Chances for Changes
by Ruwen Rouhs
Getting past the Fear or Adam gets a real Friend
Classroom-time had never been Adam's favorite time of the day. He loved the time after school though, when he was alone at home and could rattle around undisturbed by others or delve into the past or the future by reading. In summer he loved to soak in the sun on a quiet beach and listen to the humming of insects. Once in a while he had taken his bike for a ride around a lake or taken an extended walk along a rushing creek. In winter Adam strayed through the snowy pastures and broke through frozen reeds at the river, to watch birds and wild animals. However, Adam wasn't a loner; he just needed time away from other people, from his family, his schoolmates, his friends. Once he had had his time for breathing freely, Adam was much more able to enjoy the company of others.
Broder seemed to have a similar psychological makeup. Adam's new father also needed time away from others, to be able to put himself in front of others afterwards; to put out effort for Adam, for example. If people called Broder a loner, they did just not know him. Broder just needed time being free; Adam knew all about this.
Being a stranger in this new town, Dartsborough , Adam wanted to have friends and he longed for a special friend. In the evening of his first Sunday in his new hometown , Adam and Broder had spoken of this, "You need to make friends, Adam. I love you, but I am not the friend that a teen needs; you need a friend you can share secrets with. Secrets you could never share with an adult like me!"
Sitting side by side in the garden swing, Adam had leaned into Broder, "Are you sure you will not be mad if I get a friend and spend a lot of time with him?"
Broder closed his eyes and, after some moments of silence, he answered slowly, "I must confess; I may become a little bit of jealous of your friend, if you spend all your spare time with him. I know you need friends of your own, but I am also sure you love me and that you will spend time with me as well! "
Events remembered by Adam, have the heading ' ADAM': .
Those remembered by Broder, are headed ' BRODER': .
It was Tuesday morning, Adams's first day in his new school, Oakville High in Dartsborough and also his first day as a freshman. "Adam Chas Ryder, that my name!" Adam still remembered the knot in his stomach, when he introduced himself to his new class-mates. The evening before he told to himself, I want to be known by my new name, not the old one, Charles Myers, the one my report cards still read . Becoming aware of the questioning look given of his teacher, Miss Myers, he addressed her unspoken concern "The report card shows my former name. Adam Chas Ryder is the name my new father and I have agreed upon, Miss Myers. …. I just moved into town on Saturday from up in the north."
Adam wondered why Miss Myers started laughing heartily: "So, you aren't using the name Myers, the one that's on your school reports? I had hoped to finally have at least one of my students share the name with me!"
Turning to other students she announced. "Today is your big day, my great geniuses. You get to prove what you have learned with your reading " The Old Man and the Sea" . Hesitating a moment, she carried on "Hemingway has stated in an interview: I have written a story of a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks . …. Now to your task! Can you explain what his intention was writing this novel? Go ahead and reveal the symbolic character of the figures of this story. Now to your task!"
An athletic student raised his hand.
"Bradley, what do you need?" she asked.
"I know the answer! His intension was to make a lot of money!" Brad retorted and the other students broke out in laughter.
"You're being silly!! Your better start thinking seriously!" Miss Myers smiled tickled by Brad's joke.
Ignoring the laughter of the other students, she turned to Adam: "Have you read The Old Man and the Sea? … No!" Looking him over carefully, she stated "I bet you like fiction. Am I right? You sure have read The Hobbit .
Adam felt uneasy. It's a baby's story! He smiled to himself. He remembered the story well, because his mother has read it to him as small boy. Looking at Miss Myers incredulously, he said, "Yeah, but long time ago, that's a kid's story, isn't it?"
"Careful, Mr. Ryder!" waving her finger, Miss Myers lectured him "What do you think of a little plump man who is plucked from his rural home, and thrown into a far off war where traditional types of heroism are shown to be futile? In a war in which a peace-loving, well-fed middle-aged man is confronted with trolls, goblins, giants, wargs and, last not least, with Gollum, the man-eater?" Eying the surprised newcomer intensely, she continued "Your grades imply you will be able to find out the secret meaning of this parable."
Adam boosted up his brain circuits, in vain! He shook his heads. Sitting in the first row, by the big window, he tried to concentrate by focusing on the green in the school garden. No great idea what so ever! Adam brooded over the novel. But his mind stayed blank.
Suddenly the peace in the garden was broken by a big yellow cat launching an attack upon an unwary little sparrow taking a bath on a sandy spot in the hot sun. This brutal attack of the predator on the innocent bird hit him like a thunderbolt. In same instant he was sure about Tolkien's idea behind the story. Bilbo Baggins was the vulnerable sparrow and the yellow cat was one of his demonic enemies, one of the trolls, or a giant spider, a cruel eagles and a hungry wolf.
Adam was sure now! Bilbo was the symbol of a poor Iraqi citizen and the beasts of prey one of his enemies, the suicide bomber, the sniper, the cluster bomb, the bullet with the uranium ammunition and fighter bomber. Tolkien's story was the parable of the assault of the infernal monsters of war on the naked civilian. Adam started writing feverishly.
At the midmorning break, Adam was still fully occupied by the story and not paying much attention around him. Withdrawn into himself, leaning on a tree in the recreational area, he was startled by a nudge in his side and a curious voice. "I am Donald. How do you like Miss Myers? She likes to scoff at her students, but otherwise she's alright. Miss Myers loves us, but she likes to put us on a bit! "
Adam eyed the lanky boy in front of him. Donald had short, dirty blond hair, grey-blue eyes and a snub nose. However, before Adam could decide if he might like to become friends with him, a short, chubby girl turned up, "Hi! I'm Melinda, your class representative; just call me Mel."
In contrast to Donald, Adam liked Mel on the spot, without needing to think about it. She seemed outgoing, competent and, as he found out later, not nosy at all.
"Have you been to our school before? No? Let me introduce you to our classmates." Without asking, Mel dragged him to the corner where the girls and freshmen had gathered. At the age of about fifteen, the girls looked much more grown up than their male counterparts. Judging from their outfits and make up, Adam placed the girls into two varieties. The one Mel belonged to was absolutely in the minority. The majority belonged to the "America's Next Top Model" variety. At least, they tried their best to meet the criteria required for this qualification: micro mini skirts, super tight fitting tummy-tees, high heels and a lot of mascara around their eyes.
While Mel was introducing him to the other students, Adam felt the stares of the other freshmen. When they turned away, uninterested, he was sure the jocks had somehow signalled to each other, "no-danger-ahead," and the chicks had turned their thumbs down, thinking, "forget him; he's just a poor ass like the others."
The jocks, hanging around at the water fountain, clearly had a boss. He was square, towering over the others by half a head and dressed rather simply in a grey t-shirt showing his bulging biceps. He stood out from the others, who were dressed in brands like Adidas, Nike and Diesel.
Donald, belonging to the nondescript majority of freshmen, pointed at the jocks, "That big dude over there is Pete, Pete the Pest; that's what we call him in secret. Look out, ´cause he likes to kick newcomers in the ass." While Adam sized up the jocks, Donald explained, "We have 25 students in the class, but Vic is missing right now. He had a mysterious accident just before summer break and is still at home. Vic normally uses the desk you are using today."
Then Donald began to question Adam, "You're living with your father now? … How come you changed your name? … Where is your mother living? Did she stay behind in your old home town?" Adam's more or less non-committal answers only provoked new questions from Donald, about his former school, his hobbies, his favourite sports and his spare time activities. Soon he was desperately trying to look for a way out. Shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, like a first-grader who needed to pee, he asked, "Where are the toilets? I need to go before classes start again."
Adam was relieved when his first day at Oakville High was over. Leaning exhaustedly against a lamppost at the bus stop, he enjoyed an ice-cream cone he bought himself as a reward. Recapping the day's events, he was suddenly alarmed by an ice-cold, metallic, muzzle-like object pressed into his ribs. A muffled voice demanded, "Hands up! Don't shout for help! If you move, you're a dead man!" The threat was followed by a boyish voice, "Hand over your money, all of it!" Then a third young voice, trying to be intimidating, commanded, "Hand me your ice-cream cone. Be careful, don't drop it!" This last threat was immediately followed by the hilarious laughter of four or five boys, while a small hand grabbed the ice-cream cone and took it away.
Turning around, Adam looked down at Zach, his neighbor; Zach Freer.
"I'll bet you nearly pissed your pants, Adam! Didn't you?" and holding a bottle of ice-cold coke out to him, Zach asked, "Have you got a bottle opener?"
Adam recovered quickly. He had really been scared because of the Sunday paper's report of a dangerous gang of kids swarming other students. With a sigh of relief, he pulled out an opener and opened the bottle for Zach.
Offering Adam the first sip, Zach proposed peace, "Friends again? These are my friends in the soccer team, Michael, Ethan, Tyler and Lilek. We usually number six, but Matthew is missing today."
"Thanks Zach. I nearly shit myself. Peace offering accepted, but who is the guy who stole my ice-cream cone?"
"That is Lilek; Liam Lek, the best forward in town!"
Liam, having already finished off the ice-cream, looked at Adam apologetically, "Thank you big bro; your ice-cream saved my live. I was starving!"
Zach and Michael took Adam between them, and followed the others, who were moving away. "Come on. We need a goalie, because Matthew is missing and Vic, Zach's brother, is still sick at home! So he can't substitute today." Michael begged, and Ethan, looking back with a smile, said, "Please come along, and don't stay mad. We have to practice for the soccer tournament next week and Zach told us you're a good goal tender."
Adam decided to put on his most serious possible face and announced, with a stern voice, "Okay, I'll come along, provided Lilek pays me back!" This was out of the blue, without thinking about any possible consequences.
The soccer ground was in a huge enclosure, like a monkey cage in a big zoo, a court surrounded by high wire frames at the edge of the spread out City Park, which extended down to the river. In the back of the park was a small grove on a hill, which gave rise to a small brook meandering through the park, emptying into the river.
They practiced soccer, playing three against three using only one goal. They decided to play their usual four rounds. In every round three forwards would try to score as many goals as possible against two defenders and the goalie. Usually Zach, Lilek and Matthew, played against Michael, Tyler and Ethan, the two M's alternately taking the position of the goalie. Today Matthew was missing, therefore Adam took his place. The first round, with Adam as goalie and Zach and Lilek defending, ended after 10 minutes. Tyler and Ethan had scored two goals each, and Michael one. At the beginning of the next round it became obvious, that Adam was just too strong for the six-graders. Unintentionally he ran into Tyler while trying to get the ball and the small boy went to the ground. Adam immediately volunteered to be the only goalie for the rest of the practice, while Michael had to play forward in both teams. After four rounds, they were ready to go home. Lilek turned out to be the best goal-getter, giving Adam no chance to stop the ball. He had scored 11 times in only two rounds.
When they left, the exhausted six-graders were convinced they could win the tournament and high-fived each other. Adam congratulated Lilek, "You're the best scorer I've ever played against! You didn't give me a single chance to catch that ball. You're a great goal-getter!" Lilek blushed and looked sheepishly down, but then, burying his embarrassment, he promised, in a serious voice, "Adam, I'll let you get your revenge next Saturday; not only for the goals, but for the stolen ice-cream cone too!"
On the way home, while walking alone with Zack, Adam suggested taking the short cut through the grove in the back of the park to escape the hot sun. To his surprise, the six-grader grabbed Adam's hand and forced him towards the long way around. Opposing Adam's suggestion emphatically, Zack pleaded, "Not that way, please," While pointing to the peaceful-looking grove. "Vic got mugged there before the holidays. Some bastard drugged him, and then robbed him of his wallet, his cell phone and all his money. Vic nearly died! The attack has changed him a lot. Now he just stays shut up in his room and doesn't play with me anymore.
Coming home from school after the soccer practice, Zach had invited him into his parents house, "Let me introduce you to Vic!" he exclaimed happily. Calling upstairs he tried to persuade his brother, "Vic, come downstairs, please Vic! Adam is with me. He is your new class mate! He is real nice. He played soccer with us." And as Vic didn't answer, he tried again, "I told you already yesterday Vic, Adam is great! Please come down and meet him!" But in vain, Vic didn't even answer.
The low September afternoon sun coloured the leaves of the shrubs in Border's golden garden. Coming from Zach's, Adam entered his new home through the back door. He shivered slightly because the shutters had been closed the whole day and it was a bit cool. Shaking his head, he muttered quietly, "Hell, why is Vic so unavailable? I haven't done anything to him!" Adam wondered about it! Why did Vic not want to talk to his new classmate? Kicking off his sneakers, disappointed, "Is he a snot-nose geek or a brainless jock?" Adam couldn't resolve this urgent question, and grumbled "I need a friend, one of my age not a sixth-grader like Zack, Lilek or one of the others. I don't mind the kids, and it is fun to play soccer with them. But I need a friend and Vic was my last hope!"
Recalling his first day in the new school, he stated to himself, "Oh gosh, my new classmates are either nondescript fools or brainless jocks. Maybe that little guy Tru is an exception. But he's always with the chicks and jocks, playing the Cupid and carrying messages to and fro. No chance to even talk to him!"
Adam felt lonesome in the cool and empty house. He took out his algebra book and retreated to the veranda with his MP3 player and a coke. Recalling the teachers he met this morning, he tried to categorize them. "Miss Myers? Witty Miss Myers! I think I like her, not only because we shared names, but she is really witty! The life science teacher? Forget him!... He is also coaching sports! Oh God, I hate sports!!... Finally, the math teacher? He is a pest. Sensitive like a tombstone and of consequential manner! Why did he ridicule me? I told him, I couldn't solve this assignment on the black board because we had a different curriculum up north!" Sitting down on the table and opening the algebra book, Adam crossed his fingers and prayed to his guardian angel, "Please make the essay a success and let this bastard of a math teacher break his neck!"
Broder hit the brakes of his old pick-up. The truck veered, then skidded to a halt in front of his house. "Why I am so good-natured?" Broder questioned himself, "I just can't say 'no', when the boss asks me to do overtime. I promised Adam to be back latest at five p.m. at his first day in his new school. Now it's already half–past-seven! I haven't even had a chance to call him. That damned client was so stupid. I had to explain our strategy three times!" Broder was worried and uttered a deep sigh. "Jesus, help! Let him be at home! He should never be given a reason to run away!"
Broder raced into the house and checked Adam's room first, then the kitchen, the living room, all the while calling out loudly, "Where are you, Adam!" No answer! Nervously he pushed open the door to the garden. Thank goodness. Adam was seated at the table on the veranda, the plugs to Broder's MP3 player in his ears, doing homework.
Broder put an arm over Adam's shoulder and hugged him tightly. "Thank God, Adam! I am so relieved! I was already imagining you run over by a truck."
"I haven't been run over by a truck, but I am being run over by algebra! I'm far behind the others! I just can't figure out the solutions. Broder, I feel so stupid!" Adam lamented.
"No problem, my son. Algebra was my favorite subject." Sitting down opposite Adam, he asked, "How was your first day at school? Alright? How are your school mates? How are the teachers?"
Adam sighed, "Oh Dad, both are not so different from my old school."
"I guess teachers are teachers, but the students? I forgot all about my former class mates. I even can't remember their faces!"
"Look dad, don't you really remember? Getting old, ha?" grinning he kept going, "Don't you remember the geeks, these wise guys, only stewing in their own juice or the nondescript kids, fidgeting around with their MP3 players and scratching their crotch. Don't you recall these jocks, these bullies, either talking of sports or of how to score with girls?"
"Oh Adam, you are ultra critical! … But how about the girls? They should look great at the age of fourteen or fifteen!"
Adam started laughing, "Oh Dad, you are naïve! The girls are even worse! Either they look like grey mice or they look sort of over-done, in their micro mini skirts, super tight fitting tummy-tees, high heels and a lot of mascara around the eyes! They look like they were playing in a bad movie." Realizing Broder's inquiring look, he added smiling impishly, "However not one of these girls could meet the requirements of the All-American-Top-Model-competition." Adding after a while, "I suspect I am alone in this judgment, because the other boys were competing heavily for the attention of the stylish girls. But I tell you Broder, not one of my classmates has a chance with these chicks. The girls only had eyes for the older boys, the sophomores, juniors, and seniors already having a driver's license and a car." Chuckling even more Adam added, "There is only one guy who is allowed to be part of the group of chicks. He's the smallest and cutest boy in the class! The girls called him "Tru" . Tru here! Tru there! He should be called "Cupid", because the chicks use him as a 'herald of love'."
Broder was deeply perturbed by Adams harsh report. He was sure Adam was yearning for a friend and understood his disappointment for not finding one immediately. He wanted to ask him, didn't you find a friend? Suppressing further questions to this special point, Broder continued, "I'll bet you need all kinds of new items for school. Let's drive to the mall first and buy the things you need and then we can have a first-day-of-school-day dinner! Algebra can wait!" Putting an arm across Adam's shoulder Broder he led the frustrated boy to the old pick up.
On Tuesday evening the department store was almost deserted.
Broder showed Adam to the sports department. With sparkling eyes Adam turned to Broder, "Hey Dad, there are so many different brands on display. I don't know where to look first! I need gym shorts, a track suit, and trainers, Dad. Can you help me choose the right ones?"
Broder wanted to make Adam a responsible person and thought that this could be a good start. He punched Adam lightly in the ribs, "You are old enough Son, Make your own selection. I trust you not to raid my account too much! Meanwhile I'll get the groceries and pick you up at the checkout later."
Coming back later, Broder was wondering about the number of bags at the desk and feared a hefty bill. But then he even was more surprised by low bill. "Did you beat down the seller? I thought department stores have fixed prices!"
Adam grinned devilish, "Haven't you heard of the miraculous multiplication of loaves? I did it with clothes!"
Down in the parking lot, while Broder stored their purchases in the storage box of the pick-up, Adam took a small bag with him into the cab. When Broder opened the driver's door he was pleasantly surprised, "What's this?" he asked, looking at a neatly wrapped package in the driver's seat. "It's not my birthday today; it's your big day, your first day at your new school!" Knowing how much Adam liked to give presents,
Broder smiled in anticipation, opened the gift and spotted a tennis shirt.
"Do you like the color, Dad?" Adam asked full of expectations. When Broder smiled his approval, Adam beamed. "I am so glad, Dad, because the first present I buy for you should be perfect."
Taking out another tennis shirt from the bag on his knees, Adam started to explain, "Dad, I bought two shirts, one for you and one for me. They are in different shades of green. Mine is darker, yours lighter." Now Broder looked even more surprised and began to smile when he Adam carried on excitedly, "Please Dad let's wear the shirts tonight for dinner. Everybody should know we are father and son!"
Not stopping for a moment he handed Broder ten bucks. "You paid for the shirts with your card, Dad. But the shirt should be my present for you. It was 23 bucks. Here are 10. Please withhold the remaining money from my next allowances."
Later, in the entranceway to the restaurant there was a big mirror. When they passed it, Broder put his arm around Adam's shoulder, "Look, Adam, we look just like twins!"
"Not like twins, dad, like father and son!" Adam answered proudly and poked Broder affectionately in the ribs.
Unfortunately, it seemed that all the tables in the 'seat yourself' dining room were already taken by other guests. Only two seats were left, at a table with two elderly ladies. While Broder still searched for free seats, Adam went over and asked politely "May we have a seat, Ladies?"
"No problem, young man, our birthday dinner is almost finished! You seem so happy. Are you also celebrating a birthday? Is it yours or your dad's?" the gray-haired lady asked.
"No, it's my first-school-day dinner!"
During the meal, Adam tried to let Broder into the secret behind Tolkien's novel The Hobbit and Broder looked surprised because of Adam's insight,
"I'll tell you Dad, you have to believe me; Bilbo is the poor man threatened by the monsters of war. Bilbo could be anybody living in a country ravaged by war, a Jew, a Palestinian, a Somali, maybe even just someone like you and me."
The ladies had been listening to Adam's in depth report with great interest. When Adam left for the toilet, they addressed Broder, "You sure have a nice son, and so compassionate!" At first Broder blushed embarrassed, but he declared proudly. "I never expected that a boy of his age could be so clear-sighted and empathetic……" he wanted to continue, "…when I adopted him", but then finished the sentence with the simple statement, "I am so proud he is my son."
When the ladies were leaving, the older one took ten bucks from her wallet, "That's for you, young man! Have a good start in school!" looking to Broder for approval, "Boys always need money!"
On their way home the radio station played John Denver's famous song:
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads.
Broder began to sing along, and his heart jumped with joy when Adam joined in:
……………………., take me home
To the place I belong
The next two days of the week passed without memorable events. Then on Friday, Miss Myers entered the classroom with the pile of manuscripts, put them down on her desk with a bump, and sighed, "If I hadn't had grey hairs already I would have them now!" Going from desk to desk she began to return the literature reports. "Read my comments, students! Haven't I explained to you how to discuss the background of a novel? Haven't I told you, you have to slip into the clothes of the author?" and eying at Pete the Pest she remarked, "Some people seem just too jumbo to do so!"
Adam was on pins and needles. There was only one book left on Miss Myers desk. "It must be mine!" Adam guessed, closing his eyes. While Miss Myers discussed the papers with the different students, he got more and more nervous. He nearly got the gripes when Miss Myers finally asked him to come to her desk.
"Mr. Ryder, would you please wake up and come to my desk?" she called, "You had a special task and you did well, with the exception of your penmanship! That needs improvement. Now, come my desk and read your paper to the others. I think they should know about your interesting view on The Hobbit ."
Adam blushed! Getting praise by a teacher was not his preference, because he didn't want to be regarded as a nerd by his schoolmates. Shyly, he walked up to the desk and began to read his paper to the class. "Bilbo Baggins was not a hero." His paper started, "He was a peace-loving, well-fed-middle-aged man loving his comfortable life………." And on and on he unfurled the story of the poor innocent citizen scared to death by the monsters of war but prevailing, because he remained true to his own principles. The applause at the end proved Adam his worries had been unfounded and he sat down with a sight of relief.
During the following break someone nudged Adam hard in the back. He pivoted and turned pale. The huskiest freshman of his class, Pete the Pest, was looking down at him. Adam froze. He pulled himself together and began anxiously "Did I do something wro…….?" he just wanted to say "wrong" when the big teen with his cracking voice interrupted him, "Well done, Brainy! I liked your essay." Blushing, Pete confessed, "I may need your help sometimes, since I'm an idiot in literature." and after a pause, he added, smiling pleadingly, "Will you come to my birthday-party next week, Adam? I'll be turning sixteen. And you can bring along a friend!"
"Hell! Was it so obvious?" Adam looked surprised, "Even the clumsy-looking Pete had intuitively spotted my weak point." Adam admitted to himself, "I need a friend in this new school, in this new town, but not this nosey Donald!" he added, spotting Donald, the only one who had befriended him during school breaks before. Donald was as inquisitive as the often-derided mother-in-law. Adam hated nosey people. Mel on the other hand was nice. "I like her!" he thought, "But she is a girl. What shall I do with girls at all?" The only ones whose company he appreciated in town, so far, were the sixth-graders from the soccer team. But they were just too young to be friends with. "I just have one hope left. I still haven't met this mysterious Vic, Zach's sick brother. The rumors going around called him special , gifted in arts , a much sought-after actor in the theatrical performances in school ." Donald had told him, "Wait till you met him. He is looked upon with ambivalence by most of us. Some call him outgoing; others introverted."
In the evening Adam surprised Broder by showing him proudly the essay awarded with the triple A. Broder smiled, putting an arm over Adam's shoulder, he teased him, "I thought I had adopted an easy going, nice and unsophisticated boy, and what did I really get? A sophisticated brainy!" studying Adams frowning face, he added with sparkling eyes, "I can't offer you a trip back into the Shire and a meeting with Bilbo and Frodo as a reward, but I have heard about something that is at least as thrilling. Let's visit the exhibition Under the Sign of the Golden Griffin on Saturday. It's our last chance to visit the show in our museum. The exhibition will end on Sunday evening!"
Adam looked skeptical, "Broder, do you really think I will prefer dust covered relicts to a hike in the woods with you?"
"I'll bet you will!" Broder grinned, handing him a brochure. Later that evening, Broder regretted having given the booklet to Adam, because he had to answer question after question about the Scythians.
Next morning it rained cats and dogs. It was Saturday and both Adam and Broder had slept long. At 10 a.m., while Adam was still in the shower, a persistent rap at the front door forced Broder to answer.
"Hey, postman" Broder shouted, "I am coming, just a sec!" Opening the door he was confronted with a small boy, soaked to the skin, holding a big red soccer ball and a small box.
"Is this Adam's house?" the kid asked with chattering teeth, regarding Border's questioning look he added, "I promised Adam, I would let him get revenge today, and here I am!"
"It sure is, and I am Broder, his dad, but who are you? You look like a drowned rat!" inviting the freezing boy inside by opening the door wide, he called, "Hurry up, Adam, you've got a visitor!"
Adam, still wet, rushed out of the shower surprised, "I didn't think you would keep your promise Lilek and make it to us on a day like this." Turning to Broder, "This is Lilek; he is in Zach's soccer team and the best goal getter. He beat me eleven times when I tried to keep a clean sheet. But, today is the day of my revenge!"
To his own surprised Broder, suddenly felt responsible for the dripping wet stranger, "Welcome Lilek! Oh boy, your teeth are chattering. Get out of your wet clothes and warm up by taking a hot shower. Then join us in the kitchen at the breakfast table, while your clothes are drying in the tumbler"
At the breakfast table, wearing a borrowed t-shirt, Broder wondered about how small and fragile Lilek looked. Broder, curious about Adam's friend, tried to engage the kid in a conversation. But Lilek stayed shy and took hardly part in the animated chat between the other two. Any time Broder addressed him, he opened his speech by, "Mr. Ryder……."
After a second cup of hot tea and some sandwiches, he unbent suddenly and began to call Broder "Dad" like Adam did. From now on he participated on the conversation. Broder was completely thrown by this change in the boy's attitude.
Suddenly, Lilek remembered the small parcel he had brought along, his present for Adam, "Where is the box I brought, Dad?" he called out, "It's for you Adam, my recompensation for the rustled ice-cream."
Broder, liking chocolates, was startled about the exclusive choice in the box and said surprised. "Hey, that's an expensive present and so many different flavours!"
"My mother gets these at a discount in the department store where she works. They are outdated, but they taste wonderful. Try one Dad, please!"
Broder liked his guest more and more. Lilek's face, with its light-brown complexion, his slightly almond-shaped eyes and the straight black hair, looked charming. Broder contemplated, either he is a half-Thai or half- Chinese and without further thinking he asked. "So your mother works at the department store? And your father, where does he work?"
Lilek sniffled a bit, then his expression went stony, and he changed back to using Broder's full name. "Mr. Ryder, my father left us. He went back to his homeland, to Thailand. I live alone with my mother!"
Instantly Broder regretted asking Lilek about his father. He was ashamed of his curiosity, and it especially bothered him because he had enjoyed being called "Dad" by Lilek. But soon Lilek's face beamed again and he changed back to calling Broder "Dad".
After an abundant breakfast the three agreed to visit the museum, even more so since it was raining anyway. During the ride to the museum Adam was holding onto Lilek tightly, because the pick-up had only two front-seats and no back seats. Broder got a little jealous of the boys fancying each other. Noticing Broder's curious look in the rear-view mirror, Adam teased him. "You're just jealous because you can't cuddle with Lilek. He really feels nice!" and even began to pat his small friend's shoulder and sniff his hair.
Later, Broder got even more embarrassed. While they were ascending the flight of stairs to the museum entrance, a mother with two quarreling girls walked in front of the trio. Turning around, she reprimanded her daughters, "Learn a lesson from these boys, they don't quarrel." And, addressing Broder, "You're a lucky father, having such fine sons!"
Broder blushed, while Adam and Lilek grinned wildly and began holding hands with Broder. This embarrassed Broder even more, and Adam teased him, "That's judgment from above! It's your own fault. You wanted to make me your son!"
When the heavy entrance door swung back, a curious Lilek asked Broder "Dad, why is this exhibition called Under the Sign of the Golden Griffin ?"
"You will see soon, with your own eyes, son. The museum is stuffed right to the top, with golden objects found in the royal tombs of the Scythians."
Adam added, "I'll bet, Lilek, you have never seen such great treasures before; golden masks, golden griffins, great weapons and a king and his bride in full dress, preserved by ice for more than 2000 years!"
Adam dragged Lilek and Broder impatiently through the foyer to the exhibition rooms and there in the twilight the eyes of the two boys began to sparkle with excitement. They enjoyed the exhibition for hours till their capacity to pick up any new information was close to zero.
In the early evening, two exhausted boys were sitting at the kitchen table, while Broder fixed hotdogs and fries. The smell attracted Zach. He stuck his head in at the door, "Broder, you aren't being fair today. You usually invite me to join you in your favourite dish but today you've neglected me." And then he stuck out his tongue!
"Come in, join us!" Adam and Lilek called in unison, and Broder added, "It's like a summer sale here today, Pay for one, get three !" and smiled amused and beckoned Zach to come in.
Adam seemed really surprise when a second visitor suddenly turned up. A slender teen, with dark hair, his eyes concealed behind dark glasses, appeared in the kitchen door and amended Border's slogan, saying, " Pay for one, get four! I am starved too, Broder. I'll bet we will empty your fridge and then you and Adam will starve next week." It was Vic, Zach's older brother. Broder always welcomed Vic, just as he welcomed Zach into his house.
After the evening meal, four boys, bloated with hotdogs, chips and coke, squashed side by side in the sofa watching the sportscast on TV, while Broder checked emails in his room. Not really interested in the soccer match, Zach and Lilek soon whispered to each other, giggled, began to tickle each other, and finally compete at burping.
Vic had been silent during the meal and had answered Broder's question concerning the accident very tersely. Adam felt he was under review by the new guest, but wasn't quiet sure about it because of the dark glasses concealing Vic's eyes.
Adam wondered when Vic rebuked his brother and Lilek, "Stop it, you piglets! Shame on you, Zach; you are not at home!"
Luckily a telephone ring prevented the impending hassles between the brothers. "It's your mother, Lilek!" Broder shouted from his room and then answered her probing questions: "Yes, Ma'am, he was really well-behaved all day." -- "No, no problems at all!" -- "We went to the Scythian exhibition and he enjoyed it."
Lilek, getting hold of the receiver, "Mum, it was a great Saturday." -- "No, we didn't play soccer. Broder already told you; we visited kings and queens." -- "Adam's father is really nice; I like him." -- "No, I'm not hungry, I'm stuffed. We had hot-dogs and fries for dinner." -- "No, Zach is also here!" -- "Can I sleep over with Zach? It's already been four weeks since I stayed with Zach!"
Adam was taken aback by Lilek's question to his mother. He turned to the TV set and looked a little lost. Vic, studying Adam's face carefully, through his dark glasses, noticed Adam's disappointment. To Adam's surprise, he put an arm around his shoulder and asked after taking a deep breath, "Would you like me to sleep over with you, Adam?" and to Adam's astonishment he added hesitantly "Can I sleep with you? I would like to, very much!"
This statement caught Adam off guard. In just a second he thought over all he had learned about Vic. Adam recalled Vic's snobbishness, the harsh way he rejected any approach so far, the stories the other students had told about Vic. But there was something else too. He often had talked with Broder about having a friend. Broder had always encouraged him to get a friend, but would he agree with this sleep-over with an almost stranger? Adam and Vic were still strangers. They had met this day the first time! And Adam worried about Border's feelings too. Broder and he had never been so familiar to share a bed.
Broder was stunned also. Vic had always been so shy, just the opposite to Zach. He never had expected a question like that. Noticing Adam's uneasiness he knew it was his responsibility to relieve Adam's decision. Adam saw a smile flashing over Border's face, and then the encouraging word, "Say 'yes', Adam. Vic is really a very special young man!"
Adam was dead beat from the five hours visit to the exhibition and needed rest urgently. Soon after Zach and Lilek had left he asked Broder, "I am worn out, do you mind if Vic and I go to bed early?" and turning to Vic "Sorry, I am not a good company tonight. Do you mind going to bed already?" Vic just nodded his agreement and said good night to Broder.
In his room Adam undid the spread from his bed and asked his silent guest, "It's just a narrow bed, we will have to sleep close together. Which side do you prefer, the rear or front side?" Vic chose the front half, so Adam had to scramble over his guest after turning out the lights, leaving the room in dim light coming through the open door. Only then Vic removed his sunglasses and put them on the nightstand.
In supine position, covering his eyes with his arm, Vic began talking in a barely audible voice, "You looked surprised when I asked for a sleep over, I am right?" not really waiting for an answer he continued, "When I heard, Broder had adopted a boy of my age, I couldn't believe it at first. I didn't know what to think about it. I have known Broder for years now, since I was pre-school. I wondered why such a loner like him would come home from a holiday trip with someone he introduces to my parents as his son." Turning to his head slightly to Adam, "Nobody was expecting something like that! Not me, nor my parents, not Zach. It was something totally out of the blue. Everyone was startled. Zach was the only one who accepted you without reservation. He told me you're all right. He even idolizes you, as he does Broder." Then very hesitantly Vic added, "Broder never brought along a girl friend, never even had a friend of his age and now," Vic paused again "he brought along a boy of my age, a teen, some nice looking teen who could be his …….. boyfriend."
Adam withdrew to the very edge of the small bed, his body went stiff, his voice harsh, "I am not Border's boy toy and Broder is not my 'old man'!" A hostile silence arose. "Our relationship is not the suspicious relationship people may think it is! Don't say anything like this, never!" Punching Vic with his foot, "Broder is now my father and I am his son! He loves me!" Then, with an offended voice he requested, "You'd better leave now. I don't want you around anymore! I hate you!"
Time passed and air under the bed duvet suddenly seemed to turn ice-cold. Vic didn't move. Then he began to plead full of regret, "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Adam, please let me stay! .... I have kept an eye on you; on you and Broder; from my darkened room on the second floor. I just didn't know what to think of you and Broder! I was so worried because of you and of Broder." after a deep sight he stuttered "Don't be mad at me anymore, Adam, you have to understand, I just didn't know what to think about you and Broder; and I ……. I need you, I need a friend ……I love you, Adam!"
When Adam didn't answer, Vic begged with despair in his voice, "Please let me stay, Adam, please! I need you. Please, even if you do not love me, I need you, I need your help, I need someone to talk to. I need to tell the truth about the accident to someone I trust! I need a friend!"
Adam relaxed, but stayed stiff on his back staring to the dark ceiling. He didn't know what to think of Vic. Who was this Vic, who wanted his friendship?
Vic curled up besides Adam like a desperate child and began to narrate scarcely audible: "I have to blame my curiosity for this mysterious encounter and all the consequences, my hospitalization; the extreme light sensitivity of my eyes and the constant tremor of my hands."
Relaxing slightly after this admission of guilt, he continued his report. "About a week before the summer break on my way home from school, I took the shortcut through the grove in the park, as usual. Already from a distance I spotted a slender man standing on the slowly swinging chain bridge across the brook, where it leaves the grove. When I set foot on the bridge, the stranger politely asked, Hey Vic, do you have a match to light my cigarette! "
"No! Sorry" I denied and wanted to move on. Just at that moment, I realized that he had used my name.
"Want my company?" The stranger added. To my surprise, I didn't object and we began to walk side by side through the grove."
Adam, shocked about the naivety of Vic, asked suspiciously, "Was he really a stranger? How could he know your name?"
"I swear, he was!... After a few steps in silence, this stranger began to narrate the fantastic story of a teen to me, of a young Italian he called 'Gadje', running from his ill-natured uncle and pursued by the police. He got refuge in the caravan of a young Romany, a gypsy prince, expelled from his tribe. The two outcasts became friends and fell in love. The stranger told me of their trips through Southern Europe, the growing of a little vagrant group by absorbing other desperate or outcast young men. He told of the genesis of a new tribe."
"When we departed at the exit of the park, I was so intrigued by his report that I hardly couldn't wait for the continuation of the story on the next day. But the day after, I found the bridge empty."
"Did you meet him again, later, on another day?"
"I did! The day after, the stranger intercepted me again and asked me to listen to next part of his story. It's a report Vic, it's not a made up story, believe me, my young friend! the stranger emphasized."
"Right from our first encounter I was confused about the stranger's age. He was smaller than me, very slender, nearly frail. He was dressed like a student and looked like a student, with exception of his hairs and eyes. His dark eyes stood in strange contrast to his snow-white hair. At a first glance he seemed to be around seventeen or eighteen, but the eyes were those of a very old man, of a man of seventy or eighty. He was slow talking, sort of drawling, with a slight Italian accent. Sometimes he searched for words."
"This all sounds really strange. Didn't you get suspicious; didn't you ask him about his age or where from he was from or why he waylaid you?" Adam asked, now being all attention.
"I was so fascinated by the stranger and his tale. I never spend a thought about his age or his background. Only now in hindsight I do so." Vic replied, "In anticipation, I had brought along matches and the man smoked during our stroll through the grove. He continued with the report of their travels through Europe, and told me about the decisive pilgrimage the new tribe made to the yearly congress of the all Gypsy tribes at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. I was so fascinated by the stranger and his account that I couldn't wait for our next encounter. We met two more times and his report went on, finally culminating with the recognition of the tribe as a new Gypsy tribe, with the name of RoGaSi, a tribe of male members only. I was enthralled by his account; stuck like a fly in a spider's cocoon."
Adam turned and tried to decipher Vic's facial expression in the dim light. He asked probing, "Did you really believe this report, his fantastic story? Did you even secretly deliberate to join this tribe? Did you?"
"I don't know, really! I don't know, I was deeply confused! At our fifth meeting the stranger offered me a cigarette, Try it, Vic; try this cigarette, Son, it works wonders! He took two cigarettes out of a small black leather cigarette case and put them together between his lips. I lit the cigarettes and he passed me one." Vic paused for some seconds, "I had only tried smoking once before. Reluctantly, I took a first drag, then a second, and started coughing. After the fifth drag my heart began to hurry up; cold sweat began pouring down my forehead; I froze in the hot sun; my stomach revolted; my legs went to jelly and I collapsed. Before I hit the ground I felt myself caught around the waist, and then the world around me turned black."
A long, deathlike silence spread throughout the room. Then Vic continued with pain in his voice, "I woke up with something wet and warm lapping my face. The voice of a woman entered my auditory center. Hush, Rusty, hush! Heel! Then soft hands shook my shoulder. "Poor boy! What's the matter with you? Are you sick?"
"I tried to open my eyes, but the light was so bright, that it almost burned holes into my retinas. I cried out loudly and shut my eyes. I must have passed out again!… Hours later, I woke up in the intensive care unit of the city hospital, connected to tubes and drips and wired to monitoring systems. My parents were in the room, somewhere in the dark. I opened my eyes to pierce the darkness, but had to immediately close them again. My brain cried, Pain! Pain! Pain! Even the green lines of the ECG monitors were hitting the back of my eyes like flashes of lightning."
"Poor Vic," Adam was shocked, "Poor Vic!" he hadn't expected this terrible twist and began to hold Vic tightly.
"Two days later a police officer questioned me in a darkened sickroom. I told the polite officer all I could remember of that last day, beginning with the stranger offering me a cigarette. Are you on drugs? Have you ever consumed drugs? the officer asked. No! Never! This was the second cigarette of my life. The first one I tried at the age of nine and I pledged to myself never to smoke again! I was happy my father was present, because he vouched for the truth of my answer: I am sure Vic has never smoked and I am sure Vic has never tried drugs! Believe him, sir! He said."
"But the police man insisted. The doctors found traces of furocoumarins in his blood. These are dangerous drugs derived from the angelica root. We also found a para methoxyamphetamine-like substance. Those are known to cause this sensitivity of the eyes! he informed my father. The mixture of these two drugs, and the tobacco smoke, could have caused his black-outs!. After a while the officer asked again, "Are you sure your son never consumed drugs before?"
"You are privileged, Vic, having a father like this. I missed a caring father, till I met Broder. I really missed a father!" Adam whispered nearly inaudible.
"They grilled me about the stranger, but I always lied to them: I never met him before. I told you everything I know. I don't believe it was he, who drugged me! And if it was, not with intent! I swear to it, telling bad about him is a act of treason."
In the dim light, Adam was aware of the desperate expression of Vic's face, who continued hoarsely, "I should have told my parents the truth about my encounters with the stranger, but I couldn't betray him. I don't know why! I swear to God, it was not his intent to poison me! You're the first one to whom I've told the whole story. I had to; I know you are someone special."
Adam's heart softened more and more, listening to Vic's report. Trying to decipher the expression of his face, Adam became aware of Vic's black despair and the tears streaming from his eyes. He wanted to dry Vic's tears, but he had no handkerchief. He rose to an upright position, bent over Vic and began to kiss the tears away. Adam kissed Vic's face till all the tears were gone, swearing between the kisses, "We are friends, Vic! We will be friends for ever!" Long, long later, they exhaustedly fell asleep, Adam spooning Vic.
Early next morning Adam woke up, holding Vic still in a tight embrace. Spooning him, Adam was in high spirits and suddenly absolutely convinced to have found a friend, a real friend. He cautiously slipped away trying not to wake up his new friend and went to the bathroom.
The chilly morning air, coming through the open window into his bedroom, aroused Broder, sleeping topless in his king-size bed. Shivering, he slipped back under the warm duvet, covering up his head to the nose. When he was about to go back to sleep, the padding of feet in the corridor aroused him. "Hey Adam, is that you?" he called in a low voice.
Adam's head, with hairs mussed up from sleeping, appeared in the crack of the door. He squinted against the bright morning light and answered yawning, "Vic is still sleeping." Then he complained quivering, "Its cold in here. Why do you keep the window open all night? One morning I will find you frozen to death in your bed!"
"I heard you talking half the night long." Broder stated cautiously, "I didn't spy on you and Vic, believe me, but I got that Vic told you of his accident." Waiting in vain for an answer, he continued, "You are privileged Adam, because he never told anybody before what happened exactly, not even to his parents." Becoming aware of Adam's nod of approval, he added "I'm sure he likes you and what is more important, he trusts you!"
Noticing Adam's chattering teeth and suspecting his reluctance to head back into the bed to Vic, he invited him, "Are you afraid to disturb Vic's sleep? Come on Adam, slip under the duvet with me and stay till he wakes up all by himself!"
Broder was surprised by his own words. Up to this morning they never had thought of sharing a bed. They both had been afraid to be so familiar with each other. Not hesitating a moment, Adam slipped into the bed, nestled back against Broder drowsily and drifted back to sleep. Broder suddenly was sure, this night had changed Adam. Up to now his adoptee had been a wary boy but this night had turned him into a self-confident young man.
About an hour later Broder woke up to a soft padding noise in the corridor, followed by the creaking of his bedroom door. Glancing up, he looked into Vic's eyes. At first he could believe it. He looked into Vic's radiant blue eyes! Vic was without his sun-glasses! Vic was all smiles!
Vic didn't say anything. He just kneeled down beside the bed and took the head of the still sleeping Adam with both of his hands and kissed him on the forehead to wake him up.
Turning to Broder, Vic smiled, "I can see the sun again! And the light in the garden! And I can see Adam's face and yours, Broder. I can see everything clearly again and without pain!" Overwhelmed with joy, he embraced Adam who was fully awake by now and whispered with low voice at first, "Let's be friends for ever!" Then he repeated emphatically, "Friends for ever!"
Broder was happy. Deeply grateful because of this miraculous outcome, he moved to the far side of his bed to make room for Vic.
About an hour later two prying faces turned up at the open bedroom window. Zach and Lilek caught Adam and Vic cuddling together at the foot of the bed, contriving schemes for an awesome future, and Broder, propped up against the headboard, listening eagerly to their plans. The two six-graders entered the room by the window, pulled off their sneakers and jumped into the bed to join the three. Framed from Zach and Lilek, Broder smiled to himself in secret, "This looks like the birth of a new tribe!"
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