She's a good story teller in addition to being a good poet...
Shan walks quietly down the gravel shoulder along the two lane highway that runs through town. He is tired after running countless suicides in gym class. “Just a few more blocks and you’re home,” he tells himself.
Up by the gas station and local hangout, Shan sees Ruben. Ruben is a black man who came to live in this all white, small town twenty years ago after he was taken away from his mother. He was born with a couple of birth defects and mild retardation, most likely the result of his mother's drug and alcohol abuse during her pregnancy; he drags his left leg behind and his left arm is bent and stiff and resembles a chicken wing. His mother couldn’t see the joy in her son because she was too distracted by his bent limbs and incessant talking, not to mention the junk she pushed into her veins. As a matter of daily routine, she silenced him with words sharp as knives, and when that failed, she used fists, belts and once, a bat. It was after that incident that the state stepped in. He was placed with the mayor and his wife in this tiny town when he was seven years old. Despite what could have been, the little bent black boy was loved by his adoptive parents and indeed the whole town. He looked out for it, and it normally looked out for him.
Shan was always nice to Ruben since he saved his life when he was seven. Shan had gotten stuck under some debris at an abandoned well site on the edge of town. Ruben was well known for walking every street in their small town every day. That day, he walked the street where the abandoned well site sat behind a mostly useless fence, and he was the first to spot Shan stuck and screaming for help. He alerted everyone to Shan’s predicament saving the day and the young boy.
On any other day he would have been glad to see his good friend, but not this day. Not only was he exhausted from running suicides in the stuffy gymnasium, he just found out that his girlfriend of six months was moving to a different state. “Oh God, please no, I’m just too tired to deal with him today,” Shan thinks to himself. He folds his arms and ducks his head hoping that Ruben will pass him by. Of course, he has no such luck. From two blocks away, Ruben starts waving his tube sock in the air. Ruben was never without his tube sock. He would run his chicken wing hand through it and use it to call attention to himself.
“Shan, Shan, I see you boy,” he says as he hobbles towards him.
“Not today Roo, I haven’t had a good day,” Shan says with his arms still folded.
“What’s up? what’s up?”
“Not today now go away!”
“What’s up, what’s up my boy, what’s up?” Ruben steps close beside Shan, his mouth stretched into a goofy grin.
“Ugh, the sky; damn it, now go away,” Shan is getting increasingly annoyed with him, because he know it takes a lot before Ruben catches on.
“That right, you got it right, you’re a smart boy Shan; you did real good.” Ruben gets close to Shan’s face; he smells of slobber and sweat, his normal Ruben odor. “How many babies you got Shan?”
“I don’t have babies,” Shan said shortly, “you stink, get out of my face.”
“Not nice Shan, not nice,” Ruben threw his tube sock over his shoulder and started to walk a little slower. He began to talk to himself just loud enough for Shan to hear, “you made him mad Scooter Gimp, and you did it.” Scooter gimp is what he calls his left leg, and he blamed everything on his Scooter Gimp.
He was still following behind Shan when he suddenly started to laugh out loud; his laugh sounded like someone running their fingers up and down so many piano keys. “Two hundred and fifty-two seven,” he said still laughing, “two hundred and fifty-two seven; that’s how many babies you have Shan.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Shan realized that he had been tricked into continuing the conversation with Ruben. He knows of only one way to get rid of him. He knows he could say the two words that would set him off and then get on with his day. Shan had never used the words, but some of the other kids in the town had and they still do on regular basis. Shan knew those kids were bullies, but he was in no mood for Ruben today.
“That doesn’t make sense Scooter Gimp, Scooter Gimp said it not me,” Ruben pounds on his leg, “Scooter Gimp is gonna get beat by mama!” Shan can see his house now and picks up the pace. “Where you goin’ Shan boy?”
“I’m going home; maybe you should be finding your way home too.”
“I talked to your mama today Shan,” Ruben said looking out the corner of his eye, “Do you want to know what your mama told me?”
“She said that you are a moody kid on account that you are gettin’ you puberty.”
“Oh, is that right; is that what she said?” Shan started to turn red and he was breathing hard. His testosterone laced blood rushed to his head as he slowly turned his head and looked Ruben straight into his eyes. “Ruben I only have two words for you…Shut up.” He said the last words quietly and with a lot less malice than he felt at the moment.
Ruben started to shake his head back a forth; he pulled his tube sock off his shoulder and started to hit himself with it. “No Shan don’t say that, Mama is not going to like you Shan, Mama is not going to like you no more.” Ruben started to wave his fist at him like he is going to hit him. He started tugging at his own shirt until he ripped it. At first Shan is a little frightened, but then he turns and starts to walk to his house, ignoring Ruben entirely. Ruben runs up the street dragging his Scooter Gimp behind him. He continues to tear his shirt off, yelling profanities about his mother, Shan, and his dreadful leg.
Shan could hear him ranting all the way up the street, and he cracked a smile as he went through the gate of his yard. Shan almost felt bad about telling him to shut up knowing that it would send him into that rage, but Ruben’s ranting display was too comical not to giggle just a little.
He was just two feet from his front door when he heard screeching tires. “Oh shit,” there was not a question in his mind; those screeching tires were definitely for Ruben.
Back the way he came, he ran faster than he had ever run before despite his exhaustion and teenage angst. But, it felt like he was running through quicksand. He imagined his good buddy sprawled out along the highway that ran down the center of the small town. “Oh God, what have I done?” Shan said out loud as he approached the scene.
He saw a silver Cadillac parked haphazardly on the side of the road. The obese lady driver was still inside with the air conditioner blowing her hair gently around her face.
His worst fears were realized when he saw Ruben laid out on the side of the road. A small group of people had already congregated around him with cell phones in hand. The nearest hospital was 20 minutes away, so it would be awhile before they heard ambulance sirens in the distance. Shan skidded to his knees in front of his friend in a panic, not knowing if he would be saying good-bye or getting swatted in the face with an old tube sock.
Ruben lay motionless on the gravel shoulder of highway, his gimp leg more oddly turned and twisted than normal; Shan leaned in closer studying Ruben’s still face for signs of life. Tears started to roll down his cheeks as he spoke to his dear friend, “I’m sorry Roo, I know that I shouldn’t have said those words to you,” Shan couldn’t control his emotions anymore as he rocked back and forth just like Ruben would asking himself why he was such an idiot for treating this child-like man like his useless mother did so long ago. Shan held his face and said, “I love you Roo, I love you.”
The obese lady driver, dressed like she was going to a garden party, finally got out of her Cadillac and walked over to Ruben and Shan. “Is he alright?” she asked.
“No, of course he’s not, lady,” Shan threw the words in her fleshy face, “you ran over him with your big fat car!” Shan was crying like a little boy now.
“I thought I just barely nipped him,” she said wringing her hands in worry. “I didn’t think I killed him.” Her voice broke and Shan could see that she was trembling with fear.
It was at this time that Ruben slowly opened his eyes and began to speak softly to Shan, “I love you too boy…I love you too.” Shan smiled so big he nearly slit his lip; he wiped the tears from his face.
His breath still hitched in his throat as he recovered from his tears. “I thought you were dead, Roo!”
“No, no, no, not me, not me,” Ruben explained, “She hit me in my Scooter Gimp, that’s all.” Ruben looked at his leg for a long time, and then he turned to Shan with tears rolling from both his eyes, “I think Scooter Gimp is dead though.”
Shan smiled at Ruben and the crowd gathered around the man and the boy started to twitter. The twittering turned the giggles, the giggles turned to outright laughing. Shan and Ruben were laughing, too, when they first heard the sirens in the distance.
“Damned Scooter Gimp was always getting you in trouble. You didn’t need him anyway,” Shan told his buddy as he patted his shoulder.