Chances for Changes
or "You can always find something better than death" said the donkey to the rooster!
by Ruwen Rouhs
The Oracle Comes True or The Unexpected Present
Life always changes and you have to pick the chances. Sometimes you are lucky and pick the right chance out of your guts feeling. Sometimes ransack your brains allover and then pick the wrong chance. "Chances for Changes" recounts a critical span in the life of Adam. The teen has left his broken home, following the advice of the donkey to the rooster in the famous tale of the Grimm Brothers The Bremen Town Musicians: "Hey now, Red-Head come away with us." said the donkey, "We're going to Bremen. You can always find something better than death."
Each of the six chapters is preceded by a short intro, which are commenting and casting a special light on the events following. But if you don't like intros, just start reading the events as remembered by the leading characters, by Adam and Broder.
Do you like birthdays? I do, but what I like even more are birthday presents. Not the ones I get, but the ones I give to others. Choosing a present for someone I like, just the right present for this special person, has been my hobby ever since I was a small kid. The following story is about two people, very different people, a teen, with the name Chas Myers and a middle-aged loner, called Broder Ryder.
Chas, who is on the run from an almost unbearable situation at home, has an accident with his bike on a lonely rural road. Broder picks up the unconscious boy and gets him to the nearest physician. At the physician, he calls the passed out boy Adam.
The accidental encounter results for both, for Chas/Adam as well as for Broder, in a totally unforeseeable development. It's fate that they meet and it's fortune that they meet.
Events remembered by Chas-Adam have the heading
Those remembered by Broder are headed
The boy stopped his bike at the edge of the steep slope. The bumpy country roadway descended straight into the V-shaped valley, which cut the hilly plain from east to west. At the bottom of the valley the road had a slight bend as it approached the single-lane bridge crossing the fast-flowing creek. On the opposite side of the valley, the road climbed up again, to vanish into the dense wood covering the plain.
The boy hesitated at the edge, then dismounted. He let the occurrences of the last two and a half months run through his mind. He had left home on the first day of summer vacation. No, he hadn't left his home, he corrected himself; he had left TJ's house, the house he had lived in for the last eight years. At first he had lived there with his mother, but about two years ago she had left her boyfriend, TJ, without warning. She never even dropped either of them a line, not him or TJ.
TJ had always been indifferent towards him. He never had called him by his first name, Chas, but had called him 'boy'. He had treated him like a piece of furniture, like a stray cat: "Boy, eat", "Boy, hush", "Boy, leave the room", "Boy, do this; boy, do that".
TJ hadn't minded caring for him, as long Chas hadn't disturbed him. This abruptly changed when TJ's new girlfriend moved in, half a year ago. She didn't actually press TJ to turn Chas in to a foster home, but she made it pretty clear to him that he was no longer welcome in this 'new' family.
He had left TJ's house without regret, and with only one change of clothes, his cell-phone, his MP3 player, his digital camera and his favorite fantasy books, all carried in his backpack. He spent the first weeks of the holidays in a shack close to his favorite beach. When his savings were spent he sold the cell-phone, because neither TJ nor his mother had called him anyway. This helped him through the next three days, while he looked for a 'summer' job. He found one at the ice-cream parlor on the beach. It was an easy job, but purely cash under the table and it was technically illegal, because he was fourteen and his job required two hours of cleaning, late at night, after closing time.
When the parlor closed down at the end of the school holidays, Chas decided to leave town and head south. He traded in the camera and the MP3 player for a red bike. This was nearly new and it sold cheap, so Chas guessed it was stolen. He hit the road.
A week later, in a small city, a junkie stole his money while he slept in a park. Next afternoon, a man of about forty offered him a meal and a place to sleep. The man was friendly and well mannered, but once back in his apartment, he tried to feel Chas up while they were watching TV. Chas left right away.
Two days ago he was so famished that he tried to steal some chips and a chocolate bar in a department store. The store detective caught him, but he managed to break free, escaped and left the town. A police car stopped him at an intersection just outside of town. Smiling and acting like a good boy, he was able to convince the policemen that he was on the way to his grandparents, living two villages further down along the gravel road.
Now Chas had been on this deserted roadway for two days. He had to live off green apples and unripe pears only, because he had avoided the small villages and hamlets in fear of the police.
He felt so tired, so hungry and so down beat that he resorted to an oracle. Standing on the top of the steeply sloping country-way, Chas said aloud to himself: "If I get enough speed driving downhill to reach the top on the other side without being forced to dismount my bike and push it the rest of the rise, I will find a place to stay!"
Chas mounted his red bike and began to pedal like mad. Soon his bike had reached a hell of a speed because of the steep gradient of the road. He enjoyed the bumpy ride across the washboards and the gravel ruts of the roadway. But unexpectedly his bike slipped on the sandy ground of the bend where the road approached the bridge. Chas went over the handlebars head on and struck the post of the bridge with his forehead.
Broder was happy. It was a clear and sunny late August day and the engine of the old pick-up was running smoothly. He accelerated the vehicle down the descending roadway, in order to get enough speed to get to the top of the hillside beyond the creek without shifting down. As intended, his battered pick-up reached its maximum speed at the deepest point of the small valley, where the bumpy road crossed the small bridge over to the other side.
He had to concentrate on driving because of washboard and the deep gravel ruts on the run down the country road. As the truck crossed the bridge with screeching tires his always-alert brain registered, almost subconsciously, an overturned red bicycle at the approach to the bridge. Only once his car slowed to down at the hilltop, did he think that a knocked over bicycle so far out on a road like this was very unusual. It took five more minutes of driving before his sense of responsibility kicked in. Curiously, he turned his pick-up around and drove back to the bridge.
With one glance Broder saw the badly twisted front wheel of the bike. Getting out of his truck, he began to look for the bike's rider. There was nobody in the ditch, but then he discovered some red stain on the first post of the bridge. It looked like fresh blood. Peering down from the bridge deck, he saw a pair of worn sneakers and the lower part of the two legs belonging to someone sitting under the bridge.
"Hello you down there, what's up?" he called at least three times, but received no answer! Broder scrambled down the steep bank almost to the water. A teen in a dirty T-shirt and faded jeans sat in the shadows, his upper body propped against one the footings of the bridge, his head leaning forward on his chest. Broder was alarmed. Something was wrong with the boy, seriously wrong. He lifted the boy's head and found his eyes were closed and his forehead bloodied. He shook him, slightly, but there was no reaction. The kid was unconscious.
Broder splashed some cool creek water onto the teen's face. This seemed to help a bit, since he opened his eyes, but obviously was not able to focus on Broder. Broder helped him to rise, but the teen's feet sagged, so he finally he carried him up to his truck, with great effort.
Chas was dizzy from the hard crash against the pole of the bridge and blood was trickling from the cut of his forehead. He scrambled down to the creek to clean his forehead with the last clean sock he took from his backpack. Sitting down at the footing of the bridge he went unconscious.
The first thing he remembered later on was the face of a grey-haired man with glasses, examining him full of care. "Wake up boy!" The man shook him cautiously, "Wake up boy! Can you move?"
Chas tried to focus on the face, but his view was blurred. He nodded, but was unable to rise.
"Come on boy, you can't stay down here, we have to go to the doctor. Stand up!"
Chas tried, but his legs couldn't support his weight and he collapsed. The man took hold of him and carried him back to the road and lifted him into the front seat of an old truck.
On the way back, Chas must have had a blackout again, because he became fully aware of his surroundings only when he was treated in the examination room of a medical practitioner. The next words he remembered came from the grey-haired man: "His name is Adam, Adam Ryder."
Broder was not pleased by the incident. Playing the Good Samaritan messed up his plans for the day: the plan, to have a great day, angling for trout in a mountain stream and having a hearty supper in the evening. But he had to help. He just couldn't leave the injured boy stranded in the middle nowhere. Reluctantly, he put the boy in the front passenger's seat, and strapped him in with the seat belt. Then he loaded the mangled bicycle into the cargo box. Before heading back to where he started his trip, he climbed down to the creek again to pick up the boy's backpack, which he noticed laying near the water.
Broder was on his summer holidays. About a year ago, he had found a cabin on a solitary lake not too far away from his hometown in the north. He had fallen in love with the place and the small village nearby. After last summer, he had bought the cabin including all the furniture and a small boat. He had worked on the cabin for some weekends in spring, and now it was nearly as he liked it. It was the third day of his holidays and he had still two weeks more ahead of him, before he had to be back on the job.
On the drive back to the village, the boy's head drooped on Broder's shoulder. The first and second time he gently shoved the head away, but the third time he left it there and even enjoyed the light touch.
There was no hospital in the village, however a medical practitioner had moved there after his retirement. He and his wife, a nurse, had cared for the local people for more than ten years now.
Broder arrived during the doctor's afternoon nap and had a hard time waking him up. After a while the old man opened up, "Hey Broder, I didn't know you had a son. What happened? He looks bad. Did he fall from a tree?"
"He was riding too fast on his bike and ran against a post! I found him unconscious."
"Let's check him out. Probably, he only has a minor concussion." With this, the old man checked the reactions of the still weak boy, "He should be all right in two or three days."
In the meantime the doctors wife, the nurse, had come in and cleaned the boy's bloodied head and bandaged it up, "Just be sure that the boy gets complete rest for the rest of the week and feed him: he needs more fat on his ribs!" Looking up at Broder, she asked, "You're staying down at the lake, right? What's your last name? I just know your first name, Broder. And I'll need your boy's name also and birthday, for our records!"
"Mine is Broder Ryder and his…" Broder hesitated. He didn't know the boy's name, he didn't know anything about the boy, because the kid had been unconscious nearly the whole way back and also during his treatment. Then Broder decided to lie; a little white lie. "His name is Adam, Adam Ryder. He was born on September 1 st in 1939."
"I think you mix up something; he was surely born in ´93. He doesn't look like in his 70."
"Yeah, I turned it around! We're born on the same day so, but 30 years apart!"
Later Chas couldn't recall much of the drive to Border's cottage. He was slightly numb, because the doctor had given him a sedative to relieve the pain. Broder tried to start a conversation. First he introduced himself, "My name is Broder, Broder Ryder. I spend my holidays down at the lake in my cabin and I'll take you there, because there is no hospital near by." Then Broder started to ask him about the accident, about his parents, he wanted to know were Chas came from and why he was riding a bike through such a remote part of the country. Chas stayed silent. He didn't want to answer these questions, for fear of the police.
In front of the cabin the man stopped the truck, but didn't leave it. Staying silent for a long time and peering hard at the blank water of the lake he finally began to talk with a shaky voice, "The doctor's wife wanted your name for the record." pausing some time, "I lied to her, I made up a name for you." And even more hesitantly he continued, "I lied to her! I did something unjustifiable." Staring straight forward, he added nearly inaudible "I told her, you are my son and your name is Adam Ryder!"
Chas was still dizzy. He tried to catch the meaning of Border's words. Only after a long delay his mind realized the bearing of this confession. He wanted to jump out of the car and run. But where could he run to out in nowhere?
Chas stayed silent for long minutes, breathing hard and tried to hide away in the front seat. He remembered vividly the "nice" man in the small city only three days ago, the man who wanted to make out with him. Chas had left the man's apartment immediately.
Abandoning himself to an impulse, he wanted to jump out of the pick-up and run. But when he tried to move, his mind went black for a moment and he realized he needed help, this time even more than three days before. He needed help, but at the same time he was sure, he could never sell his body.
After a long time Broder started the engine and began to turn the truck, "I'll bring you to the next town. It's the best I can do for you and me. I have made a big mistake. I beg your pardon."
At that moment Chas knew he had to make a decision. He made up his mind, touched Broder's arm and when the man looked at him, he shook his head vigorously "No! No!"
The first time Broder could study the teen closer was back in the cabin. He had taken the boy inside, "Would you like refreshment?" No answer! Broder went over to the fridge and put a Coke and a Sprite on the table and waited for an answer.
The boy took the coke and downed it like someone dying of thirst.
"What's your name, boy?" Broder studied the silent boy carefully. "Do you understand me? Can you hear me?"
The boy's grey eyes hinted understanding, but he stayed silent and didn't even nod.
Broder was ill at ease. The boy kept absolutely silent. This irritated Broder, made him nervous and aggressive the same time: "Can't you speak? Your eyes prove you can hear me; that you do understand! You are not deaf-mute. So what's the matter?"
After a shy glance at Broder, the boy had turned his head and looked out of the window, as if searching the blue lake for waterfowl or jumping fishes.
Slowly Broder calmed down, his anger was replaced by a feeling he was not able to put in words. The boy in front of him was just about half a head shorter than him and extremely thin. His face was tanned the nostrils of his upturned nose were a little bit too broad. His lips were red, his ears too big and his hair dull and unruly. His ears look like the wings of a little bat, Broder contemplated, he is not a cutie, in any respect, but I like him.
Broder moved around the table, took the boy's chin and turned his head up. He tried to look into his eyes, but the boy refused the eye contact.
"Where are you from? Please tell me. Your parents are surely waiting for you! ……… Please tell me your name and home-address!"
The boy turned away his head and his body went stiff.
"I'll have to call the police! I can't keep you here! I have to inform the authorities, you are a minor and I am not allowed to take the responsibility for a strange boy of your age!"
The boy's eyes looked frightened. He started to shake his head wildly. Clearly, this meant he didn't want to get the police involved. Tears welled up in his eyes, but he stayed silent.
Broder sat down on the table for a moment, stood up again, picked up the boys backpack and sifted through its contents: a dirty sweater, a single sock, some well-thumbed books, and nothing more; no papers, no money, nothing to reveal the boy's identity.
Broder shook his head in resignation then asked again, "Who are you? At least tell me your name or write it down. I won't call the police. ……… You can stay for now."
The expression on the boy's face changed for a moment and a smile crossed his face, but just for a fleeting moment.
The simple cabin had only two rooms, a big living room with a kitchenette in the front and a small bedroom in the back. The toilet and shower were in the shed.
In the bedroom there were two beds. Broder had moved his bed to the windowless side, while the other one was standing under the open window. "Come on Adam, the medic told us you need rest. That's your bed now. Try to sleep! I am going to call you "Adam" as long as you don't reveal your real name!"
Chas relaxed. He was pretty sure now he could trust Broder. He reminded him of a teacher he liked in the elementary school, a grey-haired man in his early fifties, very strict, but fair-minded. He had always helped Chas when he had run into trouble; he always defended him when other teachers wanted to punish him, because Chas was reading books during their lessons instead of listening to their explanations.
Broder was also different from TJ that was for sure. TJ would never have stopped for a stranger; he would never had brought a strange boy in ragged clothes to a doctor and even pretended this dirty boy was his son. For TJ, Chas had always been only "this BOY", not something like a son.
One question bothered Chas. Why had Broder introduced him as his son? Was he nuts? What was the reason Broder had deceived the doctor and his wife?
Broder seemed to be single; at least the whole cabin looked like the cabin of a single person. The place was tidy, but there was no sign of a wife or girlfriend around. The whole set up of the place indicated that its owner preferred to live in a well-ordered and peaceful place.
At first sight Chas had liked the cabin and the small lake, the whole surroundings, despite his dizziness. By instinct Chas knew he could trust Broder. Worn out by the hard days of the last two months and the accident today, he quit brooding about the situation and fell asleep. His last thought was 'I have to keep silent; for now, I will not talk to Broder!'.
Broder drove to the country store to pick up some goods. The village was small; he was well aware that people would by now know he had a teen, his son, brought along.
Having a son was something totally new, unexpected and incredible to him. He was close to panicking. The reason was very simple; he had been a loner since he was a kid. He had never been married; he had never had a girlfriend or even a boyfriend. He had always wanted a family or a friend, or someone to care for and be close to, but he was too afraid to get involved with others.
He was pretty good at his job and accepted as an engineer. The head of the small company he worked for, his colleagues and the other employees liked him. Actually, everyone who knew him liked him, even the old lady in the grocery store. But when it came to building a friendship or an even closer relationship, Broder chickened out. He withdrew. But today fate had assigned him a son. The way the boy behaved kept reminding Broder of something or someone he couldn't quite place in his conscious thoughts.
In the country store he picked up food for two; and for the boy, a pair of jeans, underwear, two bright colored T-shirts, a grey sweatshirt with a hood and bright red swimming trunks. Before he left he also got a warm duvet and a small pillow, because he needed the additional bedding.
"Hey Broder, the doctor's wife has told us about your son; a nice kid she said, but quiet. You never told me that you are married and have kids." the curious shop owner's wife questioned him. "Has he recovered from the accident? Boys of his age can get into a lot of mischief!" Broder just smiled back. "Never mind!" the lady said, "I am sure he will get well soon!"
At the evening meal, Adam ate all the fried chicken, and most of the French fries that Broder had bought at the only takeaway in the village. Afterwards, Adam cleaned the table and washed the dishes, without being asked to, but still without saying a single word. Later he joined Broder under the lamp on the porch. Both read, Broder a detective story, while Adam immersed himself in one of the fantasy books he had carried along in his backpack.
As soon Adam retired, Broder took his chance and checked the news on every radio station he could get. Nobody reported a missing a boy. He felt helpless and at the same time, relieved. It seemed he would be able to spend some more days with his silent guest.
Adam wasn't so silent during the night. Long after midnight Broder was wakened by a mumbling voice. It was Adam. He couldn't understand what the boy was saying, but now he was sure the kid was at least able to speak.
Broder rose late in the morning, snatched his towel and went for a swim, leaving behind some shampoo for Adam. Swimming in the center of the lake, he saw Adam stepping cautiously into the cold water. Then the boy moved behind some bushes. Later he turned up with wet hair and a fresh looking face.
Next morning Chas was already awake when Broder rose and went to the beach. He liked to sleep in the nude but had kept on his boxers, because he didn't want to be seen naked by a stranger. He found the towel and the shampoo Broder had left for him, and went down to the small beach as soon as he saw Broder swimming far out in the lake. He cleaned very carefully in the cover of some willows and then went back to the cabin, covering his lower part with the wet towel.
Broder caught up with him at the cottage door. Inside he pointed to the dresser on which he had arranged the new clothes for Chas.
"I bought this for you yesterday, Adam. I hope the jeans will fit and you will like the T-shirts. I looked for some colorful T's. I found one I liked even more because of the slogan printed on the top:
Mom's Best is Dad's Pest!
But I would have preferred:
Dad's Best is Mom's Pest!
But that kind was out in your size. Anyway Adam, you are already too old for an overprint like this."
Chas smiled, he liked the T's. One was blue with an emblem saying "Soccer World Championship 2006" printed on the back, the other was dark red showing the picture of a kick-boxer in action. He was so surprised that he nearly shouted with glee, but in the last second he recalled his resolution and stayed silent. But secretly he regretted this pledge already. Instead a big smile passed over his face and he thanked Broder with a bow of his head.
Chas soon got tired of playing the mute. He liked to hum and to sing since he was a little kid, especially during boring tasks or on his hikes through the woods and along the beach. Therefore he waited eagerly for the late afternoons, when Broder drove to the village to get new food. Then he went down to the lake and started singing and yodeling, waiting for the echo bouncing back from the opposite shore.
The next two days went much like the first one. They ate together and Adam did the dishes. They went swimming in the lake, Adam wearing his new red swimming trunks and looking great. Broder went fishing but always came back empty handed, so that they had to live on fast food. Adam explored the surrounding area, especially the dense woods. Becoming aware of Adam's interest in birds, Broder allowed him to use his binoculars. The evenings they spend reading on the porch and Broder took always care that Adam was wearing his sweatshirt, to keep away the cool breeze coming up from the lake.
Adam didn't speak a single word the whole time. But Broder's attitude suddenly changed. Broder, who never had talked before about his adventures on his trips to foreign countries, who never had told anybody about his desires and hopes for the future, began to tell all his secrets to Adam. The boy always listened, his head slightly tilted, and smiled when Broder related funny situations, or the intriguing customs in foreign countries.
On the fourth day, it was Sunday; Broder drove to the next town to get some new books and other supplies. When he came back late in the afternoon, Adam was gone. He was worried, as he searched the house and the nearby grounds. The backpack and Adam's favorite books were still there. Broder was sure Adam hadn't left permanently. Broder took out his binoculars to search the lake. He couldn't see Adam; not even the smallest evidence of Adam.
Then suddenly a song came floating with the evening breeze, from the top of a nearby hill. Broder thought it was familiar, but needed some time to recall the tune. Then he recognized the chorus: " I'm a one man guy, I'm a one man guy, I'm a one man guy is me." It was the chorus was from Rufus Wainwright's song `One Man Guy`: "People will know when they see the show the kind of guy I am". It was the voice of a boy on the edge of manhood. It had to be Adam; Broder was sure.
In the evening he announced to his silent guest. "Tomorrow is September 1 st . That's the day of my Forty-fifth Birthday. As you didn't me tell yours, I decided over your head that this day is your birthday also. I got us a creamy cake at the store, and we will have it for breakfast." And, grinning, "Don't you eat it while I'm sleeping!"
Broder had decided to sleep late on his birthday morning, but his sleep was interrupted by the noise of the creaking cabin door as soon as the sun cleared the horizon. He looked over at Adam's bed, but it was empty. He got nervous, hoping that the boy hadn't decided to run away. But then remembered he'd had the same thought the day before, and Adam had returned.
Broder had gotten two presents for Adam, a pile of fantasy books and a new front wheel for the damaged bike. The outer door of the cabin rattled just as he was about to get up to start a search for Adam. There were some shuffling sounds and then the aroma of coffee drifted through the cracks under the bedroom door. Chairs were moved and then suddenly there was a song, Broder had almost forgotten. A slightly croaking and unfamiliar voice sang out:
"Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
To you Broder!"
And then the door opened and a smiling Adam entered with a big bunch of wild flowers. "Coffee is ready, Broder!" and then a little hesitantly and timidly, "Would you like to be my big brother?"
Broder was stunned. What a birthday present, the best he had gotten since he was a boy!
He wanted to thank Adam right away, but he couldn't, he had to clear his throat first. Taking off his glasses, which suddenly were foggy, he stuttered, "Thanks Adam, I never expected such a surprise. I never expected you would forgive me. My lie………."
And after a deep sigh, "But look, I am much too old to be your brother." Then he added very timidly "Let me be your father, that would make a dream come true."
Chas smiled, walked over to Broder and put his arms around the man, "My first name is Chas. But I will accept Adam Chas Ryder. But please, give me some time to get used to it, Dad."
The breakfast table was decorated with the big bunch of wild flowers, two piles of books; a bigger one with fantasy stories for Chas and a smaller one with detective stories for Broder.
Chas was just devouring his third helping of the delicious creamy cake, while Broder still hadn't finished his first helping, because he was telling Chas about his summer holidays in Greece, long, long years ago.
When Broder pictured his visit to the Delphi Oracle, Chas remembered his self conceived oracle of the day his crash, his lucky day: " If I get enough speed driving downhill, to reach the top on the other side without being forced to dismount my bike and push it the rest of the rise, I will find a place to stay!" Chas smiled to himself! Now he had found a place to stay and someone who wanted him to stay, and this one had even carried him up the steep rising from the dark place under the bridge onto the sunlit road to the top of the hill. He crossed his fingers behind his back, vowing never to make up an oracle again.
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