The Birthday Boy
by Corey Atherley
The morning sun rose amidst fog over Barbados. Miles stared mystified at the kitchen table covered with glitter decorated cards and a chocolate rum cake in the center with sixteen candles placed in it. Miles thought about the irony of all this on his birthday, considering that his parents Barry and Lucia had never expressed a kind word to him up until then. To Miles, a birthday was another holiday when people were forced to be nice to eachother despite their flaws. But what was in it for him? Miles thought. He was destined to make his sixteenth birthday better than the others, even if he had to step on a few toes.
Miles anxiously licked the chocolate frosting off the cake; the cocoa bean, rum spiked taste arousing his taste buds. Eating has been the only hobby in his life, as well as his obsession with gangster movies and a video store clerk named Jimmy. Once Miles opened up the birthday cards filled with cash-each expressing dull words of gratitude, Barry silently walked into the kitchen like a gentle breeze. He observed his chubby looking son counting two hundred in cash, and flinging the birthday cards aside. He then grew clueless where his presents were until Barry said: "Look under de table". With astonishment, Miles took the ribbon tied box from under the table that contained an aerosal can of gas including a possession that Miles always wanted: a black gas BB gun. A gun just like in the mob flicks, Miles thought.
"'Dis is de best gift ever!" said Miles, his chestnut brown face lighting up. "But tell me some ting, how de heck did ya get 'dis?"
"From a friend of mine who owns a shop." said Barry, gently stroking his goal-tee in a stern manner. "Ya sixteen years old now and ya not a boy anymore. So I thought a gun would be de right gift, as a sign of manhood. Only strong men deserve one. There's already pellets stored in de gun so dun't act careless wid it."
After his father made such a statement, Miles immediately understood the real purpose of getting a gun for his birthday if he didn't know any better. Throughout his childhood, his father would scold him about masculinity and how a man should swagger for survival in the streets. Miles thought to himself: if his refusal to go fishing with his father on Saturdays, his insufficient skills at gambling and his lack of obsession with women didn't make his father cringe, then he didn't know what would.
Miles studied the piercing look in Barry's worrisome eyes and half smile. "Eh dad, where's mum?" wondered Miles.
"Ya mother is asleep in bed." said Barry. "But be sure to thank her for de money when she awakes."
The room grew silent as Miles observed the shiny 195 mm pistol in his hands, his fingers caressing the barrel of the gun. He began fiddling with his BB gun, as Barry walked out of the kitchen with his saxophone and into the yard to play a few notes; fixing his gaze upon his son with pride and slight guilt.
Hours later, Miles stood outside in the yard under the hot sun, smiling exuberantly while shooting his BB gun into the sea blue sky; each pop followed by smoke. Then he decided to wander up and down the neighborhood toting his gun at range while other boys standing on corners looked on with awe and slight envy in their bloodshot eyes, and the weary elders observed this event furiously. Some residents were appalled by Miles' parents letting this go on and secretly tipped crooked cops to inspect the family.
"You fuckas always have a problem wid me!" Miles reacted, as he exchanged glares with a girl who lived across the street. "I'll do whateva I want ya' stinkin' cunt!"
Shortly after dinner, Miles was back outside in his yard playing with his BB gun, out and about. Until he saw a strange black shadow lurking in the distance; the form of a lean body climbing a palm tree that led to Miles' bedroom window. He could only imagine the creepy shadow to be none other than seventeen year old Jimmy, the video store clerk Miles had feelings for. While Jimmy attempted to knock on Miles' window, Miles longingly observed him from the yard and called out: "Eh, boss man! I'm down here!" Jimmy stopped in his tracks and waved to Miles to come upstairs.
Once in his room, Jimmy fixed his almond shaped eyes on Miles' BB still gripped in his hands. "Eh boy, wicked gun!" he said.
Miles laid the gun on a nearby dresser."Thanks bredda man, I got it from my father."
"Ya pop?" Jimmy quizzed. "Who de hell gives their kid a gun for him birthday? Big up, man, big up. Ya fatha is an O.G for sure! So now you think you harcore like me just cuz you got a gun, eh? Go figure! I'm de number one boss man in de streets and now you stealing my spotlight!"
"By de way," Jimmy continued, "You didn't even come by my store today so I could give ya some birthday punches." Miles and Jimmy both exchanged a big hug that ended with Jimmy punching Miles sixteen times in his abdomen. Jimmy then formed a thought in his mind while fixing his eyes on Miles' black BB gun, like a predator concentrating on it's live dinner. Jimmy said: "Eh yo Miles, I know you said ya pop gave you dat gun and all, but if you sell it to me I'll give you four hundred dollars for it. Plus all de videos and videogames you want. What do you say?"
Miles looked at Jimmy begrudgingly and thought: A monstrous lion will even eat it's own young if it's desperate enough! "You are so damn full of yaself!" said Miles.
What even bothered Miles the most was that his happiness had only came from his birthday gift as if his life had been nothing without material possessions. As he sat on his bed to think for a moment he added, "Besides, I don't tink I can."
"Why not?" Jimmy whined.
"Cuz I just can't. It's my birthday gift dat means alot to me. Aren't you de least bit concerned my father will vent?"
"So what!" said Jimmy while rolling his eyes. "I thought we were boys? Well, are we or not? It's just a stupid gun! And besides, de money I pay you will be like a birthday gift to you. Wide de money I give you, you can get an even bigger, better gun."
Miles shook his head dissaprovingly. "Sometimes I'm uncovinced you are a sane person," said Miles, pointing to the gun on his dresser. "Do you really know how much dem guns sell pon de market for? More money den de car you drive! And my father was lucky enough to get one free of charge cuz he has connections."
"You ramble on too much," said Jimmy with a wave of his hand. "Do you tink I'm slow or sumtin'? Eh? Of course de hell I know dat gun is expensive! I just presumed we are friends, dat's all."
Miles braced himself as Jimmy walked over to him to embrace him once more; this time Jimmy's soft hands weren't shy of fondling him all over his body. Miles thought about his brown skin melting in a cave of eternal flames from listening to his father preach about time after time. But Miles enjoyed every bit of Jimmy's affection and he would be in denial to disregard it. Although Jimmy had put him in an awkward situation, having company like Jimmy in his house made his birthday complete and it was hard to resist his friendship. "Look bredda, I like you and all, but I can't sell you my gun- period." Miles pleaded.
Jimmy looked at Miles coldly, then said: "Fine den, I'll just tell de whole block you kissed me."
"What?!" Miles yelled in a shrill voice. "I never kissed you, fool!"
"So? You still like boys you likkle freak in denial!"
"Get out of my house in two seconds or I'll help you!"
"Fine, but think 'bout it Miles. Why would a bully like me give a hug without wantin' a likkle sumtin' in return? Why would I be over here, at ya house, when I could be doin' other tings wid my time other den all dis sentimental birthday shit? Remember, I de most feared on my block and don't you forget. I made you and I can dump you like a bad habit! Now, I'm gonna say did for de last time- I want ya gun. Either give it up or I'll put ya business out in de street."
"You belong in a psych ward, so you don't scare me de least bit!" said Miles. "Others may piss in dey pants like a bunch of fools, but did is me who ya dealing wid: de person who's always been like a bredda to you. And as far as givin' you my gun, you can forget it. You mean to tell me dat all dis time you pretended to be loyal just so you could freeload off of me?"
"Only an eediot answers him own question." Jimmy retorted.
The room erupted in loud bickering as Miles and Jimmy cursed out eachother and Miles finally surrendered and said, "Fine you annoyin' bastard. De gun is right dere on my dresser if you want it so bad- dat way you can finally get de hell out my house and forget we ever knew eachother!"
But out of nowhere, Jimmy completely lost his composure and he couldn't hold in his devilish laughter any longer. Miles was so furious he could sense his father's traits in him; his demonic blood fow through his own veins. Miles remaines that way while Jimmy continued to crack up laughing at his expense. The longer Jimmy showed off, the more Miles was compelled to grab his birthday gift and shoot Jimmy with one of the pellets. With just one pull of the trigger it would relieve Miles' tension of feeling suckered in his own house. But right at that moment, another thought occured in Miles' mind to add to his fury. Miles thought back to his father's cruelty throughout his childhood and he thought about the real reason he had gotten a gun in the first place even though Miles remembered his part in begging for it. He automatically came to the conclusion that Barry gave him a gun as an excuse to question his sexuality; to mold him into the destructive man he wanted him to become.
Maybe it was Miles' vulnerability to Jimmy and evryone else around him that made Miles feel weak and threatened, or maybe not. Miles couldn't fathom it all, but being a vulnerable boy all his life struck a nerve deep inside of him that made him vindictive. Tears forming in his eyes, Miles quickly snapped out of sub-consciousness feeling horrified of his own anger. He focused his attention back on Jimmy catching his breath from laughing. Sensing Miles could never take a joke if his life depended on it, Jimmy stuied Miles' distant, forlorn face.
"You always tinkin' bout weird tings," said Jimmy. "What de hell is de matter?"
"I'm tinkin' bout givin' you my father's saxophone, dat's de matter," said Miles.
Jimmy looked completely stunned. "Eh?! What kinda foolishness you tryin' to pull?"
"You heard exactly what I got finished tellin' you," said Miles. "You always wanted ya own saxophone, no? I see de way you drawl like a dog erytime you see my father playing his. Well guess what? Today's ya lucky day cuz I'm sellin' one to you."
"Are you sure 'bout dat? I'm just kiddin' bout de gun, man. It was a birthday joke all in clean good natured fun. Gees!"
"Hoestly Jimmy, I'm not kiddin'. I'll sell you my father's sax. Why not? My father never did anytin' for me except ridicule me. A gun for my birthday won't solve crap, you undastand? I now realise I need plenty more den just a stinkin' BB gun."
"Well, bet!" Jimmy said gleefully. "I'll give you all de cash you want for it. What did I say I was gonna give you? Four hundred?" Jimmy then paused in the middle of his thoughts and knitted his eyebrows at Miles. "Just make sure you know what ya negotiatin'. You can't take back ya word when dealin' wid a man like me. So I'll ask again- are you sure 'bout doin' dis?"
A mischievous grin slid on Miles' face thinking about Jimmy's offer; after all, it was his birthday. And although he would prepare for his father's wrath once he sold his saxophone, instant payback and rebellion was as grand as any birthday gift Miles could ask for. He thought long and hard about keeping his word, weighing his options on a balance scale until he came up with a final answer.
Miles and Jimmy walked outside into the garage while Miles' parents went to bed earlier than usual. Miles reached his hands out to remove a pile of dusty tool boxes behind his father's Volkswagon. In one of the thirteen tool boxes, Miles distinctively remembered which one stored the golden saxophone his father scolded was off limits. As he tried all of his luck, he finally gained access to the box that contained the polished instrument laid delicately in snowy white foam. Fear trembled throughout Miles' body as he looked at Jimmy standing behind him while grinning wholesomely; anxious to get his greedy hands on the treasure. Miles thought back to what Jimmy said earlier about keeping his word and consciousness reappeared in Miles' thoughts. He knew what he was doing as he firmly handed the saxophone into Jimmy's hands and the utter failure he would feel if Jimmy refused to pay him; along with everything else he worried about at that moment.
"So where's my money?" Miles asked Jimy who avoided his eyes. Jimy kept staring bedazzled at what was in his hands, avoiding everything else in the garage. It gave Miles a negative impression of Jimmy's loyalty.
"Come by my store tomorrow in de mawnin' you undastand," said Jimmy. "I'll give you de cash, but make sure you come early. In any case, nuff respect for givin' me dis beautiful saxophone."
"No problem, but just remember dat you still owe me cash for it, and you betta not tell no person 'bout us." Miles said, standing his ground. He still couldn't help controlling his paranoia with his father's saxophone in another person's hands. Miles wasn't used to biting the hand that fed him. But once again, Jimmy and Miles said their goodbyes while embracing eachother out in the open and Miles' worries seemed to vanish all over again just by Jimmy's affection. In the background, Miles saw the full moon above the house across the street and suddenly bee-bee eyes of a little girl peeked at them throughwindow blinds while giggling. Miles instantly remembered who the spy was and released himself from Jimmy's embrace. "Eh Jimmy, dat's de likkle gal across de street! I confronted her dis afternoon and put her in her place for talkin' trash!"
Jimmy gazed across the street. "Who? Samantha? Nice, dolly likkle Samantha? Haha!"
Miles knitted his eyebrows. "Whatever her name is, de likkle gal stared right at us! And even if you are bein' sarcastic I wouldn't call her 'dolly' when she more den likely chops off dolls heads!"
"Don't worry, man. She's nobody," said Jimmy who sucked his teeth for emphasis. "Don't you know she's raised by crack addicts?"
"Miles shook his head horizontally, dumbfounded and intrigued. "How do you know all dis? I never knew...."
"One ting my mum and dad teach me," Jimmy continued, "Is dat adults will always believe what de likkle youth say cuz a child has de face of an angel and the mind of a skilled eye witness informer. But Smantha is a jealous snitch which is a big diff'rence, you undastand? She's raised by junkies her whole life and her only defense mechanism is to chat 'bout erybody's business to make herself look better. If she ever snitches on us, I'll drag dat slut in a dark alley. And do you know what I'll do in dat dark alley? Eh?" Jimmy stamped his foot with menace while Miles' heart skipped.
"I'LL RIP HER TONGUE OUT!"
As Miles looked on silently while Jimmy grimmly tugged his brand new saxophone up the pitch dark street- Miles knew his only best friend was a take-no-prisoner's bully who lived up to his title.
The next morning it was nine o' clock and the first thing on Miles' mind was heading to the video store. He got dressed, ran downstairs and headed out the door until his mother Lucia stopped him in his pursuit.
"Did you even bother to eat breakfast before you rush outta here?" asked Lucia while folding laundry.
"Yes!" Miles said impatiently, then kissed his mother's chubby cheeks. By the time Miles made it to the video store, he already viewed Jimmy sorting out money in the cash register with an exhausted look on his face. Once Miles rushed in, Jimmy gave him a surprise look as if nothing had ever happened between them the previous day. Out of breath and apprehensive, Miles moistened his clamored throat and asked: "So where's de money? Stop wid de foolishness already!"
Jimmy gestured quietly for Miles to come behind the register. Jimmy gave Miles affectionate slaps on his cheeks and pat his chubby abdomen. Then he handed him four hundred dollars out of the register. The way Jimmy handled the cash, the paper felt crumbled and sloppy in Miles' hands, but he was acutley aware what each one represented. Miles was excited his plan went smoothly and grinned at Jimmy.
"My folks aren't here right now to run dis' shop other den me," Jimmy frowned. "So hide de money quickly in ya pocket and don't say a word to anybody." Miles did as he was told while his father's saxophone caught his attention that lied on the floor beneath the counter, exposed and shiny as ever. In fear of the saxophone getting scratched, Miles grabbed a random clothes box under the counter and placed the heavy instrument inside. He also took a stale uneaten donut from the counter and shoved it in his mouth without Jimmy ever noticing.
Clothes splattered and objects pounded the floor as Barry searched the garage and the house for his saxophone. He had a very important jazz rehearsal to attend with his buddies and wouldn't miss it for the world. But with his saxophone gone, he vowed never to step out of his house until he found it. Lucia looked on with worry and disgust while combing her shoulder length hair in the bathroom mirror. "What a waste it is bein' married," she thought. She was then summoned into the garage where her husband stood pondering to himself while gazing at the thirteen tool boxes rearranged on the floor. Even the tool box that contained his saxophone was left open with crumbles of styrofoam left irresponsibly all over the place.
"Who de hell did dis?" asked Barry, his face getting darker with rage. "I wasn't de last person to open dese tool boxes." Barry then glared at his wife. "Did you take my saxophone? You could've at least placed it back in de box Lucia."
In the middle of the night Lucia would often awaken to her husband's panting from having nightmares about his saxophone. She glared back at her husband and said: "what would I be doin' wid dat saxophone? I mean really- you annoy me to death playin' on it!"
Lucia inspected the open tool boxes for herself, concerned over the big mess and not the slightest bit sympathetic over the missing instrument causing chaos in her house. Lucia then looked over at Barry with smugness. "Don't tink dat de neighbors haven't already witnessed you and Miles' stupidity. But now you two dummies won't rest easy until you drag me in ya sordid affairs!"
Barry gave Lucia a look of menace. "Is Miles here?"
"No. Didn't you just get through sabotaging dat boy's room wid ya crazy self? He's at de video store I suppose."
Suspicious neighbors gathered as the observed a hysterical man run out of his house. A group of elderly men playing dominoes under the cloudy mist were wise of what went doen in their neighborhood and upon observing the man's actions carefully, they ended their friendly game with conflicting opinions. Samantha who lived across the street was jumping rope on her front porch once she met the tempestuous eyes of the man running pass her. She was compelled to greet him until she was cut short by the anxious question:
"Did you see Miles? You know, my son?"
Smantha felt scared straight by the intimidating look in Barry's eyes; the same cyclical resemblance in her enemy, Miles. Her heart skipped rapidly as she thought for a moment about what to say that wouldn't be the wrong thing to slip out. "I saw him runnin' up de street and whatnot," said Samantha. "But why should I care? I hate dat boy!"
An aggrieved look appeared on Barry's face while zipping his jacket: "Lemme tell you sumtin' likkle gal, dere are tree types of people I don't raise in my house: liars, criminals and fags. So why do you hate my son?"
"Every day he talk trash callin' me all sorts of names for no reason, and den he has de nerve to kiss another boy, all nasty and stuff! I dem freaks last night in de garage."
"Whose garage?" qusetioned Barry. My garage?!"
Smantha shook her shy, vindictive face. "Yes sir," she murmured.
Barry pulled the puzzle together and he tried to remain calm in the presence of a little girl that would wear thin. He was too outraged to ponder what angered him the most, but that grayish summer morning, all he could think about was getting back his saxophone at all costs.
The wind blew chills in Barry's face as he stared through the windows of the video store. He watched Miles and Jimmy embrace eachother while Jimmy took out his very own saxophone and demonstrated blowing on it forcing Miles to chuckle. Suddenly shocked, Jimmy threw down the saxophone that pounded the floor causing Miles to shriek and the customers to stop everything and observe. Jimmy froze once he saw the image of Barry's cold hard face murmuring curses through the window, knowing for sure his visit wouldn't be pleasant. If there was one thing Jimmy worried te most amidst this unfortunate event, it was Miles' vulnerability. Bored teenage customers trying to cash in on the suspense walked in and out of the video store studying Barry look emotional and out of place.
"Miles you fool, study your father, he's here!" whispered Jimmy. He fiercely punched Miles in his chest to get him to notice Barry glaring right at him, and Miles turned to the window to steal a contemptuous look from his father. Miles' whole facial exprssion remained unfelt, comfortable being exposed like a shamelss convict. But this time, the fed tears in Barry's eyes meant that nothing would deter him from sending his son into the military like he always hoped for. Miles wasn't the least bit concerned about his inevitable punishment, finally able to look his father dead in the eyes and boldly stick up his midle fingers. But Miles thought to himself that only a person with the heart of steel could encourage his father to track him down like a swift hunter.
Gratifying images of a dark alley and a brutally murdered girl played in Miles' head as he watched his disoriented friend pick up the saxophone off the floor, while Barry slowly walked away from the window as if trying hard to awaken from a nightmare. Jimmy checked the saxophone for scratches and broken parts with a sigh of relief. "Fuck!" Jimmy yelled.
Lost virtue suddenly transformed Miles' youthful face. "I'm still celebratin' my birthday so if you are a friend I look up to, you'll do me a favor," said Miles with a vicious smirk, dourness in his voice.
Jimmy gave Miles a puzzled look, wondering what he was implying.
"I'll pay you," Miles continued. "I'll even give you my gun. But don't fail or you'll piss me off."
"Rip out Samantha's tongue........