We sat inattentively in Economy one lazy afternoon, Heath and I. He managed to steal a seat behind me, and he always ended up messing with my hair when his attention span failed to coerce him to learn. His fingers would comb through my hair and then delicately plait it furtively, hiding behind me from the teacher’s watchful gaze. I leaned into the heel of my hand, sore and tired from yet another weekend of Olympic Development Program training and then a Saturday night despite my training.
Heath and I had gotten into the habit of never discussing Saturdays.
Our bald teacher scoffed in front of the class to gain our attention after having to repeat attendance nearly three times due to boisterous chatter from the students. He rubbed his wrists loosely as he observed me fall asleep in my palm for a moment before jolting awake. He flared his nostrils and began, “Class, today we are going to talk about economic crimes regarding taxes.”
The class released a monstrous groan.
“Class, it is very easy to commit these crimes, but the consequences are dire.”
My ears perked.
“I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to!”
“You whore! You whore!”
My father whipped the cane into my abdomen again, and again, and again. I cried out in fierce pain, begging God that someone would hear me. I pleaded God that I would do anything for Him if He were to somehow end this all. Both of his lecherous hands grasped the cane like a baseball bat and swung into me like a professional. I curled into myself to protect myself, but he stomped on my leg to prevent it from tucking into my abdomen.
My hand fell on my stomach, and the bruising nearly brought tears to my eyes. I glanced over my shoulder at Heath, and I saw the bruising on his neck.
I stood naked in the middle of the church basement. Bruises mottled my skin like marble, and my lips quivered as I feared what was to become of me next. I clenched my hands into fists and silently pleaded for this all to stop.
I swore I was going to die.
The purple was just beginning to soften into a blue.
Heath slammed open the door and grabbed Jude’s arm, wrenching it backwards. The grown man released a pained groan, and he whipped the cane around blindly, trying to impact Heath.
“Tax evasion is the deceitful nature of forging or hiding economic information to prevent yourself or your business from paying taxes.”
I screeched, “Heath! Heath! No!”
Heath bared his teeth as he roared, “You bastard! Don’t you dare touch her!” He threw a fist into my father’s face, and the man retaliated by trying to whack the athletic boy again with the cane. Heath managed to dodge it again as he shoved his toe into my father’s shins. Jude folded over, and Heath meekly stopped.
The boy pivoted on his heels and turned to me. His brow furrowed as he looked at my bruising. His gently hands cupped my face as the tears began to seep over my lashes. He whispered, “It’s okay. Look at me. Look at me. Are you okay?”
I hesitated to nod. I shook my head and stuttered, “I had to tell him, Heath. I thought he would make us stop if he knew.”
I raised my hand.
Heath leaned over my shoulder and buzzed, “Nerd, what are you asking? You hate economics.”
Our teacher turned to me and sarcastically arched his brows. “Well, it looks like we might actually have some participation from the ever-quiet Devin. Shoot, what’s the question?”
Jude pulled himself off the floor and clenched his cane to his side. He hissed, “Heath, step away from the whore.”
Heath whipped around and roared, “Don’t you take a step closer to her.” He gently pushed me behind him, shielding me from the rabid man.
“How exactly do you commit tax evasion?” I inquired.
“That’s a fine question…”
“Heath, don’t be stupid.”
“Fuck you,” Heath hissed ferociously.
Jude flung the cane into the side of Heath’s neck, and Heath slammed into the floor, cuffing his throat as he began to profusely cough. I knelt down behind him and sat him up to prevent excess swelling. I quickly combed through his hair with my fingertips as I chanted, “It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.”
And then I felt Jude’s boot catch the underside of my chin. I fell back into the floor, and I clenched my eyes shut, hoping that I could act like I lost consciousness to prevent more abuse.
I scribbled down the teacher’s response studiously, meticulous to every detail and every fact. Heath raised his brow to my articulateness to dissect what was going in my mind as it birthed an epiphany. My epiphany for revenge and prevention.
As soon as I heard the door shut, I sat up and tended to Heath again. He managed to hoarsely confess, “I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner.”
I shook my head and gently rubbed the contusion to separate the blood already coagulating underneath his pale skin. I whispered, “It’s not your fault.”
“I’m going to tell someone. He took it too far this time. He knew. He knew.”
I snapped, “Remember what I said?”
“But, Devin, he’s going to kill you.”
“I’ll kill myself if you say a word.”
A smile split my lips as I penciled the full instructions of how to evade taxes. Jude never thought I would be willing to rebel and cause such calamity from the inside of his church, and his lack of supervision regarding my job with the treasury would be finally beneficial. The sweet images of forging and misleading information across the tax reports sent me into a tizzy of excitement and relief.
That Sunday, I collected the church’s voluntary tributes. I shoved the money into the normal manila folder my father would take to the bank, and I slipped an extra twenty into the folder. I rewrote the inventory and cheated the tax funds of forty dollars per month, enough for Dad not to notice, and just enough for no immediate consequence. The next Sunday and the next months’ of Sundays followed suit.
One day, I became sloppy with the paperwork, and Heath noticed as I ran to the church right after school once I noticed I erased an entire week’s worth of tributes to the church. Heath found me furtively changing the funds like a true criminal, and he just meekly stared at me. He slowly shook his head as the realization of what I was actually doing sunk in. Heath begged me to redo the funds to cleanse my father’s record, but I defended myself.
“How else do you think he’s actually going to be arrested? Huh? No one will believe me if we tell them the truth. This is the only way I can protect us from him!”
That was a lie.
I was in the market to protect only one person. And it wasn’t me.
I cut into my mother’s chicken breast she managed to not burn on a Thursday night. Esther sat beside me and noticed my failing appetite. She leaned into me and inquired, “What’s the matter?”
My eyes fell on my father as if to ask for permission to admit to the truth. His eyes glinted with malice, and I turned back to my dish.
The doorbell rang, and my parents noted how rude it was for someone to ring during dinner. Jude pulled himself from the table after excusing himself, and he opened the door. Two policemen waited on the other side of the door with a warrant for my father’s arrest for tax evasion. My mother and sister sprang from the table in a hurry to try to persuade the detectives of a mistake, but I alone remained at the table.
A tear dribbled down my cheek as I realized it would finally be over. It was finally over.
However, like most things in my life, I was wrong.