As I watch the neighborhood children roam the streets in search of their next target, or play with dirt and trash in dingy alleyways surrounded by derelict buildings, I’ve always wondered why anyone would choose to raise a child in this bleak, desolate world. My world. How could anyone condemn their unborn child to a dog-eat-dog life where only the strongest survive and the weakest are exploited and left behind? A world of drugs, sex and money? For myself and the other street kids, we were in the latter category.
Then I grew older and realised a child may be the only way to retain their sanity; the only way to forge an emotional connection in this world of depravity, or regain some form of control over their lives. There is perhaps no other connection, no other protection more powerful against a hopeless world than the sweet innocence of a child. That, I think, was what ran through the woman’s mind when she decided to keep Jimmy. I’ve never met his mom. But I’ve met Jimmy one too many times. He awaits at my doorstep after dark whenever he needed cash.
He was one of a handful of kids born into Scorcher’s ring. His mom must have craved for something beyond spreading her legs and numbing herself with booze and drugs. Jimmy breathed meaning into her life. He was hers: someone who loved her unconditionally and forced her to be mentally present. Having Jimmy I believe, brought some peace to her tattered soul.
Unfortunately, Jimmy wasn’t cut out for this life. He didn’t have the craftiness nor nimble mind required to contribute his share. As far as fingersmiths go, he’s a complete failure. I was constantly bailing him out in secret. Sometimes the other kids in the ring hit dry spells too. I’d help them, but my own proceeds won’t be enough to save them. The next time we meet, I’d find our circle a little smaller.
I’d return home to Rue’s usual yelling, screaming, arguing with Scorcher. I wished every day he’d stop visiting us, but my prayers went unheard. Rue belonged to him like the other women, except she was brazen, strong and infallible – extremely rare as common sense would school one to not bite the hand who feeds you; who owns you and determined your life worthy or unworthy of living.
It was this quality of hers that made her irresistible to him – her strength was her curse. No one else was allowed to have Rue. He was possessive like that. But in exchange, he took pleasure in breaking her integrity and will – asserting his ownership of her each time he came by. I’d be in my room by then, a pillow pressed against my ears, begging myself to sleep.
Every argument she had with him was always for my benefit. As Jimmy was to his mom; I was the same to Rue. I was what’s left of her. In me, she poured her innocence and purity, her love and hope that there’s someone left good in this world. She lived through me, a motherless child and son of a monster. She’ll be damned if Scorcher kept me from attending school and had me practice crime day in and day out.
It wasn’t one-sided. I clung onto her as she did me. I do my best to defend her, but I learnt that unless you have the means to back up your words, your intentions are as meaningless as the echoes bouncing off mountain peaks that ultimately fade into nothing.
He wasn’t violent to me, not in a conventional sense. I didn’t understand why Rue always panicked when he got mad at me, for he always chose to leave the room. Now I realised that his pleasure came not from physical dominance, but the submission of our minds. The house he trapped us in was his playground, Rue’s prison and my asylum. He would make an appearance almost everyday. I was always in a contradictory state of hopefulness and fear during his visits. I wanted desperately to please him, to be acknowledged by my father but he had never treated me cordially. I hoped to earn his affections.
Rue’s persistence paid off one night. She managed to convince him that my schooling will be to his benefit in the long run. It came with the condition that my identity must be concealed, that my priorities still lie in my ‘training’ – studying people to determine their suitability as a target, being ‘agile’ with my hands, or reading patterns. He called it the honing of my inherited talents. I heave at the thought that we share anything in common, yet half my body is made of the same abhorrent blocks that coded his being.
But childhood me didn’t think so. I saw myself then as unwanted – never good enough for my own father. I was undeserving of happiness unless I can prove myself. Hence, I am forever indebted to Rue, who forced me to go to school when I didn’t see a point to it. That was where I met Kian, who didn’t care about my achievements nor failures.
Kian: I’m Kian!
Curtis: You’re not Kian. Teach’ called you Kieran.
Kian: Teach? Ha-ha, you speak funny like me! And that’s what I said – Kian. How come you didn’t go to school until second grade?
Curtis: That ain’t your business. And you said Kian again! You’re Ki-e-ran..! What’s up with your talk?
Kian: Dad says I got dy-s-lexi-a. I have to speak long words slowly or I won’t get them right. It’s tiring to do that with my name. You talk funny too! Are you like me? I’ve never met anyone like me before. Let’s be friends!
Curtis: Bugger off.
Curtis: … Quit following me!
Kian: You didn’t answer my question! Ooh, I got one more! Why’s your hair long?
Curtis: You know, I got a question too. How come you’re still living with your mouth runnin’ off like that?
Kian: My mouth running off? Ha-ha!! You’re funny! I like the way you talk. Come on, tell me about you. Oh! If you don’t tell me, I’ll shoot you! Check out my Colt .45! Pew… pew… pew… Pew-pew!!
Curtis: That’s stupid! Stop it!
Kian: It’s not. You just need to use your ima-gi-na-tion! Pew pew! My dad uses real guns. I’ll be like my dad one day. I’ll be a cop!
Curtis: Guns are dumb!
Kian: No, they’re not.
Jules: Kieran, who are you arguing with?
Kian: Dad! Curt’s my new friend.
Curtis: You ain’t my friend!
Kian: And he doesn’t like guns.
Curtis: … Guns kill people. And he says Jimmy’s next…
Jules: Who threatened who? Did you watch something disturbing on TV?
Curtis: … I ain’t tellin’ you. You coppers make it tough for me.
Jules: *chuckles* You’re too young to imitate those bad guys in your cartoons. What toy do you like then?
Curtis: … I like Mr Teddy.
Kian: Bwahahaha! A teddy bear?! That’s for babies!
Curtis: It’s not. Shut up!
Kian: No, you shut up!
Jules: Okay…….! I happen to know one thing everyone likes. Burgers!
Curtis: He’s playin’ you, Kieran! If grown-ups give you stuff, they want somethin’ from you.
Jules: I guess I do, Curt. I want you to be friends with Kieran. What do you say?
Curtis: … Nu-uh! You can’t buy me with a burger! You ain’t foolin me! I got my eye on you. Coppers are mean.
Jules: Well, we usually get burgers on Tuesdays and Fridays. You’re welcome to join us anytime!