The Boy in the Bin

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Ratso/Raphael came bouncing in the door at 9:45 P.M. He walked up the stairs, meeting his mother and father who sat in the kitchen.

“Where have you been young man?” Raul roared. “Do you realize what the time is?”

“Here and nthere,” Raphael commented.

“What do you mean,” Sylvia boomed, “here and there?”

“Simple,” Raphael clarified. “I’ve been nhere and I’ve been nthere.”

“I don’t like your smart-lipped attitude boy,” Raul barked. “I don’t know who you think you’re talking to, but I’m not going to put up with your smart mouth.”

“And what’s that odor?” Sylvia asked. “Have you been near a fire?”

“That’s for nme to know,” Raphael bragged “and nyou to find out.”

Raul grabbed Raphael by the hair and dragged him across the kitchen floor, slamming him into the counter. He lifted his right arm as if preparing to hit the little boy. Sylvia registered shock because Raul showed no kind of aggression towards Raphael.

She grabbed Raul’s arm from the back. Raul turned and looked at Sylvia and realized what his actions portrayed. Slowly, he released Raphael from his grip.

“This is a sad thing,” he announced, “when you push me to where I am now. I never wanted to hit someone as much as I do now.”

“My cousin Johnny told nme nyou acted like a pussy,” Raphael blurted. “I guess he’s right.”

Sylvia stepped between Raul and Raphael, acting as a shield. Even though she became unhappy with his attitude, she couldn’t afford having police showing up on a domestic violence call.

“We only are looking out for you Honey,” she declared. “We don’t want you to get into any trouble.”

“I can care for nmyself,” he boasted. “I’m almost 11 nyears old, and nyou ntreat nme like I’m five.”

“We are aware,” Sylvia asserted, “you are growing up. We still worry about you though. And what’s that terrible odor?”

“A nfire started on 3rd Avenue,” Raphael explained. “I stood nthere watching the firemen.”

Though he told a lie, Raphael figured Raul and Sylvia would never question his answer. Sirens always screamed through the night in his neighborhood. His statement about the fire seemed to make both relax and Sylvia directed everyone to sit down at the table.

“I’m sorry I got mad,” Raul confessed. “But your attitude is different. You are more of a smart-ass lately and I don’t like the changes.”

“Well,” Raphael shot back, “would nyou rather I be a ndumb-ass?”

“No,” Raul denied, “I didn’t mean you should be dumb. Both your mother and I understand you are smart. I mean we are still your parents and we want the best for you. The best doesn’t include talking back to us.”

“I don’t care,” Raphael snapped back. “I do nwhat I nwant; nwhen I nwant. I study hard and get ngood grades in nschool. I help Mommy with housework nsometimes and I nhave to listen to nyou and her fighting at night. My new friends are cool and nsometimes I’d rather be nwith them. You npromised you would get nmy mouth fixed nwhen I got older and you haven’t. Why can’t nyou leave me alone?”

Raul never realized his fights with Sylvia affected his son so much. This might explain why suddenly, Raphael acted so differently. The issue of Raphael’s surgery to repair his cleft palate never came up in conversation.

“I recognize you study hard,” Raul admitted, “and we are proud of you. But you can’t be out running around the city at night. Life is dangerous out on the streets. I promise Mommy and I won’t fight anymore. I promise we will talk to the doctor about getting you surgery. But you need to promise to take our advice. I will not harp on the issue anymore. You need to remember your best interests are of our primary concern.”

The lecture seemed to be the end of Raul’s rant. He got up and went into his home office/workshop and closed the door. Sylvia sat for a moment and finally asked if Raphael would like to eat.

“I ate a nhotdog and beans at nschool today,” he replied. “I’m kinda hungry now.”

“The night is getting late Honey,” Sylvia coaxed, “but the leftover chicken in the ’fridge is good. Would you like me to fix you a plate?”

“No Mommy,” he yawned. “I’ll njust eat a couple npieces. Are nyou and Daddy going to nwatch the news tonight? I nwant to see if they nreport on the fire.”

“I think so,” Sylvia confirmed. “We usually keep posted with the news at 11:00 o’clock. Go turn the TV on and I’ll fix your chicken and bring your dinner in.”

Sylvia warmed the barrel of chicken in the microwave. Raphael turned on the TV set and found the news channel they always selected. Raul came out of his office and sat down in his easy chair.

Sylvia came in the room with plates and napkins for everybody. The beeper went off and she brought the chicken into the living room making sure everyone got some. The three settled down to update on the days events.

’Fire broke out on 124th Street in the Harlem district of Manhattan tonight, the commentator said. ‘A parked car burst into flames early this evening. Nobody appeared to be hurt, but police are investigating the event as a possible gang-related issue.’

‘In other news,’ he continued, ‘another fire on the same street claimed the life of a 45-year-old man at a local tavern. Rufus Candella, a patron at the Bojangle Lounge in Harlem, died this evening from severe burns. Witnesses say he left the establishment through the front door as a fire started in the entrance way. The flames ignited a velvet shirt he was wearing. Other patrons tried to put the fire out by throwing their drinks on the burning man, but the alcohol only helped fuel the flames. Harlem Hospital pronounced him dead at 11:30 this evening. A police spokesman said shards of glass outside the tavern’s door, led them to believe the fire started suspiciously. It may be related to a burning car a few blocks from the scene. The investigation is still continuing.’

Raphael wasn’t sure what he thought of the news item on the dead man. He took pleasure in the good times being with his friends and lighting fires, but he didn’t think someone would die because of his actions. He thought again and came to the conclusion he never met the dead guy so why should he care. He justified this in his mind by the adage, ‘Shit Happens’.

But he decided not to let his love for flames take over his need to make a mark in life. From now on, he would only use Molotov Cocktails on empty buildings and inanimate objects like billboards. He also decided simply starting a fire didn’t seem personal enough. He wanted to leave his mark. Graffiti seemed to be the answer to his quest for infamy. His friends talked about tagging buildings with spray paint and colored chalk.

Now where could he find paint?

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