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Today's Story by Patricio Maya

"I’m really much older than you think."

One Special Boy

I’ve forgotten all the kids from when I was an academic tutor, except Marty, a crazy little redheaded boy of about twelve, who was brighter than most kids but refused to do anything remotely academic. Day after day I would try shoving Algebra and Biology textbooks down his throat, but the boy would not give in. On good days he would remain silent for hours; on bad days he would fling his books away and scream until left alone.

Luckily one day—I don’t know why, maybe I was tired–I let him fool around with some cheap watercolors, while I looked for another job in the newspaper. After an hour, he showed me an incredibly expressive rendition of my face.

I could not believe Marty was capable of such art. When his mother got home, we ran to her Jaguar and showed her the watercolor. She though it was very cute and assured me Marty had never taken art classes before.

From then on, I let the boy paint, play the guitar, or watch movies—whatever he wanted, really—instead of arguing over homework. We got in the habit of taking walks around the neighborhood, during which he would come up with incredible stories; some based on reality, some made up. I couldn’t tell them apart. I didn’t care so long as the tantrums didn’t come back. And I enjoyed his company better this way. He was the most creative little creature I have ever met. His mother knew we had stopped studying, but to her keeping her boy of trouble was enough.

A few months later I landed a job at Bank of America.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell Marty so I told the mother and she told the boy. He didn’t say a word as we walked around the neighborhood. And when we passed the park, he didn’t ask me to race him to the see-saw.

I didn’t confront him because I knew you absolutely do not try to pry Marty. He would have to talk to me, or else we’d have a silent good-bye. It worked. Marty grabbed my hand just outside his house and made me promised I would not be a snitch. We sat down on the porch.

“I have a confession to make, Mr. Davis,” he said, lowering his eyes, “I’m not who you think I am.”

I looked at my watch. His mother would be home soon.

“I’m really much older than you think. I was born in 1914, in Paris, as Pierre-Francoise Lel·t. Back then I was an only child like now and got bored all the time, like now. Well, I had a really good friend in the neighborhood. His name was Julian and he was my good friend because we practically grew up together. In 1926, Julian and I were twelve years old and my French mother allowed me to go over to Julian’s house after school so long as I finished my homework. Well, that day I felt particularly lazy. You know how I get, Mr. Davis.

I hopped on my bicycle and went to Julian’s. His parents weren’t home and he showed me some new records they had gotten from America. It was some loud stuff with trumpets. The maid’s daughter, an Algerian girl a couple years older than us, came into the room and said she had stolen some liquor from her mother. She would share it if we let her listen to records with us. She knew stuff like dancing and how to inhale smoke. We drank the whole bottle and smoked many cigarettes, but then it got dark and we said good bye. We talked about to doing it again next week.

I was riding my bike home when a big truck ran me over from head to toe. It might have been my fault. In any case, I felt no pain, just blackness for a while. Floating up was best of all—birds try to keep up with you and cool clouds splash on your face. You don’t need a sweater up there because it’s always warm and it doesn’t rain because you’re above the clouds. The angels are kind of funny. They don’t really talk. Just do funny dances and songs.

I asked the head angel if I could talk to God, but God wouldn’t see me. I yelled and cried every day until given an appointment. They gave in. God does not have a beard, wings or white ropes, like you might think. He is this corn-fed French-Canadian in a cheap blue suit. The tiny angels opened a big glass door and I walked up to his gilded throne, scared.

“What the hell’s your problem?” God said in a shrilly voice.

The angels looked at me with their small eyes, expecting an apology. I kept quiet.

“I know what you want, Jean-Francois. “I’m going to send you back to earth to get more experience. You must learn to appreciate the goodness of heaven,” God said.

I apologized under my breath, but God didn’t hear me. He took his fat hand from his rosy cheek and pointed down. The clouds twirled below us as the tiny angels flew away like frightened pigeons. I could see the buildings, but not people. Everyone looks the same from up there, Mr. Davis. And, you know what, time is so weird. A few weeks up there turned out to be seventy years on earth. My current mom gave birth to me in 1996, you can ask her.

I grew up not knowing about my former life until a few days ago. Remember the day I got suspended from school? That night God appeared in my dreams and told me not to screw up my second chance or he’d have to bring me back up again. I really, really, want to do things right this time. I would hate going up to our fat God and his tiny angels again. Only you know me, Mr. Davis. Only you can help me.”

His small hands clenched to my arm. He was trying not to cry.

“Don’t worry. I will help you, son,” I said, and gave him a hug, though, really, I had no idea how I could, or even if I should.

The Jaguar pulled in the driveway. Marty reminded me not to say anything to his mother and ran in the house. His mother looked tired. I asked if I could talk to her inside the Jaguar. She said to make it quick because she had to get ready for something. The car smelled liquorish and new and so did she. I told her. She said her son had abandonment issues because of her husband or something and offered me an extra pay check if I would visit Marty once in a while, not as a tutor, but as a friend. I turned it down. She said it was quite okay, that she and her son would be fine without me and asked me to get out of her car. She drove away instead of going in the house. I never saw Marty or his mother again, though I heard he was held back a grade and refuses to see another tutor. My job at Bank of America isn’t half as strange, but at least I get health benefits–a must at my age.


Patricio Maya is a writer and cultural critic from Ecuador. Links to his writing can be found at  patriciomaya.com .


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