The dusk of dawn peeked through the trees as the bus disgorged me onto the pavement and belched off in a cloud of black smoke. It was really a very nice bus, but it just happened to have a few respiratory problems, just like my ball. I didn’t know what time it was but I took a chance--perhaps I could practice before work as well. Rolling the ball onto the street, I gave myself a chance to take aim before taking a sweeping kick, connecting to the ball effortlessly with my toe, and watched satisfied as the ball shot by exactly an inch left of the lamppost. When I was small and had just reached los Estados Unidos I used to have to aim at the lamppost itself--a concrete target--but now I aimed at the air left and right of the lamppost--an abstract target-- and hit it most of the time, though honestly sometimes it was hard to tell and I estimated my success rate. Still, it wouldn’t be long before some professional football club recruited me. It took me a while to recover the ball so I decided to head straight to work. It paid (sometimes) to be on time: Edward had arrived an hour early once of his own accord and had received in compensation a morsel of cake. Thinking of the cake made me walk faster, but not much faster. Since I was small I had gradually learned that my knees had a tolerance point, as did my back--it was better to save energy to play football. I reprimanded myself for having such powerful muscles; even just after kicking the ball my knees ached.
* * *
I walked into the restaurant only to find a line of figures cloaked in mist in the freezer, hands dancing with shiny plastic, meaning that I was late. Swirling my way through the spray was the best option and the one that was the least provocative...if only I could find Henry in the mess. Henry was an americano and my closest friend, along with his wife, Melanie. Melanie was very beautifully-spoken and I thought of her often. How nice it would be to sit by the fireplace and talk, as I imagined Henry and Melanie doing! In some ways I was extremely jealous of Henry. Since I was small I had picked up some English and I had communicated this to him. Honesty, my father had always said, was what made one person a friend and another an enemy. Henry had told me: “I hear ya, brotha. A guy without a doll...well if a guy ain’t got a doll, who would holla at him?” I didn’t understand all of it but I nodded my head yes and he clapped me on the back. Henry loved to talk, regardless of how much I shook my head or nodded my head or said, “Again?” Some of his favorite words seemed to be “damn Republicans” and “social security”. He was also fond of pointing toward the sky with his middle finger whenever he said his favorite words, a habit I noticed in many of the workers at the restaurant. From my observation the middle finger seemed to be a method of acknowledging God and His ultimate role in everything, for mentions of “God” were ever-present near to when one pointed with the middle finger. Perhaps it was a nod to God’s omniscient glory.
Henry saw me before I saw him and turned his back as a method of motioning me to start working inconspicuously beside him. The mist parted for a second as Henry pointed to the sky with his middle finger--it looked like the birth of Aphrodite out of sea foam, a shimmering pink thing appearing out of nowhere. “God, why are you always late!” He whipped at me in a whisper furiously. “What do you do before work?” I nodded my head, because it sounded like he was asking a question. “Do you eat breakfast? I ain’t got money for breakfast after me and Melanie’s pills. Think the old man can spare me some eggs from the fridge?” Aaaaaa-choo-choo-choo! (Henry) Eddies in the mist signified facial movements. “Those damn Republicans. I ain’t got no coverage after that Affordable Care Act was congressionally vetoed. Where’s my damn social security cash anyway?” I nodded again. “Damn lucky fellow. You have breakfast to eat off of this dump of a job? Me and Melanie barely scrape by lunch every day!” I nodded, having not understood more than a few words. Aaaaa-choo-choo-choo-choo-choo...Henry sneezed again, much more conspicuously than the last. More eddies, in fact, waves, meaning that the owner was entering the freezer, something that didn’t happen very often. Suddenly a tapered hourglass figure appeared out of the fog, with another gray-suited individual on his left.
“Say, Marks, look at those two old geezers, Henry and Memo. They about ready to kick the bucket, don’t you say?”
“Why wait until they’ve kicked the bucket? Just fire ‘em now!”
I felt a ripple in the mist as Henry stiffened beside me, but I didn’t know what they were saying. The owner had only started saying “old geezer” around me recently so I assumed it was a term of great respect. He never said it when I was smaller. It made sense because after all, I had been working here for a while, and was one of the more experienced packaging unwrappers in the business.
“Marks, you’re right. But we should at least let them get in a last day of their enjoyable work, wouldn’t you say so?” Ah yes...enjoyable. I knew that word. It was the word my father had used to describe football. I didn’t know what they were describing though.
* * *
The dawn of dusk greeted me at the bus stop. Reflecting back on the day’s work, I felt that it was the first day I had really integrated into the workplace. After the owner's walk many people embraced me and Henry, making me feel as if I belonged. Henry and Melanie had seemingly become more pious people within minutes. They had seemed to be caught in a religious frenzy, gesticulating wildly with their middle fingers, but who was to judge? For I remembered not to be judge lest I be judged. It was all too bad that it was the last day, though the work wasn’t enjoyable at all. The owner had greeted me by the door and waved goodbye personally to me, addressing me using his title of great respect: “Go home and don’t come back, ya old geezer! Your work here is done!” Henry had taken the better part of the day to explain to me that I was retiring, and that the owner had decided I was ready. He coupled it with a new word: damn capitalists! It was odd, because I thought the retirement age was sixty five, and I wasn’t a day past fifty five.
The bus wasn’t there yet, so I decided to get another practice in, keeping in mind my powerful muscles. I walked over to the lamppost and decided not to take aim this time; after all, my reflexes were as fast as a cat. Again, the ball flew in a broad sweeping motion--this time, it hit straight on the lamppost, so hard, I swore the lamppost shook. Too much power! Grimacing, I ran over, recovered the ball, and took aim this time, trying to hit the air around the post. I accidentally hit the post square-on again, the ball flew, and this time, stuffing went flying--rippled out in a circle like so many pigeons flying away, and the ball contorted and collapsed in on itself in a sad little moue. The bus pulled up. For a moment, I was struck with indecision. Would I keep the old, imploded one? I didn’t have the money to buy a new ball, and without a ball, how could I become a football player to become rich? The ball was my hope of a better future, a better life. Bus drivers are rarely patient, and bus horns are rarely honks: this one quacked. QUACK. It was time to go. I boarded the bus and saw the sad moue for one fleeting moment more, and then the bus sped up, bouncing down the hill like a basketball. I thought to myself: it was time to find a new ball anyway.