When’s dad coming home? I asked mother.
Soon, dear, she replied. Her back was towards me. I heard the knife jabbing into the cutting wood and the sound of paper being torn but it was not paper she was cutting. She sliced the apple into five pieces and placed them on a plate and set it in front of me.
I have to eat this today too? I asked.
She smiled but did not answer.
I took a bite of the apple slice and the juices flooded into my mouth. When I bit again, I snapped with my teeth, making a loud cracking sound and I watched mother from the top of my eyes to see her reaction but she did not react.
Can I go out and play? I asked.
After you’re done eating.
All of it?
Again she did not reply.
I finished two slices and asked her again when dad would be home and she replied the same way.
And then we’ll go to the store?
And I can pick out as many toys as I want?
Finish your food first.
I’m not hungry.
She pulled the plate towards her and poured some salt on the slices from the salt shaker.
Here now, be a good boy and finish your food. Your seven now, boys who are seven don’t fuss over their food.
I didn’t know what to say so I ate another slice.
Will there be cake tonight? I asked her.
Don’t worry about that, dear, your father will get some.
She didn’t reply.
Does dad know I want chocolate one, I said again.
He knows, she said.
I took a bite of the apple and the taste of the salt made it tastier. I rubbed the half-eaten slice on the plate where the salt had missed the fruit and quickly finished it.
I thought of the toy store as I played around with the last apple slice. I saw myself walking through the door, the doorbell ringing as the glass door pushed open inwards, the white light illuminating everything inside, all the toys, the row of bicycles, I wanted a new one, one that made a little jingle when you rung the bell, one that was red because red things were faster and after that I would go up the stairs to the second floor where all the action figures and the toy cars were and I would need to get at least four or five action figures seeing two of mine already broke and I needed another three cars to finish my collection, then there was the matter of getting the parachute toy, I had seen the advertisement for the toy just a few hours ago and it was a small figure of a soldier, all green holding a gun in his hands and a parachute was attached on his back so when you threw it in the air the parachute opened and he slowly drifted back down to the ground.
I hadn’t noticed but I had finished the last slice and I was free to go now. I showed mother who said I can go play now and I went out to the front yard and found the little hump of dirt that I had made and using my fingers I clawed at it until the head popped out of the figure I had buried. I pulled it out, the dirt falling apart on either side. Once he was free of his bondage I tossed the figure in the air and watched it come crashing down. I did it again and again until one time its leg snapped off and I picked up the broken leg and buried it in the ground but after that, I got bored quickly of the game. I buried the entire figure back, using my hands to even out the dirt on top.
I went to the front gate which was closed and I climbed the wall that ran along the side. Now I could look over the gate and I stood there, watching the road, waiting for father to come home.
As I watched I saw a little boy walking alone. He was covered in dirt. He wore slippers on his feet which were coming apart from the side. His jeans were torn at the knees, perhaps from having fallen down too many times. I knew my own jeans had ripped like that but for some reason, I didn’t think his tore from playing. The cream-colored shirt he wore was lost in the dirt and dust that was embedded in the shirt. The shirt hung loosely around him as if he had lost a huge amount of weight in a very short interval. His face looked hardened. Baked by the sunlight, mother had told me that once. Stay out of the sun she always said. There was crust on the side of his lips and underneath his nose which he seemed to be unaware of. He walked dragging his feet, looking at the ground.
I knew the boy. Everyone in the neighborhood knew him. He was often caught trying to steal things that were left out in the front yards of homes. He saw me looking and he stopped walking. We stared at one another and I noticed a bruise beside his eye. I figured it was from being caught stealing. He had one tried to take two chairs that were set out in our yard and my father had caught him. Instead of hitting him like all the other people did, father gave him some water and some biscuits and told him not to come back here. He never did. The boy was still staring at me and I felt something for him but didn’t know what it was. I just wanted to give him some water like my father did or some food. I even thought of giving him the action figure that I had buried in the ground but then again, it was broken, missing some part of itself, and it was not its fault. The boy started walking again, staring at the ground in front of him. There was sweat on the back of his neck which was being stung by the sun. He went by without looking up, dragging his feet as he walked, his already scuffed sandals getting marked further. I watched him until he disappeared down the street but that feeling inside me was still there.
Father came when I was in the backyard playing with my toys. I had two wind up racing cars. One red with white stripes down the middle and the other was black and made a zooming noise. You had to pull them back and the tires would click over and over as you pulled until they reached their limit and then you let them go and the cars would race off. I was doing that on the tiled veranda when father entered. The red car that I didn’t like as much slithered off to the side and fell into the grass. The black one came to a stop when it hit the leg of the chair nearby. I cared little for it either. I ran up to father and wrapped my arms around his waist. He picked me up so I was taller than him for that moment and he asked how my day went so far.
When are we going to the store? I asked.
I’ve been hearing that you’ve been bugging your mom about that all day.
She was standing at the veranda door leaning against the door hinge, smiling too.
I felt a bit of shame even though that wasn’t what my father intended. I was older now. That’s not how older kids act.
My father sensed what was in my mind and he laughed again.
Okay, let’s go, he said as he set me down on the ground.
We were at a stop light. Mother and father were talking about something. I was lost to their words. The tune from the radio played quietly in the back. I was looking out of the window at the two children walking down the middle of the street, maneuvering their way around the waiting cars. The older one had a bundle of plastic toys in one hand. The toys were long and thin and I had seen them before. They looked like a whip and came in different colors and when you moved them rapidly back and forth they would light up and make different musical sounds. The older boy was holding the hand of the younger one. The younger one had one of those toys in his hands and was whipping it back and forth showing the people how the toy worked. The two of them stopped beside our car and the older one was saying something which I could not hear but I knew he was wanting me to buy the toy. The younger one kept on waving the plastic around. Both of the boys were hardened too.
The light turned green and my father went. I watched the two boys walk to the divider in the middle of the road and stood there waiting for the light to turn red again.
So, tell me about all the toys you are going to get today, my father asked.