I go to a charter school. There are a few problems with that. I live a long way away and have to take a bus and a train to get there and to get home. That’s fun, being part of the morning commute. Not. I’m lucky to get something to hold onto, the rides being as crowded as they are. A seat is out of the question, at least in the morning.
I’m one of the few black kids at my school, which is a more serious problem than the frustration of traveling. The kids at the school are mostly white and Asian, and some of the white kids don’t seem to like black kids. They don’t mess with the few large, black kids but don’t have a problem letting the smaller ones know their feelings. I’m not large. I’m very messable.
Besides being black, I’m also gay. And, unfortunately, just effeminate enough that trying to hide it isn’t possible. So . . . small, black and noticeably gay. Not a good combination at a mostly white, conservative and upper-middle-class school.
I’ll admit, most of the kids there are fine. I’ve made some friends. They’re like me in that they’re straight-A students, not very athletic, and generally sort of nerdy. Color doesn’t seem to matter to them—or alternate sexuality, either. They’re just kids. Like I am.
But not everyone is like that. Some of the white kids—the jock type—I have to be careful around. I have to be aware of where I am and avoid those guys. Self preservation, you know? It’s second nature to people like me.
So, this is about yesterday. I was on my way home. The way I do that is this: after school lets out, I walk to the bus stop. You’d think there’d be one in front of the school, but it’s a block away and around a corner and out of sight from people at the school. I can walk with my friends that far, but then they walk on, and I stop to wait for the bus. I might be the only kid at that school that rides a city bus. One comes every 15 minutes. I always hope there’s one there when I arrive. Just standing by myself alone isn’t my favorite thing.
Yesterday, I had to wait. I looked around as always, seeing who was where. And what I saw was two boys I always tried to be invisible around. I was a freshman; they were juniors. I think the only reason they were in the school was their wrestling prowess. They certainly weren’t scholars. They didn’t like black kids; there weren’t any blacks on their team. Maybe the whole team didn’t like blacks. These guys had given me problems before but not enough that I could complain. I mean, being given the shoulder in the hallway, being knocked down—they could say it was an accident, couldn’t they? So I hadn’t reported it.
But I was off school property now. The no-bullying rule was only effective on the school grounds. And here they came. They saw me, and I saw them smile.
The bus was coming, too. Maybe it would arrive before they did. They didn’t take the bus, so if I could get on before they got to me . . .
They started running. But the bus opened its door for me when they were still a few yards away. I jumped aboard and showed my pass and started breathing again. I sat down in the seat right behind the driver. And then the two goons jumped on the bus.
They didn’t normally take the bus. Well, I’d never seen them on it before. They paid, then stared at me as they passed me looking for a seat. There weren’t any open ones up close, and so they had to move back into the depths of the bus. I couldn’t look around to see how far back. You try not to show your fear.
My stop was the transit center. It was where busses and trains made a connection. All I could hope for was I could get to my train before those guys could get to me. There was usually a train waiting. There were usually people on it. Those guys wouldn’t attack me if there were people around me watching, would they?
When you’re old, retired, and not especially bright, what you have to do is find something you enjoy doing, something active, or you’ll vegetate. Some guys sit and watch TV all day. Some drink.
Some read. Some sit in their backyard, if they have one, and watch the birds and bees do their thing; they simply exist.
Not me. I’m not cut out for any of that. Terminal boredom sets in about five minutes after I’ve settled. I need more stimulation than I can get from books, or birds or bees for that matter, regardless of what they’re up to. I’m more into people than I am anything else.
I’d hunted for some avocation that would keep my mind busy and my sentience satisfied. What I’d discovered was perfect for me: I spent quite a bit of time riding the transit trains through the town. A monthly pass didn’t bust my budget and allowed me to watch the world go by from my seat.
Somewhat to my surprise, I found that what went on inside the train was more interesting than the scenery that flew past outside. So, I’d become a people watcher. And more surprisingly to me, a young-person watcher. Especially boys.
My wife had died a few years ago and I was alone now. That was probably one of the reasons I liked to be around people. Home was a bit lonely. The trains were full of people, and my loneliness wasn’t a factor there. Finding myself liking to watch boys—well, that was unexpected. I’d never felt any special attraction to males.
When I’d found myself watching boys on trains, however, I had to figure out what the attraction was. Was there a sexual component?
Pretty quickly, I realized that that wasn’t the draw I felt. No, it was something more basic. I saw myself in those boys. By reading their eyes, their body language, I knew what they were thinking, what they were experiencing, and it made me wish I were that age again, that I was having the experiences they were having all over again, but like them, for the first time or nearly that. These boys were involved in situations that weren’t passé to them. They were having feelings: enjoyment or fear or annoyance or boredom or happiness or toleration or whatever.
What was new or fairly new to them was a result of being young. That’s what I saw when observing the boys on the train. What most drew me to those boys was a wish that I could be that age again. The experiences they were having would be fresh to me like they were for them. I watched them and tried to vicariously go through what they were going through. Tried to be young again myself.
Yesterday, I had such a new experience, and it did make me feel younger.
I was sitting at the transit center on my train waiting for the late-afternoon rush. I tried to take this train because often it would have boys on it just out of school for the day. I was surprised to see a boy I’d seen on this train several times before running to get aboard. Why was he in such a hurry? He’d been on this train enough to know it wouldn’t leave for another ten minutes.
He was a really cute kid. I wasn’t attracted to any of these boys for erotic reasons, but my eyes were drawn to beauty. Many boys are beautiful, even plain-looking ones if their personalities are apparent in their faces. But the ones who exude personality and are also good-looking draw my attention the most. This boy, cute and small with unblemished mocha skin and inquisitive eyes, was high on my list.
But he looked worried today rather than inquisitive, rather than happy. No, make that scared. I’d never seen him like this before. He kept looking behind him, and as he entered the car, he stood in the doorway a moment, looking back, then turned to look at the people in the car. Yep, no doubt: he was scared.
I turned to look through the window and saw two older, larger boys running for the train. Uh-oh, I thought.
I looked back at the boy on the train and found he was looking at me.
As I said, he’d been high on my list, and I’d watched him a lot. As a result, he’d caught me at it. When he did, I merely nodded at him, then looked at someone else. But my eyes would find him again and again. I’d nodded at him quite a few times. He’d never seemed offended by my interest. Maybe, because of how cute he was, he was accustomed to people looking at him.
Now, he was looking at me. I nodded at him again and this time patted the empty seat next to me. I saw relief flash over his face, and he hurried to where I was sitting.
I stood up. “Sit next to the window,” I said. “I’ll sit next to the aisle.”
He slid in, and I sat down beside him. Just then, the two boys got on the train. They looked around and spotted the boy. They walked toward us.
The larger of the two spoke to me. “Get up. We’ve come for the fag.” He gave me a menacing look.
Slowly, I stood up. I’m six-foot four and weigh over 220. How much over is my business. I’m old, but not that old. You can retire from the police force after 30 years with a damn good pension, and I’d done that. I was in my early 60s now. Still in shape, still with that manifest police presence.
They took a step back as I rose. “You guys want him?” I asked, glancing at the kid.
The two boys were looking at me, then took a quick glance at each other. There was a lot of uncertainty in their faces now. “Uh . . .” The kid stuttered to a stop.
I pulled myself up a half head higher and stepped closer to the one who’d spoken, looming over him, glaring down. “You best be leaving this boy entirely alone,” I said. “I’ve seen you now. I know what you look like, where you go to school. I’ll learn your names from my friend. If he’s ever hurt, I’ll find you. I know how to hurt people, too. Like you do, but much worse. You’ll be in a world of hurt if anything bothers this boy. Got it?”
The two boys were scared. Both nodded.
“Then get the fuck off this train. I don’t want to see you again.”
They turned and fled. They just made it before the doors closed.
I sat back down. The kid was looking up at me. “Thanks,” he said, his voice very soft, his eyes a little frightened.
“They give you any more static, let me know. I’ll be on this train. You can come sit with me if you like.” I chuckled, then said, “Hey, I’m harmless.”
The kid was silent for a moment, and then I saw in his eyes some resurrection of the spirit I’d found so attractive. He took a breath and said in a flat voice, “You look at me a lot.”
“Yeah, I do. You’re cute. Makes me wish I were your age again. You’ve got so much in front of you. I’m envious, that’s all. That’s why I look. I look and imagine, what if . . .”
He was staring at me. “I’d like that,” he said.
“Really? OK. Good. I’ll save you a seat.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
That was yesterday. I’ve been sitting here watching today, and I see him coming. I’m holding his seat for him.
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