Twitch plopped into the seat next to Kid, leg slung over the arm of the chair, arm draped over the chairback. Kid flashed a glance at the page number in the book, closing it, and tucking it next to him in his chair. Twitch looked him up and down, grin plastered across his face.
“J’on’t loo’ tha’ bad, so’one jus’ go’they ass beat.”
Kid shifted in his seat, wincing a bit. His older friend continued talking.
“’Ey ge’cho pho’e?”
Kid shook his head, holding his phone up, just looking at Twitch.
“Damn son,” Twitch flopped his head to the side, “Why’in’t y’ring a brotha when shi’ go’ heavy?”
That is a really good question.
We don’t know how to ring a brotha?
I don’t even know what ringing someone means.
If it helps not get beaten down in an alley then I think we should learn more about this ‘ringing’.
Twitch laughed as Kid’s face twisted and scrunched a bit in the middle. His hand and then his arm thrust in Kid’s direction, flapping until Kid dropped his phone into the hand. As his fingers swipe-tapped the screen with easy familiarity Twitch’s free eye found Kid.
“Huh,” Twitch grinned, “Y’fuggen crack’d tha’ fucker las’ nigh’. Shi’wuz fuggen h’larius.” He slowed his phone fiddling as his other eye rose to also look at Kid. “Big ‘as talkin’ ’bout’i’.”
Well, if he didn’t know who we were before. . .
So did we ever decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing?
We put it in the figure it out later file.
I guess this is later.
“Who is Big?”
“E’s tha boss,” Twitch shrugged.
We already knew that, right? From the thing?
Right. He was the obvious leader of their, um.
“Boss of what?”
Twitch tossed his head, eyes narrowed, eyebrows dancing.
“Boss’a the gang,” Twitch flipped Kid’s phone into the air between them, and Kid managed to catch it by slapping it against his chest and then pinning it there while the older boy continued, “A’yway tha’s go’ma shi’ all up in i’, so’s y’ca’ ring me whene’er i’stea’a gettin’ all haunty roun’ ‘is join’ whe’ y’anna chat.”
Kid stared at the floor, phone still wedged between his wrist and his chest.
Just means group of friends, right?
Group of people? I don’t know if they need to be friends. Can you be in a gang with people you don’t like?
I don’t know if I want to be in that kind of a gang.
I don’t know if we have a choice. You know of any other gangs?
Well, I would guess that the kids who smashed our head into a wall were in another gang, but I don’t know if we want to be in that gang either.
When he looked up, his face scrunched in the middle, he cocked his head.
“Gang? Those guys who were with you? They’re who you call when you get in a bad situation?”
“Yah, they’s m’boys,” Twitch bobbed a slow nod, “The’e’s uders’o. Pre’y big. Ha. Big
“And the kids who, um…”
“‘N’odder gang. Y’on’t kn’abou’ gangs?”
Kid shook his head, and Twitch swiveled in his chair, planting both feet on the ground and leaning forward.
“Sheei’. Kay. They’s groups i’ dif’r’nt par’s’tha city, righ’, run shi’. Drugs, fuggen bid’ness, wha’e’er. M’boys? Run shi’ roun’a Needle, u’da hill, dow’tha wa’erfron’.”
Twitch gestured over his head in a circle, and then to one side and the other, away from the water and back.
“Lil fuggers las’nigh’? They’s ano’er grou’, o’er C’City, ‘n shi’. We go’s our space, ‘ey go’eirs. Dow’tow’, e’er’bo’y works, aien no’un fuggen wi’ eacho’der. Communi’y space, j’dig?”
Twitch leaned back in his seat.
Kid looked at the floor for a moment.
“So, your gang, you help each other, um, look after each other?”
“Fuck, yeah. Fuggers gotta kna’ they fuck wi’us they get fucked. ’S’a on’y way.”
Kid took another moment, curled up into his chair and then looked at Twitch over hugged knees.
“Can I join your gang?”
Twitch burst into laughter, rocking back into his seat, looking back at Kid’s earnest face, then reeling in more laughter. When Kid didn’t join him, he rocked forward, leaning on his knees.
Kid nodded, not looking away from Twitch for a second. Twitch stopped laughing.
“Wha’r’yu, fuggen 9? Y’on’t ‘anna join a gang. Y’on’t e’en kna’wha’ ge’in’ away wi’shi means.”
“Isn’t it just getting away? With whatever the ‘it’ you were trying to take?”
“Fuck na! Ge’in’ away wi’it is’em not knowin’. Fuggen i’is’a trick, no’a fuggen thing. Y’on’t kna’shi’, Kid. Giv’it a min’it.”
Kid slumped into his chair, dropped his head to his chin.
I think that’s a no.
A ‘fuck na’, point of fact.
I was not expecting that.
So what do we do if we can’t join the gang.
Wait, are we letting him just say no?
Do we have a choice?
At least try to talk him out of it, right? Unless we’re hoping for more beatings?
Kid peeked up at the still grin slathered face in the chair beside him.
“Could you, um, teach me?”
“Teach me to get away with stuff,” Kid lurched forward to lean across the gap between chairs, “That guy at the bookstore apologized to you while you were stealing that book. You get it. So teach me. I’m good at learning things.”
“Fuuuck. Y’hea’ righ’? We aien a fuggen a’ter schoo’ program.”
Kid lowered his legs to the ground, wrenching his gaze to wander the opposite corner of the Library.
Might as well just tell him. If we are going to be friends he’s bound to find out sooner or later.
How? How do we even tell someone something like this?
Just say it.
“I don’t have money. I don’t have friends,” Kid’s soft words bounced off the ground at which he stared, “I am going to steal, and probably get beat up because I am alone and small.” He looked back up at Twitch, his voice shrinking. “You could show me how to steal better, and with a gang I wouldn’t have to be alone all the time.”
Um, that isn’t really the whole truth.
Did we want to tell him everything?
No? No. I mean, even if I am starting to like the guy I don’t want to tell him the WHOLE truth. I want to tell him ENOUGH truth to get into the gang.
Twitch looked at Kid. Or one of his eyes did. The other kept rolling big circles up and away. Kid looked back at the eye that seemed stable. A grin crept across the older boy’s long face in small jagged bursts.
“Y’anna learn? Aiet,” Twitch staggered to his feet, one hand producing a phone from the depths of his jeans, “Y’anna joi’, tha’ aien up’ta me. Y’go’a earn tha’shi’.”
Kid jumped to his feet to follow as Twitch left the Library without so much as a backward glance. As Kid scurried through the revolving glass door after him, let us pause for another quick aside.
For the non-historians among our readership, perhaps some context would be helpful. The late earthbound years featured several notable points of interspecies conflict within the scope of the regular human expectation. Everyone knows that our barbaric forebears killed each other, all the time, for almost any perceived provocation. What we want to highlight here is that there were a few patterns about how this brutality tended to happen.
One typical pattern would be the violence between large militarized nation-states, most often between states caught in different developmental eras. That is, were one nation closer to the future than another they might demonize a worldview that they had outgrown the way an older sibling might dump vitriol on the behavior of a younger.
As an example, a given culture might be caught in a medieval societal loop which processed the majority of the experiential breadth through a central node set: the privileged, the nobility alone accomplishing and experiencing the richness and variety of life available to humanity. More refined, more egalitarian clusters of humanity would often villainize these slower developing brethren for achieving global relevance only through the suffering of their constituents. This would create a relative moral high ground from which to launch pillaging resource raids.
This sort of conflict was expected, and even praised, called progress, even. It appears the logic, if we can use the word, was that as one society discovered enlightenment and autonomy through the experience of oppression, paying the debt forward acquired the flavor of a favor.
Of course, within any given societal construct, a nation, a religion, a business, there will arise two distinct perspectives: those enforcing the defining rules of the entity and those manipulating the rules to grow the entity, as stability and growth are ever polarities of any burgeoning entity. Within a societal construct, these divergent forces demand their own support structure, the resulting tension between those two structures being another pattern of predictable violence. The legislative battles between innovators and intellectual property lawyers is an example of this violence at it’s most tedious extreme, forever debating the preeminence of precedent and possibility.
By itself, this sort of internal tension is not cataclysmic. The seasonal flux that keeps biological immune systems in top form builds the response and support systems for bio-stability forces through periodic adversity. Entropy itself, the degradation of general properties, capitalizes on the inefficiencies of any given system, promoting the formation of sub-entities that magnify the adaptive capabilities of humanity when presented with a worthy adversary. In such a manner is the miracle of evolution recycled over and again.
In a system of enough complexity, all of the destabilizing forces do not operate along shared motivational trajectories, leading to conflict within the oppositional system, one negative force impelled against another. In those late earthbound years, this style of internal conflict was regular between those societal organizations that claimed to resist the status quo for different reasons: those who hate those in power for restricting their illicit profit pit against those who resent those in power for restricting their indulgence in pain, as an example of such an ideological distinction.
The most common way that this potential conflict among oppositional forces instantiated was between youth dominated social micro-units, rebels against the normative enforcers, local and federal. These micro-units, called gangs, would dispute ‘turf’, their claimed area of responsibility, and ‘rep’, their ability to manifest a group’s desires, on a regular basis. One ‘gang’ would mark their territory with painted signs, and within that territory they would enforce their will as law. Territory battles would become as fierce as war, decided with flying lead and blood. In larger urban areas, all regular major illegal activity was suborned to one illicit enforcement entity or another.
The conflict between these different rebellious projections was popularized in art and journalism, or both in subjective and objective representation facilitating the development of major bodies of rebellion who identified across nationalist or regional borders. These larger coalitions of micro-units came to be divided into those who identified as blue, and those who identified as red.
It was common for the parties embroiled in conflict at any level to assert that there were notable distinctions between the different ideological aims of each party, but a great deal of those distinctions could, until the very latest years of the earthbound political scene, be reduced to ‘we grew up here’ and ‘you grew up there’. In fact, the vast majority of human conflict on the old rock was but a function of where and when someone happened to enter the story.
Kid caught up to his long legged friend just as he hooked into an alley. Twitch carried on talking as if their conversation in the Library hadn’t stopped and as if he hadn’t just made his friend run for the better part of a block to catch up with his strident pace.
“I’onna be sure tha’cha’kna wha’ y’ur doin’,” Twitch said, “We’s na’ the g’guys, we’s ou’ her’ hur’in’ pe’ple.”
He shook down the alley, shuffle walking still just ahead of Kid. Kid slowed to a walk as he drew even, shooting a glance at Twitch, face unexpressive.
“E’en so, aien ou’ he’r wrec’i’ shi’ fo’ peep. Regu’peo’, aien no nee’, no gai’. The fuggen suit, tho?”
Twitch nodded up toward the towering building on their left, smooth, clean lines rising and rising to catch the light and scatter refracted reflections across the block.
“They’in’ giv’a fuck.” He looked at Kid, “Hea’s’a thin’: Doan steal fro’ thos’a mis’it.”
“Um. How do you tell who, or where, to steal?”
Kid eyed the people walking along the sidewalk, listening to music, talking to each other, staring at the ground, oblivious all to the two boys standing at the mouth of the alley, debating which among them were appropriate targets for villainy. The taller of the two boys leaned against the wall of the building while his fingers clenched in sporadic fashion.
“I d’kna. Guess I jus’ fuggen thin’, they nee’ thi’shi’ mor’n me?”
The pair turned and walked up the street.
“Fig’a mos’ these fucks,” Twitch flips a hand out in an encompassing sweep, “ans’a’s no.”
Twitch jerked a shrug, waved an arm at the building next to Kid, one of the boutique grocery stores that dotted the Seattlescape, stocking eight kinds olive oil and no bags of chips. Kid avoided these in favor of the larger stores, but followed Twitch through the brass trimmed rotating door.
Displays of wine and various cheeses in rustic wooden crates sat just inside the entrance, the floor tiled with speckled brown and black squares. As the boys wove between a few tables with artful woven baskets filled with fruit, Kid reached out to pluck a berry. Almost a part of the constant spasms he experienced, Twitch’s snapping hand caught Kid on the back of his wrist. Kid jerked back, scowling at the older boy.
“Fuuck,” Twitch thrust his chin up to the side, and Kid followed the trajectory with his eyes, “They’s loogin’ righ’ atchoo.”
The pair of aproned employees waiting to collect money from the paying customers looked straight at Kid, whose face scrunched a bit in the middle as he dropped the berry back into the basket.
Twitch tossed an arm over Kid’s shoulder, turning him down one of the aisles until they stood in the back of the store, by one of the support pillars carved to evoke classical architecture. Twitch turned Kid to face him, hands on each of his shoulders.
“OK, the ver’ basi’ rul’o gettin’ away wi’shi’ is: doan do shi’ when they’s loogin’ atchoo.”
We know that! We say that all the time!
Besides, food doesn’t count. Not like they can get it back.
“But I would have gotten away with it. It would have been in my mouth before they could do anything?”
Kid cocked his head to the side, face scrunched in the middle a bit. Twitch stared at him for a moment, threw his head back and broke into laughter.
“You still doan get’i’. You doan e’en kna’ wha’ ‘gettin’ away wi’shi’ means. Fuggen claaasssic.”
Kid’s face scrunched a bit more, twisted to the side as the older boy’s guffaws bent him in half at the waist.
“What do you mean, I don’t know what it means? I ‘get away’ with the ‘it’ I want. I get away with it. Stop laughing!”
Twitch fought to catch his breath, eyebrows bouncing.
“Hea’s’a thin’. The ‘it’ aien the thin’. The job is’a thin’.” When Kid did not look convinced, Twitch continued, “I’s gettin’ the thin’ and them,” waving into the general air, “not knowin’ j’ga’ the thin’. Well, th’may know, bu’ they cain’ prove y’di’it. I’s’a game, j’dig?”
Kid nodded, slow, not looking away. Twitch grabbed one shoulder, turned Kid and pointed up to the ceiling near the pillar, where a small rectangular box swung in silent sweeps back and forth, cords poking out the back of the box and disappearing into the ceiling.
“What is it?”
Twitch pointed to two other corners of the ceiling, at other sweeping boxes.
“See the li’l circle on’a fron’ en’? I’s li’e’an eye, an’ they ca’ see e’er’thin’ it sees. Doan ta’e anythin’ wher’ thos’ings ca’se’a. Com’o’.”
He turned to walk down the aisle, and Kid tagged along. The taller boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change, which he shook, staring at it to count the coins. He flashed Kid a quick smile.
“They is, course, otha ways’a do’it.”
He grabbed an apple, bright and green, from the basket they were passing, nestled among other handwoven fruit containers. Twitch flipped the apple in the air and snatched it, shaking the coins in his other hand. The boys headed toward the cash collection area, and Twitch opened his hand to let the apple fall smack on the coins laying in his palm. They passed the refrigerated case with the juices which boasted that they used actual fruit and vegetables.
Twitch spun his apple onto the countertop, and the apron behind it asked for his money. He slapped the coins onto the counter and palmed the apple. Together the two boys turned and walked through the revolving door. When they hit the sidewalk, Twitch tossed the apple into the air in front of Kid, who grabbed it and took a bite.
“So,” Kid swallowed the bite of apple, “Your idea of getting away with stuff is to pay for it.”
He looked at the apple, then up at Twitch, who was grinning.
“Clever, but I don’t think that, ah, counts as stealing.”
Twitch grinned and one eye went for a walk. He took a big swig out of the gallon jug of elitist juice.
“Hey! Wha-, whe-.…”
Kid came to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk.
That doesn’t make sense.
His clothes aren’t big enough to hide it.
I mean, are we sure? About magic?
Well. I thought we were.
“How did you…?”
His words drifted to wherever unfinished thoughts lurk. Twitch took another big drink, and passed the jug to Kid. Thick and smooth, the juice somehow managed to stay delicious despite being as healthful as seven days of regular meals. Twitch laughed again.
“I’s the Lefty!”
Kid began walking, and Twitch continued explaining.
“J’hol’ whatcha wan’ in’ya lef’, grab so’in’ chea’ in’ya righ’. Hol’a buck’er’so in’ya righ’, and se’tha chea’ thin’ on’a coun’er. Kee’ the lef’ by’a si’e.”
He demonstrated, waving one arm around while leaving the other hanging at his side.
“They ax fo’ da money, pay fo’ da chea’shi’n bounce. I’they ax ’bout th’otha be’li’e ‘M’ba’. Hea’y’go.’ An’ya gi’tha’ shi’ back.”
Kid passed the jug back to his teacher.
“Lefty,” Kid said, tossing the apple and catching it, “I like it. It is like magic.”
“Yeah! Fuck, yeah.”
Twitch flourished his hands in front of them, holding for a dramatic pause before whipping away an imaginary sheet.
“Is’li’e fuhken magic. An’ya doan wanna let’em kno’ya trix, righ’, so ya gotta us’a dif’rent trick all’a time.”
He looked at Kid with the eye that paid attention the most, and then with both and a grin.
“Unpredictable. Eitha doan le’em see’ya, or mak’em see so’in’ else.”
Huh. Makes sense.
Kinda? Like the difference between looking and seeing. Instead of making sure no one is looking we should make sure no one is seeing.
Huh. Good lesson. So, we still wanna join the gang?
Given that we still don’t really know what they do?
Do we have any better ideas?
“Got it. Um, Twitch?”
Kid looked tried to duck his head and look up at the taller boy at the same time.
“I think I’m sure.”
“About wanting to join your gang. I know that you aren’t the good guys, and people get hurt, but I don’t think I’m the good guy, either, since I pretty much steal everyday. I don’t really want to hurt people, but I don’t want to be hurt. I think I need to find people of my own, and your gang seems ok. Do you think I could, I don’t know, join?”
Looking at the ground and sneaking peaks at Twitch, Kid rushed to get all of the words out, then took a big bite of the apple, avoiding eye contact. Twitch looked down, ever present grin fading.
“Kid, how old’re you?”
Huh. That’s a good question.
Because we don’t know the answer?
I was thinking more because there are different ways to answer. How old is our body, or how old is our memory? Two different ages.
We don’t have the answer for either of them though.
Yeah. I guess it’s that other kind of good question, too.
Kid didn’t look up and they walked in silence for a moment, and another. When he did answer, Kid’s voice was soft and low.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t remember,” Kid struggled to push the words through his teeth, “I don’t remember where I was from, I don’t remember my age, or even my name.”
The tightness in his chest threatened to choke his words, even as Kid’s eyes blurred, filling with tears he tried not to drop. His next words almost disappeared beneath the scraping of their feet.
“I don’t remember my family.”
They walked for a while, not talking. Twitch passed Kid the jug, and Kid took a drink and passed it back. The buildings flashed past, open gardens and courtyards flickered in the depths of Kid’s periphery. Twitch looked up, and before them the Needle stretched into the overhanging clouds. He looked back at Kid.
“Yeah, Kid. I’ll talk ta’the guys.”
Two boys, one tall, the other short, neither what anyone would call fat or even well fed, walked down a street together, but at the same time alone, alone in their thoughts and in the way they understood themselves as individuals.
There was, for each of the boys, a piece of that togetherness that was comprised of the quiet impression, shared, that the other boy knew what it felt like, to be alone. Not that either of the two boys would say as much, to the other or even to themselves.