What is this about?

Payback

In hindsight it was a good lesson to learn earlier rather than later, that people who you think are your friends really are not. It was one taught quickly, too, with the slap of a hand. His teacher was Tony Sims, a ninth grader, who Bobby looked up to, being brand new to junior high as a seventh grader, which can be a lonely time and a lonelier place.

Living in the same neighborhood they’d known each other about a year. They skateboarded together. Biked together. stole shit and broke shit together. Watched TV, went to movies, argued over baseball card trades, and played on the corner vacant lot together. Their age differences mattered little on the street, but school was a different matter.

Bobby quickly realized that junior high was a lot bigger than elementary school. Everybody seemed to know everyone else, no one knew Bobby, and older students looked down on younger ones. So when he heard his name called at lunch time near the cafeteria and he turned to find Tony standing in the shade of a tree by the main building among other kids his same size, Bobby’s heart leapt. Smiling from underneath his big afro, Tony motioned for him to come over, and Bobby practically ran through the chaos of kids to them.

“Gimme five Bobby!” Tony exclaimed, holding his hand high over his head.

Bobby was thrilled and shoved his hand out palm up to receive the greating, beaming in the new-found knowledge that recognition by an older classmate was huge. And even though Tony’s hand came down hard and the collision stung, Bobbby barely felt it. A second later, the kid at Tony’s side started laughing and then Tony and everyone else in his crew followed suit.

There was a moment in which Bobby started laughing with them even though he wasn’t at all sure what was funny. But then there was a pain in his hand different from the disipating sting of the slap — something sharper and deeper and not just lingering but growing — and Bobby looked down at the end of his outstretched hand and found out what was so hilarious. Almost dead in the center of his left palm was impaled a blue bulletin board pushpin. A small rivulet of blood was already flowing from it across his life line.

Joy turning to betrayed shock, Bobby looked up Tony who seemed to tower twelve feet above him as he cringed and pointed and yelled “Oh shit!” repeatedly, alternating it with a high hyena-like cackle.

Turning his attention back to his hand, Bobby reached across with his right and yanked the pin out. Half heartedly he threw it in Tony’s direction, but Tony ducked and it sailed wide. What found it’s mark, and certainly left Tony perhaps more surprised than Bobby and certainly in greater pain was the entirely unexpected on-target punt Bobby brought immediately between Tony’s legs that immediately crumpled him to the pavement in breath-gasping agony. Somewhere in the distance, Bobby noticed that all laughter had suddenly cut off as if someone had turned a volume nob to zero. But before Bobby could follow up with the kick he wanted to bring to Tony’s head, he felt a large heavy hand on his shoulder and it was Mr. Pitman, the school security guard, who picked the flailing Bobby up and set him down about ten feet back.

With a big finger pointing in Bobby’s face Mr. Pitman instructed him not to move and he did as he was told, but by the time the security guard had turned around Tony’s friends had vanished past the crowd of students that had gathered around the scene, leaving him still curled up on the ground.