Javier is about to kick your ass. You’re eleven years old and skinny. Everybody at home calls you flaquito. But they mean it in a cute way. When you’re an eleven year old boy in a New York City public school and the best description for you is curly hair, ribs that hardly conceal a heartbeat, and a stutter -- nothing is cute.
Javi is eleven years old too, but he’s a different kind of eleven year old, a man-among-boys eleven year old, a clean-shape-up eleven year old, a cuban-link-wearing eleven year old, a plays-basketball-with-teenagers eleven year old. Remember last year, in the 5th grade, when Mr. M beasted on Javi for not following instructions? He really tore into him, and worst of all, he did it in front of the whole class. He was mad at Javi because of some homework instruction gone wrong.
“It’s written right here, right in front of you! Can you read?” Mr. M’s tall ass sneered as he towered over Javi’s desk, pointing incredulously at the instruction section of the worksheet; for a second Javi just stood there, squinting.
You don’t remember what the instructions said now. Nobody remembers that kind of thing a year later. You doubt Mr. M remembers. What everyone does remember, is what Javi did next.
It was one of those moments when a kid looks like he’s about to cry, and his lower lip gets sucked in all ugly, like his mouth was a jet engine or some shit -- but real quick it turns into rage, like the pilot put the engines in reverse and BOOM - he’s screaming.
Javier was on his feet shouting “you don’t fucking know me!”
“You. don’t. fucking. know. me.” He was shouting that at a teacher.
Remember when you thought saying “shut up” could land you in jail? Javier surpassed all that, but he didn’t give a damn at that point. Before anyone knew it, he was at the classroom window, and three stories down, shattered into a million pieces, was the classroom computer. This kid threw a computer out the window. You had heard old folks say that a broken mirror was seven years bad luck. You weren’t sure how many years a computer counted for, but the way things are looking--probably a lifetime.
Javi is the reason that folks with a little bit of money in the neighborhood don’t want to send their kids to public school. You go to public school too. Are you the reason they pay all that money for their kids to go a mediocre Catholic school just a few blocks away? Are you the reason they starch their kids’ navy blue pants in way that looks all types of weird over black Nike sneakers? Maybe. But Javi, he’s the real reason. Right now you wish your parents had a little bit of money too. You’d even wear that dumb uniform. Because Javi is about to kick your ass.
“No te portas como un animal,” your mom always tells you. She tells you this before school, she tells you this before you go to supermarket, she tells you this before you go to a family party, she tells you this when you even think about running outside to play in the open fire hydrant with the other kids. No te portas como un animal.
Your mom doesn’t send you to the Catholic school. The people she cleans for, the Davis’ in Manhattan, they tell her that their kids go to public school. Public schools are good, they say. They also send you hand-me-downs that their son, John, no longer wears. Your mom brings the garments back on the train to Queens. “These are good clothes, mira que bonito,” she tells you as she pulls out Barney’s and J. Crew clothing from a brown paper bag, John Davis’ name still etched on all the tags. You should be like the Davis kids. You don’t know any of them personally, so you aren’t sure if they’re like the kids on Full House or Step by Step, but you’re certain of one thing: ellos no son animales.
What’s it going to feel like when Javi punches you in the face? That’s what you’re wondering. Like a brick to the face you bet, even though you don’t know what a brick to the face feels like, but you’re sure it’s terrible.
He told you that he’s going to kill you after school and you know he means business. Javi has broken a number of people’s glasses this year, and the noses under them too. At this point, you feel he really merits something severe like maximum security prison or at least detention. As you make your way down the crowded school staircase, it feels dark and claustrophobic. Kids are shoving and pushing through the descent, some running, some walking, a few jumping to touch the ceiling in the staircase. You normally jump and slap the ceiling too, just to show that you can reach it. Not today--today you’re in your head.
When you finally get outside, the sunlight is blinding and the air smells of electricity, like just before a lightning storm. But it’s really just the energy from the handful of kids buzzing around shouting, knowing that Javi is on a mission to knock your teeth out. Most everybody else doesn’t know or doesn’t care. They’re unbothered, engrossed in a game of handball or garbage can basketball, oblivious to the war outside.
How did you get to this point? you ask yourself. You made a mistake today. When Mrs. Cociarelli ripped into Javi in front of the whole class, you laughed. You have no idea what made you laugh and you felt bad for him after it, but that feeling of remorse was quickly overshadowed by terror when he looked at you and told you he was going to “fucking kill you.” Mrs. C-with-the-name you-were-expected-to-pronounce-right didn’t care. Javi threw no computers out the window, not after the school suspension and god knows what aftermath he experienced the last time that happened.
Javi heads for you, as straight as a crow flies. It’s like all the dimensions stop working and in the matter of a breath, Javi is before you. You could run. You could punch him first and hope it lands like David’s sling. As you think these things a crowd forms around you. You see mouths moving, but you can’t hear anything. Javi brings his chest up to yours. You’ve seen other boys do this weird dance before. Like some kind of display, you return it. Your mind is racing, spinning, unfolding -- until it’s no longer here. Are you the reason parents pay all that money for their kids to go to a mediocre Catholic school just a few blocks away? Does John Davis get punched in the face? How did Javi mess up on the worksheet? Just how many years of bad luck is a computer thrown out of a public school window?