my conscience. She was older and taller so it seemed a square deal. It was now obvious that I was expected to administer the same justice to the red-haired kid.


Sure enough, it wasn’t long after the girl-flinging incident before he came into sight again.  It was early in the spring. I was feeling unlucky and chose to walk the long way home to avoid the footpath.  My sister Juliana and my friend Andrew were close by my side. We all saw him turn the corner up ahead and head straight at us, an extra spring in his step.  I felt the familiar lump in my throat, the drop down feeling in my gut. My sister started to cry. My friend started to fidget. They were expecting a fight, one that I would probably lose.  I think they would have been happy to see me take one like a good boy rather than see me go down in a bloody heap. They needn’t have worried. I didn’t feel up to the challenge anyway. All the momentum that I carried with me had petered out.  My arms hung uselessly at my side.


The red-haired kid had me locked in again.  My head lowered again. I could sense Juliana and Andrew step aside.  I was angry at myself for being afraid. I thought I had overcome these feelings.  I wanted to sit down on the curb and sob my heart out just this once. I lifted my head and looked straight at the red-haired kid. Straight into his eyes. He was standing right in front of me now, watching me back. I just wanted him to get it over with.


He spoke in a voice as gravelly as his face.


“You’re alright.  I’m not going to bother you today.”  


It occurred to me that I had never heard his voice before.


He stepped around me.  I felt his hands slap me on the back.  Not violently hard but disagreeably. Maybe that was his awkward way of signalling approval.  Or was it one last indignity? As with the Catholic girls, he went his way and was only ever seen at a distance, if at all.  

Submitted: May 09, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Horto. All rights reserved.

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