I remember how I raised my hand as the little white boy, sending the right arm straight up, bringing the left across my chest and wrapping it underneath the shoulder in support. Mrs. Perkins turns, looks at me, nods, asks, “What is it Cody?”
25 small brown faces turn as well. I sit in the back row. My palms are clammy, normally I do not speak. I say, “I have to use the bathroom.” Everyone turns back around, disappointed that my oath of silence has ended for something as trivial as a bathroom break. In fourth grade we will learn about Ghandi, who is Indian, no not that kind of Indian, the other kind, the real kind, like Aarush, and who does not speak for 25 days, even when people insult him, even when he needs to go take a pee. I barely lasted two.
Mrs. Perkins smiles and points towards a placard hanging from a coat hook next to the door. She asks if I want a buddy, I shake my head no.
The pass hangs from a yellow string around my neck. Mrs. Perkins, first grade it reads, next to that is a smiling boy, taking time to wash his hands in the sink, which I sometimes do but mostly forget about. Walk fifteen steps down the hall and look to the left. That is how you get to the bathroom, and I take my time getting there. I let my feet carry me from wall to wall in lazy zig-zags, feel how slippery the pass is in my hands. Afterschool the hall will swell with light up shoes and hot, sticky hands, and loosely true stories that never come to an end, but right now it is wonderfully still. I can hear the loud ticks the clock makes as time moves in five-second jumps
When I finally lean all my weight against the heavy wooden door there is a big black boy standing at the sink. He looks at me briefly then returns himself to the mirror. I walk over to the urinals, stand in front of the little one, unbutton my pants, let them fall around my ankles, then pull my underwear down and let it join the pants. Blue and white tile checkers the walls and on some of the tiles are names and drawings scrawled in thick black sharpie. Jorge, Trey, Stevie, a crude penis with horribly swollen balls, though at the time I think rocket ship.
The boy at the sink looks over, sees my bare legs and asks, “You some kind of baby or something?”
“Hey, stop peeking,” I say.
“I never did it like that. My daddy says that only girls drop their pants when they pee.”
A murky window in the far corner, high above the garbage can, lets in slanting lines of light and I feel them hot against the back of my naked thigh, burning the white, luminescent skin.
“So what, you some kind of girl?”
“No,” I say, and I have not gotten a chance to pee yet and I have to go badly but I reach down to pull up my underwear anyway. Red and green cars race each other across the butt.
“Hey, why you pulling up your pants? I was listening, you haven’t even gone yet.”
“No, I finished.”
“Na you didn’t, I woulda heard it.”
“Why you lying to me, they haven’t taught you little kids about lying yet?”
I yank and yank on the legs of my corduroys but they are all bunched up around the knee and won’t budge.
“Dang man, you don’t even know how to put on pants?”
I glance at the door but it remains shut.
His voice has gotten loud.
“Hey why is your face all red, why you looking away? I’m trying to teach you some lessons, I’m trying to help, I’m trying educate you. Hey look at me, I’m talking to you! Don’t you know that I’m older than you? Don’t you know about respecting your elders? Hey, look at me!”
His hair is buzzed short on the sides and rises up in a perfectly perpendicular column. Yo, check out that flattop Isaiah will whisper to me five years too late, when Geodesic comes in to give our class a slam poetry workshop. That’s dope, I’ll say. But right now all I can do is wonder what kind of stuff he’s hiding underneath it.
“Are you even at the right school? You’re a white boy, you know that right? You shouldn’t be here. You’re a cracker, you know what a cracker is?” he says.
And I don’t know. To me a cracker is still just a cracker, salty, as brown as it is white, a snack that I don’t like very much. But I hear the implications of something greater, implications of an identity I will spend years trying to escape, and when the boy leaves the sink and moves towards me I try to edge away, only my pants are still at my ankles, and I end up pitching forward and landing face first on the cold, speckled floor. My nose goes numb and blood pools next to my hand.
“Oh shit,” the boy says, then “damn, I wasn’t gonna do nothin’ to you. Don’t cry.” And I don’t and he grabs me by my collar, pulls me up, tells me to put on my pants, grabs my hand and walks me towards the nurses office.
“You’re not gonna say nothin’ right?”
I shake my head no.
“That’s right, cause nothin’ really happened, you just fell over and I helped you up.”
I nod my head yes.
The nurse is a round, red haired lady, and when she sees me she says, “Oh no, what have we here?”
And the boy says, “He accidentally tripped in the bathroom.”
And the nurse looks at me, and I nod.
And the nurse says, “Thank you for bringing him here Tyson.”
And once my nose has been cleaned up, and Tyson has left, and I sit by myself, holding an ice pack on a stiff, green bed, I feel the urine begin to flow freely down my legs. It runs warm and sticks to my pants. It forms a puddle at my feet and I feel shame at my relief.
© 2016 Dakota Browne