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The way to nowhere, p.1
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       The Way to Nowhere, p.1

           Nicholas Alfonso Diaz
 
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The Way to Nowhere
The Way to Nowhere

  Nicholas Alfonso Diaz

  Copyright 2012 Nicholas Alfonso Diaz

  * * *

  He hides behind an afterthought, where it is safe and no one can easily find him. Once the misty afterthought dissipates, everyone forgets about him, which is usually the case in a crowded room. Raymond looks at his stuffed bear, Alfred, under his arm and nods.

  It’s now or never, thinks Raymond.

  He runs out the front door with his backpack, an empty place in his chest, and Alfred as company. The cold polluted city night air stings his face, but Raymond runs until he reaches the end of the street. The city lights spin and flash on Raymond’s clean child face like a spastic distorted disco ball.

  He looks to his right and left, trying to stay out of the way from the night people quickly passing by. Besides walking to and from the school bus, this is the first time he has journeyed down the street on his own, especially at night. Raymond immediately feels the sense of being lost and scared devouring him. He takes a deep breath and bites his bottom lip too hard, sending a sharp pain through his jaw.

  These night people are just people, aren’t they? he thinks. What do I do now?

  Raymond pulls Alfred from under his arm, and holds him, with both hands, to look into his black brown plastic marble eyes. Though Alfred is only a stuffed bear, in Raymond’s mind, Alfred shrugs his shoulders. Raymond jumps as a nearby taxicab horn blasts through the night air. Following the horn are a series of accented curse words spearing at a homeless man crossing the street against a green lit intersection. It then becomes apparent how frightening the city night is. Raymond reaches into his pocket and pulls out his grandfather’s WWII compass hoping it will take his fears away. The compass is the only thing his grandfather gave him. The fact that it is the only gift makes it that much more special. The compass gives a small squeak as Raymond opens it.

  Whenever you feel lost or scared, I want you to hold onto this compass, Raymond’s grandfather once said. This compass will always show you where I’m at. It’ll bring you to me.

  “North!” Raymond shouts and jumps with excitement.

  A few passersby look his way, but dismiss him as some homeless street kid, although, with his clean clothes and neatly combed hair, his appearance shares no resemblance with the homeless. Even in the city streets he is pushed back behind an afterthought. It’s okay in the city streets; at least he can get to his destination without anyone trying to stop him.

  Raymond slides the compass back into his pocket, takes a small cold breath and begins walking without looking back. Unknowingly he tightens his arm around Alfred as people quickly walk by laughing, lost in their own world, or pushing around stumbling drunk. A gust of wind forces dirt, trash and leaves into Raymond’s face causing him to blink, and when his eyes open Raymond’s fears and imagination get the best of him, all the pedestrians’ faces grow distorted.

  These aren’t people, thinks Raymond. I’m in an unknown world and these are evil creatures!

  Panicking, Raymond looks up to find these seething pedestrian creatures growing fangs and eyes either sinking into their skulls or glowing amber. Their laughter and voices turn into distorted barking, growling and hissing. The beastly car engines roar, shaking the concrete, and Raymond cowers back as he places his hands over his head.

  You’re only imagining this, thinks Raymond. Grandpa told you to never be afraid of these things. It’s all in your head, and even if they are real, don’t be afraid of them.

  Raymond quickly reaches into his pocket, tightly wrapping his fingers around his grandfather’s compass, counts to five slowly, half not wanting to take a chance and open his eyes and half believing that he isn’t afraid anymore. Hesitantly he opens his eyes. To his relief the world is back to normal and Raymond is able to begin walking again.

  Though Raymond knows his imagination can get the best of him, especially in the city streets, he pushes his fear causing imagination back and focuses only on reaching north. Comfort seems to be within reach with the thought that once he is out of the city and in the country, he believes he’ll be safe, and he will also be closer to reaching north.

  “Hey kid!” came an unfamiliar voice.

  Raymond looks up to find a tattered clothed dusty man in a blackened damp rotted ally walking towards him. Immediately Raymond can see his eyes sinking in and his fangs growing. Raymond freezes with fear like a deer hypnotized in an oncoming car’s headlights.

  “Come here,” the man barks, as spittle drips from the corners of his mouth. “Give me that bear. It’s mine. You stole it.”

  The ally man stumbles towards him with filthy black nails clawing out, but he’s stopped and flung back in mid-air as another man kicks him in the chest. The man from the ally tries to stand but reels back with his loss of breath. Raymond’s savior, his hero, pushes the man over with his foot.

  “You come near my nephew again, and I’ll break your hands,” says Uncle Delaney.

  I can’t believe he found out! thinks Raymond.

  Of all the people in the world, besides his grandfather, Uncle Delaney is the one who pulls Raymond out from behind those misty afterthoughts; saving him from obscurity. Uncle Delaney is the one who looks for him. Raymond reaches for his grandfather’s compass just to be reassured his grandfather is still there. But, before he can Uncle Delaney grabs Raymond’s arm and pulls him, walking in a hurry, down the street.

  Raymond wants to burst into tears, but he holds back. He isn’t in shock anymore about the man in the ally; no, he is sad that he came so close to traversing north. Raymond looks down and smiles at Alfred. He can’t let Alfred see his sadness. He then mouths the words, I’m sorry, Alfred. We almost made it. Alfred nods his head, informing Raymond that everything is all right and that tomorrow is another day.

  Uncle Delaney stops as they turn the corner to Raymond’s home and pats Raymond on the head. Raymond doesn’t like any of his aunts or uncles, nor most of his cousins either, but Uncle Delaney is different. Though Raymond respects him as someone wiser, he is a friend too.

  Uncle Delaney looks up and takes a deep breath. “Nah, forget it. Let’s not go back, Raymond. Everyone is getting on my nerves,” says Uncle Delaney.

  Instead of going back to Raymond’s home, which is crowded with guests, they walk back around the corner to a nearby bakery/café, Souvenir. Most days Raymond felt he was flickering like a light ready to burn out. Then there were those days when Raymond could swear he had turned into a ghost. He could feel himself slipping away into darkness. Even in his child mind he knew something was wrong with his parents. His life couldn’t be normal. But in those hours when Raymond thought he was a ghost, Uncle Delaney always seemed to show up like the archangel Raphael, ready to heal Raymond’s wounded heart. He would then take Raymond to Souvenir’s.

  Raymond put Alfred in his backpack with his head sticking out, and slid into a worn brown plastic cushioned booth. Raymond and Uncle Delaney had spent enough time there for all the waitresses and waiters to know their usual order. During the fall and winter seasons they both have hot chocolate and warm custard pudding, and in the spring and summer they each have a glass of milk and a slice of chocolate pie. This night the waitress brings their warm custard pudding and their steaming hot chocolates without whip cream.

  Raymond heavily moves his spoon around in the warm custard pudding, wondering when he will get another chance to leave. Uncle Delaney takes a sip of his hot chocolate and eyes Raymond, as Raymond lowers his eyes. A deep hurt is brewing in Raymond’s mind, and he tries to hide it. The fact that he tried to run away made it apparent Raymond needs to get out. It was apparent when Uncle Delaney saw Raymond run downstairs with his backpack and stared at the front door for over fifteen minutes; and
when the chance came, Raymond ran through the crowd, out of his home, and out of the funeral reception.

  “So, kiddo,” says Uncle Delaney, “as you saw, the city is no place for a young boy to go walking around. Some people are just pure crazy out there. Where were you headed to anyway?”

  Raymond likes that about Uncle Delaney; he always asked what he wanted to and said what he wanted to. Raymond ate a spoonful of custard pudding and thought about how to answer. He can’t tell Uncle Delaney the truth. Uncle Delaney will stop him. Then again Raymond doesn’t want to lie to him either and risk losing Uncle Delaney’s trust.

  Raymond shrugs his shoulders and says, “I don’t know.” It’s the safest answer he can give.

  Uncle Delaney sighs and uses a look to get through to Raymond. It is a look that tells Raymond he can’t fool anyone. It is a look that gives Raymond enough comfort and assurance to trust Uncle Delaney.

  “Come on kiddo, I know you better than you think. I think you know exactly why you left the reception and where you were going.”

  Raymond drops his spoon into the custard pudding and slumps into his seat. The day quickly runs through his head, and the past week followed by all the small moments he had with his grandfather, before his passing.

  Raymond remembers his grandfather giving him the WWII compass. He remembers the stories his grandfather told him. When everyone told Raymond not to believe in fairy tales, his grandfather proved the tales were true. When Raymond began to lose his imagination, his grandfather showed him the stars and the heavens. When Raymond found his parents, one Christmas Eve night, putting presents under the tree, his grandfather carefully explained in detail why they did this and that, in fact, Santa does exist.

  Then he is flashed forward and his grandfather is in the hospital. His grandfather was always smiling, even until the end. And slowly as the color fell from his grandfather’s face, in a manner of seconds, his smile faded, and he was gone. By chance, Raymond was the only one in the room with him. His mother was in the parking lot gossiping to one of her friends on the phone, his father was at home sick, he was always catching some type of cold or flu, or at least he complained that he was sick, and who knew where everyone else was.

  Then the day ran through his head. The funeral was a blur and at the reception, Raymond thought he had finally turned into a ghost. All he could do was watch his mother walk around the house showing all the guests the nice things they owned, while his father was in the bedroom sick.

  “Kiddo,” says Uncle Delaney, breaking Raymond’s thought. “I understand if you don’t want to tell me anything. You’ve had a tough week.”

  “You wouldn’t be able to help. You couldn’t understand.”

  “Try me,” says Uncle Delaney. “You’ve always been able to talk to me, why stop now?”

  Raymond blows into his hot chocolate and takes a slow slurp. He hasn’t told anyone what he is planning on doing or where he is going, not his parents or any of the kids at school. Uncle Delaney is all Raymond has now. Raymond has to speak the truth to him.

  “I…I was going to find Grandpa,” said Raymond.

  Uncle Delaney quickly takes a sip of his hot chocolate to disguise his loss of words. He clears his throat and asks, “You wanted to find Grandpa?”

  Raymond nods.

  “Where do you think Grandpa is?” asks Uncle Delaney, cautiously.

  “North!” he says wide eyed, with excitement. “If I keep walking north, I can reach Grandpa. I’m sure, if I don’t reach heaven first, I’ll reach the North Pole and Santa can take me to see Grandpa. Grandpa always said Santa is a good person. I think if I go see him, he’ll take me.”

  Raymond instantly feels a sense of liberation by telling someone what he is planning on doing.

  “Kiddo,” says Uncle Delaney softly and takes a slow deep breath. “Santa doesn’t exist.” He says quickly.

  Raymond smirks. He knew better than to listen to people say things like this, after his talk with his grandfather. Raymond didn’t feel like going through a debate on the existence of Santa, so he lets Uncle Delaney delicately explain that Santa doesn’t exist. And, Raymond plays along. Inside, Raymond smirks at Uncle Delaney’s ignorance.

  What fools grown-ups can be.

  “Do you understand?” asks Uncle Delaney, as he finishes explaining.

  “It makes sense.” Raymond nods and tries to fake a brokenhearted face.

  * * *

  Raymond and Uncle Delaney walk through the front door of Raymond’s house and quickly notice how few people are left.

  “Where did you go?” asks Raymond’s mother as she moves past him to her brother, Uncle Delaney.

  She quickly wraps her arms around him and begins crying. From over her shoulder Uncle Delaney rolls his eyes up and Raymond smirks.

  Uncle Delaney consoles her, cringes and pats her on the back hoping she will let go soon.
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