Bad Boy Bikes
Shes a girl, Ramiro. Im not doing anything wrong by having her dress like a girl. Sofia had made up her mind; Juan would have to wear dresses.
I know that, Sofia, but even little girls who like wearing dresses dont have to wear them everyday. Look at Oliviashe wears pants and shorts once in a while. Ramiro tried his best to convince his wife.
But Erica has a lot of catching up to do. She went straight from wearing diapers to her cut-offs. What other little girl does that? What kind of mother allows such a thing? Shell get used to itshes young. She needs to get used to it, Sofia said while her spoon clanged against the sides of her cup of coffee; half regular instant mixed with half decaf.
Juan was stretched out on the living room floor, his eyes focused on the dancing and singing figures on TV, but his ears stayed attentive to his parents conversation, which floated towards him from the kitchen. His parents always had their important conversations in the kitchen, letting their coffees get cold as they talked out solutions, even if it was evening time and they would be going to bed soon.
And the good thing is that we dont have to spend any money on this. Erica can wear Olivias hand-me-downs. Otherwise all those dresses will just go to waste.
Juan took his eyes off the television, looked towards the kitchen and waited to hear his dads response, but all he heard was chairs scraping, water running and feet walking out of the kitchen. Juan lifted himself and punched away at the cushions when he heard the kitchen door slam. His dad had left, probably to work on the car or fix up the garage, without having fixed things with Sofia. What would he do if his dad couldnt even change things? Then it came to him as quick as a commercial. He was going to be the baddest wrestler that Culver Avenue had ever seen. Blue Demon would be proud.
The next morning Sofias alarm clock went off at 6 oclock as it did every weekday morning. Juans body, wrapped in the sheets and drowsy with sleep, jolted awake when he heard his dads electric razor go off in the bathroom. Juan trembled a bit at the sound of his mom closing cabinets and slamming the refrigerator door as she packed Ramiros lunch.
A dress was waiting for Juan somewhere outside his room, and not knowing where it was made his skin feel hot, and his breath escape in progressively bigger bursts from his pasty mouth. He thought of using the my tummy has torsones excuse so he could stay home from school, but he remembered he had planned Operation Blue Demon and decided to wait. He wasnt going to strike first, just in case his mom had forgotten about the whole wearing-a-dress-to-school thing. By the time the kettle started whistling, Sofia was already in Juan and Olivias room calling them to get up. Sofia wiggled and tugged at Juans toes and ran her hand through Olivias hair before heading back into the kitchen to start breakfast for the family as she did every morning.
Juan put one foot on the ground, then let the rest of his body roll out of bed, landing in a crouched position. He scoped out the area under the bed. His eyes scanned the floor from the headboard to the foot of the bed. He saw his Big-Foot shaped slippers, a crayon and lint bundles, but no sign of ruffles. Juan leaped up and checked behind the bedroom doorOlivias robe swung from its hook, but no ruffles. He opened the door all the way, stepped into the hallway, leaned to the right surveying the action from his parents bedroom, and then leaned the other way, down the stretch of hall that led to the kitchen. He then proceeded in his wrestlers strut, hand poised like lobster claws and his legs spread a bit, giving him a bounce in his step. He was ready to catapult out of the way and roll himself to safety if he had to. The smell of coffee interlaced with cooked bacon lingered in the kitchen. Juan saw the dry, crispy strips on the table and said, Ay Mom, I want cereal.
You have to fix it yourself, Ericayou know where the milk is. Olivia, you have to pay attention in class, no more calls from your teacher that you talk in class. You hear me?
But he doesnt call on me even if I raise my hand!
Other kids have to participate too, let others show they are smart too. Ramiro, your lunch is ready.
Juan smelled the cinnamon-mixed-with-lemon scent of his Dads cologne before he heard the hammering of his dads work boots on the hardwood floor.
Señoritas, have a good day. Ramiro grabbed his Tupperware-packed lunch and thermos filled with burning coffee and headed to work.
Sofia disappeared down the hallway and left the two kids to finish their breakfast. Juan finished breakfast first and as he headed to his room to get dressed for school, he gagged as the sweetness from the cereal, caught in the back of his throat, mixed with the smell of his dads cologne. But he almost vomited when he found Sofia in his room, waiting for him with dress in hand. She stood in the middle of his room waving a floppy dress like a red cape before a bull. When Juan saw the dress he charged out of the room and away from Sofia.
Olivia! Come over here and help me with your sister.
Olivia, mouth full of toast and wearing a milk moustache, ran into the living room and chased after Juan. Screams, pursuits around the living room and tears soon filled the house. Juan circled around the couches, wiggled away from lunging arms, ran into his room and crawled under his bed. Juan didnt exactly put his wrestling plan to use, but he did run the hardest he ever had. He screamed in between deep breaths that he wouldnt come out from under the bed until Sofia promised not to put the dress on him. Sofia looked at the strawberry-shaped digital clock on Olivias night table and realized her carpool would be honking outside in five minutes and she was still in her pjs, as were Olivia and Juan.
Juan had so much energy he only had to hide under the bed from his mom for three mornings in a row before Sofia gave up. She couldnt afford to make Juan wear a dress to school: Her pay was docked each of those days she was late because of Juans successful Operation Blue Demon. Not to mention that Sofia also didnt have the patience to explain her tardiness to her boss at la fabrica de coser, a boss who didnt understand enough Spanish to be sympathetic to the troubles of a misbehaving daughter.
Ah! Pero eso si Erica los domingos no te me escapas. You will wear a dress to church.
Juan did wear a dress to mass. He wasnt happy about the decision, but he couldnt run away from his mom on Sundays cause then his dad would have to get involved. And sometimes when his dad got involved that meant if he lost his patience the belt would get involved too. Juan rarely got a whoopin, but the clinging of the metal belt buckle was enough to make Juan act right. So Juan accepted those dress-wearing Sundays. Hed take a dress-wearing Sunday over wearing a dress to school any day; he felt safer at church than at school. None of the kids were brave enough to make fun of him at church, not with Diosito and their moms, with fingers ready to pinch delicate skin, watching. Besides, dress-wearing Sundays were only half as long as a regular school day, and dress-wearing Sundays only happened once a week.
On Sundays Culver Avenue cleaned up just as well as its residents. The street was void of noise and glowed with Sunday cleanliness. Folks were either sleeping away a cruda or showered and shiny in their pressed Sunday clothes on their way to early mass or to run errands. The only people who wandered through the street were those that drove in from other neighborhoods to attend the Hub City Baptist Church planted in the middle of Culver Avenue. These folks filled Culver Avenue with their cars, conversations and smells. The Hub City Baptist Church members dressed differently than the parishioners at Our Lady of Grace Catholic church, where Juan and his family attended service. The Hub City Baptist Church members wore so many bright colors: purple suits, red suits with red shoes, blue ties with orange spots, and yellow strappy dresses. The little girls wore dresses with ruffles that looked like layers on a cake, and shiny shoes. They wore their hair in a bunch of curly braids, held tight with different colored barrettes that would slap them in the face when they ran.
The viejita Hub City Baptist Church members wore hats. Some hats had flowers and birds on them, some were small like the size of their heads and others were big, like a charro hat. Some hats had a net on them, a screen that only the viejitas could see out of but which one couldnt see in. The Hub City Baptist Church congregation filled the street with the smell of soap, cocoa butter a scent stronger than Doña Rigobertas flower garden in its prime bloom. They smiled at each other, slapped each others hands, hugged and kissed as they greeted one another. Some of the people wore golden robes that hung below their knees with wide sleeves that covered up their hands, and they lined up along the churchs steps. Theyd stomp their feet, some would clap their hands or shake a tambourine hidden under their sleeve while others tuned their voices.
As soon as the entire Hub City congregation was in the church, the street quieted down. Juan liked to stand behind the bushes of his front yard and watch the people pass by, all the while wishing his church was as festive as the Hub City Church. On Sundays Juan didnt worry so much about running into Paco or El Jokerthey were never around that early. He tried not to worry about those boys at all because Marisol had told him not to. By the time Juans family stepped outside to leave for church, all the Baptist churchgoers had entered the building and Juan walked away, satisfied that he got to see the happy people enter their church.
It was only one hourmass was never longer than an hourbut Juan still fidgeted the entire time he had to sit on the pew. He pulled at the puffy sleeves of his dress until his mom gave him a quick pinch on his arm that settled him down. Juan rose, sat and kneeled when the priest said to. But neither Diosito, the angels, nor Sofia knew that Juan wasnt thinking about la palabra de Dios. Juan was thinking about freeing himself from the dress. The dress was thick and made him feel hot, as hot as the place the priest said bad people supposedly went toan underground furnace. Juan imagined he was a cowboy and had been tied up with The Villains itchy rope. Just like he remembered from the Lone Ranger reruns. Thats what the dress felt like. Juan had seen his mom use the same type of thin itchy rope to tie up the boxes full of old clothes that they sent to his cousins in Tijuana. The cousins he didnt know but always heard of how poor they were.
Juan had to be quite slick during his imaginary escapes, though, because he knew Diosito and the angels were looking down at him from their window posts, and he didnt want to be punished by them. He didnt want any of them to know that every time the priest called for the congregation to he kneel, Juan pretended the backrest of the pew in front of him was really a giant boulder he was hiding behind to avoid being spotted by The Villain.
One time Juan pretended he had special powers; laser eyes, to be exact. While the priest preached the word of the Lord, Juan stared at his dress for as long as he could. His eyes got wide and he didnt blink. He stared some more and waited for the dress to shrivel off his body the way the ants shriveled up when he shined a needlepoint ray of light at them through his magnifying glass. He stared hard until his eyes burned and spilled over with tears.
His trance was suddenly broken when an older señora leaned into him, ran her shaky fingers through Juans hair and whispered, No llores niña, Diosito siempre esta con nostros. Juan looked up at la señora with his tear-streaked face. Unsure of how to respond to her, he blinked away a few tears and mumbled, Amen?
The family arrived home after lunch so stuffed that not one more bean could fit in their stomachs. Juan begged his mom to unbutton his dress. He burrowed through his drawers until he found a pair of his shorts, faded from one too many talladas against his moms washboard, a just-as-faded T-shirt, and crawled under the bed in search of his sneakers. He loved his sneakers. Their rubber soles felt gummy like a bike tire, but he liked them more because all he had to do was slip them on and tighten them with the Velcro snaps. T-shirt, shorts and sneakersthese were his play clothes. In them, he felt he could move as freely as Plastic Man. Now that Juans bike was disabled, Juan played more games like Superheroes and fought off hundreds of invisible villains to save the world. He also got so good at marbles he even had the little grape peel-looking patch of skin on his thumb to show for it. That and a collection of cat eyes, the spiral marbles he won during playing for keeps games against Carlo, Javie and El Pecas.
Heee-Yaaah! Juan ran full speed from his bedroom, rushed through the living room, straight towards the screen doorconnecting a sharp kick to itand exploded outdoors. Slam!
Erica! Sofia retorted along with the door. What have I told you about that door?
Juan chopped and kicked a few more invisible ninjas, then paused to say, Sorry Mom. Se me olvido.
Juan karate-chopped the air, at times throwing his body back to avoid hits by the Ninja Stars flung at him.
Hee-yah! karate chop. Hee-yah! Riding stance one last Hee-yah and Juan took off running
Pow! He unleashed a kick in midair and tumbled to the grass. Juan stretched out on his front lawn to catch his breath. The sun was bright and there was a breeze that swept over his already sweaty face. Then he heard a familiar hummingalmost like the sound of a hummingbird or a fly flying close to ones ear but thicker. The noise sounded as if it were coming from his backyard. Juan got up and walked in the direction of the humming, his hands stiff in a defensive karate position in case this was an enemy trap. He looked around his backyard and saw the tangled water hose, a Barbie dolls head with a frizzy Mohawk, and a Rubiks Cube with half of the colored stickers missing, but nothing that would make a humming sound. When he heard the noise again he pressed his face to a hole in the wooden fence that separated his backyard from the neighbors and noticed Carlo riding a brand new bike up and down the driveway. Juan watched as dull, short, long or dark smudges appeared on the pavement each time Carlo hit the back-brakes on the bike.
Ooh, que sauve, Carlo! Juan yelled through the hole in the fence.
Its bad huh? yelled Carlo as he sped by Juans peering eye.
Look how it shines! Juans eye opened up wider each time Carlo passed by on his bike.
My brother picked it . He said it looks like a Low Rider.
Did your birthday pass? Juan wondered if Carlo had not invited him to the party.
No. I got good grades in school.
You must be really smart.
Uh-huh! yelled Carlo.
Finally Carlo stopped, short-breathed, for Juan to get a good look at the new, almost waxy bike.
Take a better look, Carlo motioned with his hand for Juan to go over.
Juan rushed to the end of the fence and tapped different slabs of the wooden fence to find the secret passageway. The loose board wiggled and Juan squeezed through to Carlos backyard.
Whoa, its even prettier up close! Juan clasped the hand brakes hard, twirled the petals, ran his finger over the chain links and finally tapped the back tire with his shoe.
Hey, you wanna take a ride? Carlo gave Juan a slanted look.
Juan gripped the handlebars with one hand and placed the other on the bike seat. My mom said I couldnt ride bikes anymore. After my accident, he said giving a disappointed bite to his lower lip.
I dont know, but it already feels like forever. You think Ill forget how to ride one?
Was it easy for you to learn? asked Carlo.
I fell a few times but .
Then maybe itll also be easy for you to forget.
Oh, no! Maybe I should sit on it so I can at least remember how it feels. Juan jumped on the bike.
He listened as Carlo recounted every detail about the bike. The bike was burgundy, had twenty-inch spoke wheels, front and rear brakes, and gears for easier pedaling. What Juan loved most about the bike was the way it shimmered in the sun, as if someone had cracked a snow globe over it, coating the bike with tiny sparkles.
Not even Maggys brothers have bikes that look like this. Huh Juan?
Nope. They only ride on bikes with messed-up paint and no seat.
That day Juan and Carlo reached an agreement; they even locked their pinkies to seal their promise. The two agreed that Juan would not take a spin on the bike, but whenever Carlo needed to catch his breath, Juan could sit on the bike so he could at least feel the sturdiness of the seat, and the spring in the perfectly pressurized tires. When Juan got off the bike his tummy felt funny, like a little tornado twirling deep in his belly and his legs twitched a bit. The only other time he recalled feeling like this was after his accident, when he saw the way his bike got mangled under the bus stop bench. Luckily sitting on Carlos bike calmed the tornado in his belly.
Juan didnt get as many chances to sit on the bike as he anticipated when he first made the deal with Carlo. Carlo was too excited about his new bike and rode it often, showing off the new tricks to the other kids. Plus, Carlo rode his bike in the front of his house and the sidewalks where Sofia, if she were to sit down in her living room, could see. Juan couldnt risk being caught by his mom. Sofia promised Juan that if she caught him on a bike she would ground Juan until his quinceañera. The thought of an eight-year sentence of wearing dresses and being bike-less made Juan feel sick to his stomachthe way the smell of his dads cod liver oil tonic made him feel.
One afternoon, Juan finished his schoolwork and went outside to shoot some marbles. He had just spread his collection out on a patch of dirt when he heard the familiar hum of Carlos bike. Juan ignored the soundhe didnt feel like hearing Carlo talkand continued to position his marbles for a practice game. It was no use; each time Juan tried to shoot his marble either the humming of the bike or the screeching of the tires broke his concentration. Not able to resist, Juan rushed over to the peephole and left his marbles lined up like troops in the dirt.
Hey Carlo are you gonna need a break soon? Juan yelled. His lip twitched as he squinted through the peephole.
Yeah, Im getting too hot now. Come over.
Juan wiggled his way through the secret passageway and crossed over to Carlos driveway. He saw the bike already leaned on its kickstand waiting for him. He rushed over to it and stopped mid-tracks.
Hey! What happened to it?
Oh, my uncle Big Rob got drunk. He tried to ride my bike and broke the seat-pole in half.
Aw man! Thats messed up.
Yeah. So I have to use it like that till my dad buys me a new seat. Carlo held up the seat with half of the seat-pole still attached to it to show Juan what a 250-pound body could do when topped onto a kids bike.
Now your bike looks like one of those bikes the boys with the hairnets and tattoos ride. Juan pointed at the seat-less bike.
Its a bad-boy bike! cheered Carlo holding the seat like an Olympic torch.
Yeah, a bad-boy bike with the glittery paint and all.
You have to take a spin, Juan its a bad-boy bike.
Juan thought about it for a few seconds. His mouth watered and hands got sweaty at the thought of riding Carlos bike. Finally, he got on the bike. Juan couldnt go very fast; he wasnt used to a bike without a seat. But he peddled fast enough up and down the driveway to feel the air in his face and his tummy loop as if he were going down an elevator.
Woo-hoo, go Juan! Carlo cheered and jumped up and down still holding the bike seat in one hand.
Hey lets see if I can still do tricks. Check this out. Juan peddled faster to gain speed, leaned forward, gripped his hands tight on the handlebars and prepared to lift the front wheel off the ground for a wheelie when the front wheel wobbled as it rolled over a rock. It was a tiny rock, but Juan, perhaps a bit out of practice, struggled to maintain his balance when his right foot slipped off the pedal. Juan and the bike came to a sudden halt. After a few seconds of silence Carlo dropped his torch and ran towards Juan and the half-leaning bicycle.
Juan! ¿Juan que paso?
Juan didnt answer. His face was mashed; his right foot was on the ground and his left still glued to the pedal. He slowly lowered the bike onto the cement and sat next to it, his legs pressed tightly together. All he could think about was the stinging and thumping feelings between his legs. The stinging got sharper, like a pin going into his skin, and the thumping was so loud he could hear it between his ears. He felt a warm trickle sliding down his thighs. Carlo grabbed Juan by the hand, helped him up and walked him home. Neither one said a word from the short walk, out the driveway and to the right, to Juans house.
Erica mija, make sure you wipe your feet before you go in the house so your mom wont get upset. Ramiros voice traveled up through the motor and out the hood of the car he was fixing.
Okay Don Ramiro, answered Carlo.
Carlo knocked on the door until Juans mom came out. She didnt know what was wrong with Juanhis clothes were intact, hair was in place and there were no signs of bleeding.
Se callo, was all Carlo said when Sofia asked what happened. Sofia sent Carlo home and walked Juan to his room.
It hurts, Mom! was the first thing Juan said when Sofia kneeled before him. These were the first words Juan uttered since he got hurt. Juan couldnt tell his mom what was the matter with him, even though his tears were stuck in his ducts his frame shook with a dry llanto as soon as Sofia wrapped her arms around him.
Where baby? Show me where it hurts.
Down there in my privates... It hurts, said Juan in a watery voice.
Sofia propped Juan on his bed and undressed him. She didnt take Juan to the hospital; she looked at his cut, no bigger than a sunflower seed, and with shaky fingers rubbed sticky globs of white ointment on Juans vagina.
Ya vez lo que pasa cuando me desobedeses. I told you no more bikes. Sofia dabbed away.
Erica is always getting into trouble, Mom, said Olivia from out of nowhere.
Ya se, hija. Erica, youre gonna be fine. This ointment will make you feel better. See there, it doesnt hurt, there was only a tiny bit of blood. Sofia rubbed Juans hand and kissed his forehead.
Its because she plays like a tomboy.
Olivia, dont call your sister that. And where did you learn those words?
Thats what the other kids say she is.
Juans tears continued to flow; he couldnt see much except his moms shadowy figure hovering over him. He couldnt see Olvias face from where he lay either, but he imagined her standing perfectly straight, arms crossed over her chest, pressing her index finger into the middle of her glasses as she talked. Juan never saw Olivias glasses slip off her nose, but Olivia constantly pushed them up with her finger anyway.
Maybe we should lock her up till her skin turns pale. Olivia said and let out a carcajada that to Juan sounded more like the hiccups than an actual laugh.
Juan ignored Olivias taunts, but more than anything he wished he could ignore the throbbing, which felt a lot bigger than a seed.
Olivia what nonsense are you saying, let Erica rest and dont bother her. Mija youre gonna stay in bed for the rest of the day. We wont tell your father about this. Youre fine.
That was all Sofia said to Juan. But Juan wanted to hear sana, sana colita de rana, those magic words that his mom sang to him to scare away the pain. Those words that were more potent than any sticky white ointment and silenced the pain no matter how big or small the cuts were. Even though it was light outside Sofia tucked Juan in burrito-style between his blankets and left him there to fall asleep. But Juan could not sleep. The pain combined with the fear of not knowing what was going to happen to him now after this accident played over and over in his head like an all-day telethon: Was he ever going to ride a bike again? Was he still going to run as fast as he thought he did? Would it hurt when he bent down to play marbles in the dirt? Was this a punishment form Diosito for playing imaginary games in church? Juan wasnt sure, but he crossed himself and said an Our Father.
Juan had never gotten a cut or scrape in a place he couldnt see. He kicked off the blankets and took his bottoms off. He opened his legs wide, stretched them wider than he had ever stretched and bent his torso forward. He saw all the outer parts of his vulva but no red, bloody scrapes. Juan thought about touching himself to search for his cut but was stopped by a tiny voice, which sounded a lot like Sofias, whispering that little girls dont touch themselves down there. How was he to know when the cut healed?
Later that night when everyone in his house was asleep, Juan thought about his cut, the pain now sharper in the darkness of the night. Soon, Juan heard voices outside. It was the Hub City Baptist Church parishioners attending choir practice. It happened every Wednesday: The choir got together late in the evenings, sometimes as late as nine at night, to rehearse for the Sunday service. Once the practice got started the conversations turned into songs sung by strong voices and accompanied by the band: drums, bass, guitar and tambourines. The Hub City Church doors were kept open through the entire practice session, except when it rained. The sounds poured out and slipped in through a crack in Juans bathroom window. As the choirs voices rang full of glory and shook their tambourines, Juan imagined their robes flowing like sheets in the wind. Juan closed his eyes and pretended the sound of the tambourines was really the sound of stars jingling with the wind. As the sounds traveled to Juans ears, his unfavorable thoughts traveled out his mind. The more the stars jingled, the more Juan got the urge to use the bathroom.
Great is your mercy towards me
Your love and kindness towards me the choir sang.
Juan danced around to the sounds of the choir as he dropped his pajama bottoms then sat on the toilet.
Your tender mercy I see, day after day
Juan let the stream of pee rush out as usual
Forever faithful towards me
You are always providing for ME!!!
He immediately stopped.
Great is your mercy towards me
Great is your grace continued the choir.
Juan jumped off the toilet and released a loud scream at the same time; the tambourine slapped harder against the open palm and the band stroked, beat and plucked faster and louder to keep up with the voices full of peaks and vibrations. Juan was bent over on the floor. His heart raced and his breath came in spurts as if he had just sprinted. No one in his house heard him scream. His mom hardly ever heard anything over Ramiros motorcycle-like snores, and Olivia only woke up when she was lightly shaken. Plus Juans screams had coincided with the peak of the song in which all the altos and sopranos joined in a powerful unison, which helped concealed his grito.
Those few drops of urine felt like lemon juice poured on his open wound. His cut didnt feel like the size of a sunflower seed, the way his mom had described it. It felt like it started in his cosita and traveled all the way up into his guts. His heart beat super fast and all the tiny hairs on his arms stood at attention as he made his way back onto the toilet bowl to release the rest of the pee that still pressed against his belly. He let out un chorrito, and then waited for the stinging to stop, then otro chorrito until all the pee came out. It took him longer to pee, one whole gospel song, but it hurt less than if he let the stream rush out at once. That was the longest Juan had ever taken to pee. He felt tired when he was done. He crawled back into his bed held the blanket tight around him and fell asleep.
The next morning Juan woke up very sore and tired from the late night. At school, he tried not to move too much. He even avoided drinking too much juice or water so he wouldnt have to go pee as much. Nothing seemed fun to him, during the morning recess Juan went straight to the pick-up spot. This was the spot where his entire class had to line-up so that the teacher, Mrs. Scott, could walk them back to the classroom. He sat down on the black hardtop. The day was cloudy and a bit chilly. Juan pulled his sweater around him. Some of the girls from his class saw him sitting down and called him over to play hopscotch with them. Juan thought about it for a while. He was about to get up then he saw one of the girls hop along on the first, second, third square and then land with her legs open wide on the double squares, the fourth and fifth ones that stood side by side. He changed his mind.
I dont feel too good, he told the girls and sat back down on the pick-up spot for the rest of the recess break until the teacher picked the class up at the pick-up spot.
Now class, Mrs. Scott stood in front of the classroom signaling for attention with her long crooked index finger in the air as the students rummaged through their desks in search of their paper clocks. Again, what do we get if we line up one minute after another until we have sixty minutes all stacked up?
One hour! replied the entire class.
Juan watched as drops of rain beaded up on the window, raced down in a curvy path, and then splattered against the bottom of the windowpane.
Who can show me, using their clock, what time school ends?
Three kids, including Juan, shot their hands in the air. Mrs. Scott pressed her chin to her chest and looked over the rim of her glasses at the raised hands around the room. Erica, go ahead.
Can I use the bathroom?
It is May I use the restroom. Yes, you may, said Mrs. Scott.
Juan got up and walked to the restroom. He looked underneath the stall doors for feet to make sure no one else was there. Once he was sure he was alone, he walked into one of the stalls. Juan did not sit on the toilet seat because his mom told him public restrooms were all dirty and full of germs. Instead he balanced himself on his tiptoes and held on to the wall. He did the squirt-by-squirt peeing technique hed used the night before, only this time it was a bit more challenging since he had to keep his butt hovering above the toilet seat.
Ouch, ouchee! said Juan when he released the first few drops. He breathed, waited for the stinging to stop, balanced himself, then released a few more drops and breathed some more.
Oucheeee, it hurts. He emptied just about half his bladder when he heard footsteps approaching.
Erica, are you in here?
Juan froze in his squatting positionbare butt suspended in mid-air. It was Jenny Perez. Many students in the class, sometimes including Juan, didnt like Jenny cause she always had all the answers. Every time Ms. Scott asked for a little helper Jenny raised her hand. She never waited to see what Mrs. Scott needed the little helper for, she just volunteered anyway.
Erica, the teacher sent me to see if you were okay.
Im okay. Juan steadied his breathing and used the walls to suspend himself. She said youre taking too long, Jenny said from outside the stall.
Juan could see Jennys feet through the opening at the bottom of the stall door. She stood right in front of the stall he was using.
Can you just tell her Im almost done?
She told me wait so we could walk back to class together.
Okay. Im coming. Juans breathing sped up. He still had a half-full bladder and feared Jenny would notice something was wrong once she heard Juans squirt-pause technique. Jenny tapped her ballerina-like shoe on the tile floor and waited. He closed his mouth, held his breath and let the rest of the urine flush out of him in a fiery gush. At the same time, he screamed under his breath.
Erica? Whats that noise? Jenny approached the stall.
No! Dont open the door, stupid! Juan screamed as he struggled to pull up his pants and underwear at the same time.
Im telling Mrs. Scott that youre coming on your own, Jenny said and ran out.
Things seemed normal by the time Juan walked back to his room 6. He rummaged through his desk in search of a pencil without a broken lead so he too could start on his assignment, but Mrs. Scott called, Erica, can I see you for a minute?
Juan glanced over at the third row from the right, where all the Ps and Rs sat, where Jenny Perez sat. She had tattled. Juan knew it cause Jenny was the only one who did not look up when Mrs. Scott asked to see him.
Erica, is your tummy okay? You took a while in the restroom. Mrs. Scott used her softest indoor voice with Juan.
The throbbing, burning sensation and having called Jenny stupid ran through Juans mind as he stood before Mrs. Scott. My stomach hurt a little, he finally said.
Do you want to go to the nurses office?
Juan shook his head.
Are you sure?
Yes, Mrs. Scott.
Erica, Jenny also told me you called her stupid. Is this true?
It was an accident. I didnt mean to, Mrs. Scott, Juan said, looking directly at his teacher. At the way her eyes bounced back and forth as she looked at him and how the tiny bags under her eyes looked like miniature pillows.
You know my rules for all the students of room 6 . We dont call each other out of our name. Mrs. Scott looked at Juan with raised eyebrows.
It was an accident.
Mrs. Scott told Juan he had to write standards for using bad words and disrespecting a classmate. On top of his regular homework, he had to write the sentence, I will not call my classmates out of their name two hundred times even if his wrist started to feel like jelly, and take it to class the next day.
Juan didnt write the standards. He didnt write the sentence even once. The next day in class when Mrs. Scott asked him for the assignment, he said, It was an accident. Mrs. Scott was not happy, she didnt like it when students were defiant, and she punished Juan.
Because Juan never wrote a single line of the two hundred standards, he went a whole week of standing on the pick-up-spot both during morning and lunch recess. He was not allowed to play any games. The first day of his punishment, Jenny Perez and her group of friends passed by the pick-up spot locked elbow to elbow. They walked like some little damas taking a walk along the lake, all slow with languid steps, all they needed were some parasols. Jenny and her friends they snickered and pointed at Juan, one of them yelled out, “Don’t open the door, stupid,” and then they took off running and laughing loudly. They fled quickly, the way packs of pigeons break into flight when frightened.
Juan didnt get sad, he was happy to stand on the line and not worry about his cut.
Hey Juan, can you help with the ball? Carlo chased after the orange kick-ball that headed straight for Juans feet as he stood on the pick-up spot. Juan stuck his left foot out and stopped the rolling ball.
Sucks that you cant play, huh?
Yeah, but at least my wrist doesnt hurt from no stupid standards.
Yeah, stupid standards. I gotta go back to the game. Carlo picked up the ball and bounced his way back to the kickball field.
It took more than a week of no recess for the thumping and the stinging in Juans privates to go soft like his breathing and still a few more days for things to feel the way they were supposed to when he peed.
For once, not doing his work, not doing what he was told, was the best thing he couldve done. As much as he loved playing kickball and competing against the other first grade classes, he didnt feel sad for not being able to play. Juan stood proudly on the pick-up spot. He had a legitimate reason for not being able to play games with the rest of the kids. The entire class heard about how he called Jenny stupid and every one of his classmates was present when Mrs. Scott sentenced Juan to a whole week of standing on the pick-up spot. The truth was that Juan had a legitimate reason all along. It was a private reason, one he felt even when he didnt have to go pee, but now his reasons were acceptable and public.