by Lisa Ko
Brian knew he
was busted the day the new kid arrived in school.
Julio, the new
kid, didn’t appear to be much of a threat to anyone else. Number one, he was a
fat kid. Number two, he was brown and foreign. These things did not work in
your favor in 1987 in Warwick, New Jersey. What saved Julio’s fat, foreign
ass from becoming an instant pariah was that he was also a big kid, shaped
like a cement block, his soft, meaty arms straining the seams of his red
short-sleeved Polo shirt. Julio’s spiky black hair was slicked back with gel,
and even one month into the seventh grade, a shade of a mustache bloomed, a
darkened caterpillar on his tanned upper lip. The head-to-toe Polo wardrobe
saved him as well, although it was walking a thin line to dress like the
crown prince of Bahrain at Warwick Junior High.
Brian could not
remember there being any other foreign students at school before, except for
Sami and Ginger, whose family had moved to New Jersey from Nigeria and
attended Warwick Elementary for three months in the second grade before
moving to live with distant relatives in the Midwest.
Julio’s family was
filthy rich. Or they used to be filthy rich, back in Manila, where Brian’s
parents had also grown up. The way Julio told it, his family, the Mercados of
Mercado Shipping International Corporation Incorporated, were so badass they
lived in a gated compound surrounded by armed guards. Julio’s driver took him
to school every day in the family’s black Mercedes 500SL. That’s the way it
was done in Manila, he told Benny Kaufman and Shawn Oberhaus and Greg
Napolitano as they jockeyed around him at recess. Although Brian had been
hearing about the new kid all morning, Julio was not in any of his GATE
classes. GATE stood for Gifted and Talented Education. The first time that
Brian saw him was at recess.
“Get outta here,” Greg
yelled. “So they shoot you and stuff? You ever own a gun?” Shawn and Greg
jumped up and down like they were about to piss themselves.
“Oh, yeah,” Julio said. His
wore tan slacks, black leather shoes, and dark wraparound sunglasses.
“Everyone owns a gun. You’d get killed without it. My older brother, these
two guys he knew were taken hostage. A couple weeks later they found the car
dumped in this field outside the city.” Brian watched as Julio pointed his
finger at Benny Kaufman’s freckled forehead. Benny jolted. “Boom. Heads blown
The boys snickered. One
of them asked, “They eat the heads, too?”
“What?” Julio sounded
confused. “No way.”
Brian held his breath.
He crossed his fingers behind his back, twisting them around one another
tightly until it hurt. The bell rang, and he heard nothing more about Manila
for the rest of the day.
“So what do you think
of the new kid?” asked Davey Underham. They were hanging out at Davey’s house
and watching Star Trek re-runs
after school. Sometimes Brian thought about how Davey was not just his best
friend, but also his only friend. Davey’s head was imprisoned by a
complicated, steel-like structure to keep his braces aligned, and he had
zits—a recent development, although the rest of him remained stubbornly
prepubescent—but Brian wore a retainer that caused him to spray spit whenever
he spoke too fast and a thick pair of glasses that fogged up in the cold and
absolved him from playing team sports. They were the two shortest kids in
class, smaller than all the girls even, especially since the girls had grown
tall in the past year. Yet Julio, with his Filipino blood, somehow possessed
both the height and girth that Brian lacked.
“He’s going to get his ass kicked,” Brian
said. “Shawn and Greg and them are only pretending to like him. Then they’re
going to clock him.”
“Yeah,” nodded Davey.
Brian didn’t know if he really believed this himself. He crossed and
uncrossed his fingers, hoping that Greg or Benny or Shawn or anyone else in
school wouldn’t say anything to Julio about how he, Brian, had claimed to be
an expert on the city of Manila and the country of the Philippines.
The week before Julio
had showed up at Warwick Junior High, all of the kids had to do a short
speech on what they did over their summer break. Brian reported spending July
and August living with family in Manila, dodging bullets as armed guards with
matching Uzis flanked the front doors of the Manila Mall. The truth was,
Brian’s mother had not allowed him to go to the mall the last time they had
been in the Philippines. “It’s too dangerous,” she said. “This isn’t New
“The mob pretty much
runs the city,” Brian told the class in his presentation. He stood with his
back against the blackboard’s metal chalk ledge and pushed his glasses up
with his index finger. “The Filipino mob.” He echoed the phrases he had heard
his parents say. “The gap between rich and poor is extreme. It’s not like it
is in America. Here, only the really rich people have maids. In the
Philippines, if you’re just a regular person, you’ve got all these maids
working for you. The maids are just kids. Kids don’t have to go to school if
they’re poor, so they work as maids.”
everyone wanted to talk to Brian, not just Davey and the other GATE kids. In
the cafeteria, Sharon Batelli and Eddie Morrissey peppered him with
questions. What did it feel like to
have a gun pointed at your head? Did
you get to see any of the maids naked? Brian answered the questions the
best he could. He said he had a car and driver in Manila, and a gang of mob
men had chased them down, which ended up in a bloody shoot-out on a city
street. “Miraculously,” Brian said, breathless from all the attention and
surprised at his own storytelling talent, “I escaped unharmed.”
“Tell them about the
bodies,” Davey said, a thick stream of spittle dribbling out from between his
braces. Brian elbowed his friend to get him to shut up. Now he had to make up
something quick about bodies.
“Bodies?” Sharon’s nose
crinkled. “What bodies?”
“It’s just that the
neighborhood smelled really bad,” Brian said. “Then I found out that they put
dead bodies in the dump. Bodies that were kidnapped.” He paused for maximum
effect, then said the first thing that came to his mind. “After they ate
their heads in a special blood stew.”
The kids shrieked. Some
covered their mouths and made gagging noises, as if they were about to hurl.
It wasn’t as if Brian
had never been to the Philippines. He had been there twice: once when he was
five, and the summer before, when he was twelve. He barely remembered the
first trip, although his mother still liked to tell everyone about the
horrible diarrhea he had gotten from accidentally drinking a glass of tap
water. “It just kept on spraying, like a faucet!” she would say, slapping her
thighs. On the second trip, Brian and his parents stayed with his
grandparents, who lived in a one-room apartment down near Chinatown in an old
neighborhood called Santa Mesa. The buildings were squat, blacked with soot,
and throngs of school children mobbed the bumpy sidewalks.
grandparents’ apartment, a mysterious brown liquid dripped without shame from
the ceiling corners. Roaches the size of cucumbers scuttled across the screen
of the television that Brian’s parents had brought over from America, on
which Brian’s grandfather watched his soccer games at dawn before the
mandatory citywide brownouts. Brian sat on a plastic stool and ate sweaty
pieces of various tropical fruits with names he could not pronounce while his
mother fanned him with a rolled up newspaper. Sweat stains formed on his
mother’s silk tops. Twenty years in the States and she had forgotten how to
dress in the tropics.
Brian had never thought
of his family as rich, but his cousins and second cousins thought he was a
big shot. They imagined the homes in America looking like the sets of Dallas and Dynasty. When Brian mentioned that his father rode the bus to
work in Manhattan every day, his cousins asked if there were gangs on the
“Ay,” said one of Brian’s aunts. “I will pray for
your father’s safety.”
One night they had
dinner in a family compound where Brian’s parents’ friends lived. These
friends had grown up poor but were now very wealthy. Young men stood sentry
behind the compound’s barbed wire entrances checking the cars that came in
and nodding to each other as they smoked cigarettes with one hand, guns gripped
in the other. At first, seeing so many guns scared Brian. He had only seen
guns on TV and in the movies, the kinds he imagined people held and fired
every day in places like the Bronx. Inside the sprawling compound houses, the
children of Brian’s parents’ friends watched cable movies in air-conditioned
TV rooms while teenage girls, not related to the other children, dusted,
mopped, folded laundry, and chopped vegetables, lowering their voices and
scattering to the edges of the house whenever any of the senior family
members came home. That night, at their host’s dinner table, Brian asked his
mother where the girls lived and where they went to school, but she told him
to be quiet and pass the lobster.
Brian was walking home
from school when the maroon Oldsmobile slipped up next to him. It was an old
man’s car, an ungraceful boat with tinted windows. The driver’s side window
rolled inched down and Brian immediately thought he was about to be
kidnapped. According to the Warwick Chief of Police, who had done a safety
presentation in school last year, kidnapping was a common problem in small
Frantic techno music blasted through the
speakers and the air conditioner’s cool gust seeped out to the September
afternoon. A Filipino guy, high school age or a little older, was behind the
wheel. Julio sat in the passenger seat with his sunglasses in place.
“Hey brudda,” the guy
said. He wasn’t smiling.
Brian stared. In his
Sears Tuffskins, he felt his stomach slide down to his knees, as if he was
about to drop a load in his corduroys.
Julio leaned over, a
wide grin peeking out through the smoke. “Hey, you want to get in? You wanna
Brian knew he shouldn’t take
rides from strangers, but Julio was technically not a stranger.
The driver popped the
locks. “Get the fuck in the car,” he barked.
Brian obeyed. He opened
the door to the back seat and slid inside the car with his backpack on,
unsure of whether or not he wanted to commit to taking it off. The bag’s bulk
forced him to hunch forward so that his face was almost pressed against the
back of Julio’s seat. His feet could not touch the floor.
The seats were a soft
beige, leather and cool to the touch. Julio turned around to face Brian.
“Hey,” Julio said. There was a ring of sweat around his forehead despite the
climate control. “This is my brother Destino.”
“Nice to meet you,”
Brian said. From the driver’s seat, Destino responded in Tagalog. Destino
looked too skinny to be Julio’s brother. His Polo shirt was yellow, the
collar turned up. He wore his hair cropped short against a dark tan. A heavy
gold chain hung around his neck. “Oh,” Brian said. “I only speak English.” He
tried not to breathe, because he knew secondhand smoke was bad for you. But
holding his breath only gave him the hiccups.
“Shit,” Destino said.
He knocked the heel of his hand against Julio’s jaw. Julio’s head snapped
back. “I thought you said he was Filipino.”
“He is!” Julio’s
semi-whisper came out in a whine.
“My parents speak Tagalog,
but I only understand a few words,” Brian offered lamely. Crouching down, he
put the heel of his hand against his jaw and knocked it back, to see how it
would feel. His jaw throbbed in time with the music.
Destino cracked open
the window and snapped his cigarette butt out into the street. “It’s cool,”
he said, although Brian could sense he disapproved.
Mercados lived in Brian’s side of town, near Warwick’s small downtown. Brick
and vinyl sided houses were nudged up against one another. On warm weekend
afternoons fathers washed their Chevys in the driveways, dressed in cut-offs
and flip-flops. Davey and a lot of the other kids at school lived across town
in one of the more modern developments near a golf course. In Davey’s
neighborhood, no one seemed to venture outside except to get into their cars.
Destino pulled the car
into the driveway. Brian followed the Mercado brothers into a small
split-level house with a similar layout to his own, but with less furniture.
Boxes were scattered everywhere. In the living room, several frames, swathed
in plastic bubble wrap, leaned against the blank walls. A large television
set sat on top of a larger, sagging cardboard box, the corners rounded by
layers of thick packing tape. There were no calendars. Brian felt a sudden
fear at being alone with Julio and Destino. Were they luring him to their
house to kidnap him? Would Destino beat him up, or ask him to recite facts
about Manila geography to prove that his family was indeed Filipino? Julio
and Destino walked ahead of Brian into a dimly lit kitchen decorated in
peeling wallpaper with brown and yellow flowers.
A pretty middle-aged
woman with pale smooth skin and conspicuous gold jewelry sat at a round
table. He arched eyebrows gave her an expression of stuck surprise.
“Mom,” Julio said.
“This is Brian. He’s in my class at school.”
Julio’s mother smiled.
Her teeth were neat and straight. “Baby Mercado,” she said, offering Brian
her manicured hand. She smelled flowery, like a strong air freshener. “It’s a
pleasure to meet you. I’m so glad that Julio has found a friend in school.”
Brian wondered if Julio was supposed to be his friend.
“I’m going to go watch TV,” Julio
announced, and Brian stood up, trying to figure out if that was also his cue
to leave. But Baby held his wrist, her grip unexpectedly tight.
“No, stay and chat with
me a bit,” she said, as Julio padded off into the living room. Brian sat back
down and wiped his sweaty palms on the thighs of his pants.
After Destino dropped
Brian off at home, Brian asked his parents if they had heard of the Mercado
Shipping International Corporation Incorporated. According to Baby, it had
been the number one international shipping corporation in the Far East, until
bad fortune befell them and the family was cheated out of their wealth.
Brian’s mother wrinkled
her forehead, thinking. “No. I don’t think so.”
Brian’s father looked
up from the newspaper he was reading. He shrugged. “
“I guess their son
Julio is my friend from school.”
“We should invite them
over for dinner,” his father said.
His mother clapped her
hands in delight. “Yes, a dinner!” Over Brian’s protestations, she found
Julio’s phone number from a class roster. On the phone, Baby Mercado
announced that she and her sons would be delighted to come for dinner,
although The Mister, she said, was still back in the Philippines.
For days, Brian’s
mother worked in the kitchen, preparing complicated Filipino dishes that
Brian had never tasted. “They must be homesick,” she explained. “I was like
that too, when I first came here.” Brian’s parents had moved to New Jersey
from New York City when he was two years old. They were one of the first
non-white families to live in Warwick. Brian’s mother had made friends by
looking through the phone book and cold-calling the families with
Asian-sounding last names.
Although Destino had
started to pick his younger brother up from school each afternoon, pulling up
to the playground in the Oldsmobile, slowly rolling down the window and
making a show of flicking his cigarette ash onto the pavement. The kids of
Warwick Junior High stared at Destino, his car, and Julio, wearing his
signature sunglasses, lumbering into the Oldsmobile’s passenger seat to a
loud techno soundtrack. One morning, Benny Kaufman arrived at school dressed
in a olive green Polo shirt and a pair of brown sunglasses. Benny’s friends
teased him mercilessly, but Benny stood firm. By the next week, four more
boys were wearing shades on the playground.
Brian marveled at how
Julio, possibly because of his complete ignorance at the Warwick clique
system, had become, against all odds, cool. It had been that way as well with
Sami and Gigi, the foreign students from Africa. They won the kids over fast.
Being from Africa made them exotic. Sami was the funny girl who would do
anything on a dare, eating four containers of prunes from the cafeteria at
lunch to the endless amusement of her friends, although she was laughing with
them, giggling so hard she could barely keep the last prunes down. Her sister
Gigi was quieter, reading and trading comic books with Brian and Davey in the
library. Some Sundays, when his mother woke up in a bad mood and made him go
to church with her, Brian spotted the two sisters, dressed in bright yellows
and oranges, sitting with their parents in one of the back pews. He never
thought of Nigerians being Catholic, too. When Sami and Gigi left, the
classrooms grew quiet again. Even Benny and Greg and Shawn talked about how
much the girls were missed.
Brian was never again
offered a ride with Destino and Julio. Instead, he walked with Davey,
lurching beneath the weight of their oversized backpacks, heavy with the
Garfield comic books they had borrowed from the school library. Both of them
hoped that they wouldn’t get beat up on the way by eighth graders like they
did last spring. Brian went home with a bloody nose and lied to his mother
about how he had fallen prey to a vicious nosebleed after class.
While walking to school
each morning, Brian crossed and uncrossed his fingers three times, making a
silent plea to not be exposed as a fraud. A teacher or another classmate
might mention his Manila presentation while Julio was nearby, asking both of
them to elaborate on the city’s dangers. Julio and the rest of the school would
turn Brian into a laughing stock when his lies unraveled, forcing him to
admit that his tales of close encounters with dead bodies and guns had been
made up, that his knowledge of Manila barely extended beyond his
He imagined Destino
coming to get him. Everywhere Brian walked, he kept a lookout for
Oldsmobiles. “You think we eat heads?” Destino would say, his fist hanging
over Brian’s face, wound up and ready to fire. “You think we are savages? You
should be ashamed of yourself.”
was a crisp November evening when the Mercados and the Sees assembled around
Brian’s family’s dining room table. The table was set with real silverware
for the special occasion, bought half-off at Odd Lot. The group was feasting
on a mostly home-cooked meal of blood stew, lechon, and pancit noodles. What
Brian’s mother did not cook herself she purchased from the Asian supermarket
in Fort Lee and then re-heated in her own Corningware.
Mercado, wearing a tight yellow pantsuit and a polka-dotted bow in her hair,
told Brian’s mother about her face-lift. “It’s no big deal, Mona,” she said.
“You reach a certain age, everybody does it. There’s no shame. We all want to
“I would consider plastic
surgery,” said Brian’s mother. “I
hate these eye bags.” Brian squinted at his mother, trying to spot bags.
had the eyes done,” Baby said, laying each of her index fingers under each of
her eyes. “And a little bit taken out of the chin.” The fingers moved to her
chin. “The eyebrows, too.”
Baby whispered, loudly enough so that the entire table could hear. “I know a
great doctor in Hong Kong, does it all.”
father asked Destino how his family ended up in New Jersey.
not really sure, Mr. See.” said Destino. “I guess because it is close to New
York. My mother has some relatives there.”
your husband…” Brian’s father started to say, but then trailed off on
realizing he may have touched on a sensitive subject.
“He had to stay back
home for a little while. You know, business. But it’s lonely here in the
States. It’s so different than back home.” Baby looked at Brian’s mother as
if to say: You know how it feels. Brian’s mother did. She had told Brian many
times about how she had been a nanny for a rich family, then a bank clerk,
then a bank teller for a Chinese American bank in Chinatown, where her white
American boss was kind enough to eventually sponsor her for a green card.
Soon afterwards she met Brian’s father, who opened his first savings account
ever after putting himself through school at Queens College. He asked Brian’s
mother out on a date while handing her the deposit slip with his first
American paycheck from his first job that didn’t involve washing dishes,
busing tables, or cleaning bathrooms. She had been charmed by his
was silent. He ate quickly, breathing in short huffs as he mechanically
deposited noodles into his mouth. Brian picked at his food, wishing that his
mother hadn’t sat him next to Julio. What was Julio doing at his house? Brian
wished that Davey was here instead, or that he had kept his big mouth shut
and hadn’t told his parents about the Mercados in the first place.
dinner, the grown-ups settled on the living room couches to talk. “Brian,”
his mother called. “Show Julio and Destino your room.” Brian led the Mercado
brothers up the short flight of stairs and down the hall, suddenly ashamed at
how stupid his room must look. The Star
Trek posters on the walls, the stuffed animal Garfield on his bed, the
bookshelves full of science fiction paperbacks and model airplanes. Destino
picked up one of the airplanes, a replica of a German fighter plane from
World War II. “Did you make this?” he asked. Brian nodded. He watched Julio
and Destino inspect the room, inch by inch. Julio suddenly dropped down on
Brian’s bed. The plaid comforter sagged.
“What do you think
they’re talking about down there,” he asked his brother.
plastic surgery, the visas, how times were so tough now we’re struggling.” Destino
rolled his eyes. “Same old shit.”
Julio’s gray socks were now
on Brian’s comforter. His head was on Brian’s pillow. The Garfield lay
helpless and squashed beneath his shoulder.
put the model airplane down on the shelf. Brian resisted the urge to run over
and check to make sure that Destino had not bent one of the wings. “You ever
been to the Philippines?” he asked Brian.
grandparents live there,” Julio said, looking over at Brian. “Right?”
Brian nodded. “In Santa
walked over to Brian’s desk and sat on it. “That place is a shithole.
Dangerous place, right?”
dangerous,” Brian said. He felt a tinge of annoyance rise up. What right did
Destino have, calling his grandparents’ place a shithole? “I guess.”
“That’s right,” Destino
said. “We didn’t live near there, though. We lived in Greenhills. You been to
Greenhills? You need to know someone who lives there to get in.”
“I think we visited
some friends there,” Brian said. He thought of the compound, the armed
guards. There were no guards in Santa Mesa.
“You know what we used
to do instead of going to school? Play hooky and smoke crack out at my
friend’s country club.” Destino laughed. “You know what crack is, Brian?”
voice came out higher than he wanted. “Yeah.”
whistled. “Yeah,” he echoed. He shifted his weight on Brian’s desk, crinkling
the papers underneath him.
couldn’t help it. “Excuse me, Destino? Could you maybe move a bit? You’re
sitting on my homework.”
face registered genuine surprise. He lifted his right leg and slid the papers
off the desk, smoothing them down with his hand. “Sorry.”
sat up in Brian’s bed. “You always do your homework, huh.”
guess,” Brian said.
Brian didn’t want to
laugh. There was a long silence. He wondered what smoking crack felt like.
“Hey.” He pulled out the Nintendo that his parents had bought him last
Christmas and plugged it into the TV on the folding table next to his bed.
“Want to play video games?”
Julio snatched at one of the
Nintendo controls. “What games you got?” Destino grabbed the other control.
handed the box of games to Julio and sat down on the floor. He had seen the
bedrooms of his parents’ rich friends’ kids, complete with awe-inspiring
collections of games only available from Japan and Hong Kong, but he had also
caught a glimpse of the bedroom that Julio and Destino shared on Wedgewood
Avenue the afternoon he had been in their house. Two twin beds, nothing on
the walls, no blinds or curtains on the window, only boxes stacked in the
In the school cafeteria
the next day, Brian was picking at meatball heroes and fruit cocktail with
Davey when they overheard Julio retell a familiar story to a bunch of boys in
his loud, accented voice. Julio had told it at least twice before, and Brian
wondered if the other kids were getting tired of hearing variations of the
same Manila crime dramas.
“And then these two big
guys jumped out of a car,” Julio was saying. “They were after my brother
Destino, you know, because he was having beef with their friends. Destino’s
friend Manny dealt crack, and my brother was trying to help out his friend,
and the guys were carrying these huge pipes, ready to kill my brother. This
was in Tondo, this tough neighborhood in Manila. You should never go there
alone.” A gold chain, a thinner version of Destino’s, hung around Julio’s
the table, Shawn Oberhaus rolled his eyes. “That’s the same story you told
last week,” he said.
sixth and seventh periods Brian passed Julio in the hallway and nodded. Julio
gave a nod back.
A few weeks later,
school let out early one day for parent-teacher conferences. The entire
seventh grade was hyper, knowing that they would only have morning classes.
It was a mild late November day and warm enough to walk into town with only a
light jacket. Davey and Brian rushed out the door with the rest of the kids
after third period, making their way across the soccer fields towards town.
“My dad gave me five bucks yesterday for helping him rake the leaves,” Davey
said. “We can play pinball and get slices at Franco’s.”
the way to town was a small footbridge that crossed a narrow creek dividing
the soccer field from the edges of the school property. Beyond the field was
a patch of woods, marked by a dirt field lined with goose shit, gum wrappers,
and dead leaves. This was where the eighth graders had jumped Davey and Brian
heard it first. “Brian, what’s that?” Brian stopped and listened. Somewhere
nearby, a kid was getting the shit kicked out of him. He heard the rhythmic
thuds of sneaker soles against clothing and flesh, the victim’s shouts
protesting and begging the beater to stop.
Brian sprinted after
Davey through the clearing. He spotted them behind the trees. Shawn, Greg and
Benny stood in a circle, kicking a writhing figure on the ground. Brian saw
the red Polo shirt, the leather shoes sprawled in the dirt. Shawn’s sneaker
sank into Julio’s thick stomach with sickening force. What came out of Julio
was something that sounded like a dying car horn.
Davy yelled. “Run!” Brian turned and ran until his breath felt as if it was
about to give out. One of the arms of his glasses had slipped, leaving the
frames hanging crooked around his nose. He met Davey, panting, on the
sidewalk that ran around the perimeter of the woods.
“They’re clocking him,”
Davey said, as if it wasn’t obvious. He was breathing so hard he was almost
hyperventilating. “I need one of my Mom’s pills,” Davey cried.
Brian wiped his glasses on the sleeve of his
T-shirt, then re-arranged them on his face. For a moment he wondered if he
should go back into the woods to see if Julio was okay. After all, Julio had
eaten dinner at his house. Then he pictured Shawn and Greg and Benny. He
remembered the eighth graders. There were no more noises coming from the
woods. “I think we’re safe,” Brian whispered.
After three days passed
and Julio was still not back at school, Brian started to worry. Perhaps he
should say something to his mother, even suggest that she should call Baby
Mercado. He felt he could have said something, stopped Shawn and them in the
woods, although he would have gotten beat up, too. Then Julio would not be
somewhere, hospitalized or dead. Each evening, he picked up the phone while holding
the class roster with the Mercados’ number, ready to dial, but hung up
The fight wasn’t over
yet. It was Destino Mercado who had the last word, not only pulling up to the
playground in the Oldsmobile but also getting out of the car this time,
waiting for Shawn and Greg and Benny to make their way out of the building
after last period. Even though Shawn was one of the biggest kids in the
seventh grade, he was no match for Destino, a nearly grown man.
the rest of the class, Brian watched the fight from the school doors, pressed
against the building, as if the violence could be contagious. It lasted
thirty seconds at most. Brian was surprised at how easily Shawn went down,
how Benny and Greg were just afterthoughts, Destino kicking them both in the
gut and tossing them to the ground as if he were knocking over bowling pins.
And just as soon as it began, it was over. The teachers were out there
pulling Destino off, Vice Principal Esterly shouting, “Who is this person?
What the hell is wrong with you, beating up a little kid?” Shawn was lying on
the pavement, wiping the blood from his face. Vice Principal Esterly and two
teachers wrenched Destino’s arms behind his back and held him in what looked
like a bear hug. Destino lay limp against the teachers’ arms. Brian silently
begged for him to struggle and break free, to make a run for it. He could do
it. But Destino didn’t move.
“Call the cops,”
“Holy crap,” Davey
the Warwick cops pulled up, sirens blazing, Brian realized that this was the
most exciting thing to ever happen at school. People would talking about it
for months, even years. Destino was carted off in handcuffs. Benny Kaufman
managed to get himself off the playground. As the squad car drove off, he yelled,
“Pick on someone your own size.”
Shawn and Benny and
Greg would become heroes, hapless victims in the face of a psycho older
bully. None of the boys wore sunglasses anymore, and they sported their black
eyes and bruised lips like badges, pretending to protest when the girls and
teachers fussed over them.
arrest ruined the Mercados’ already slim chances of getting a green card.
When the police discovered his visitor’s visa was about to expire, they scheduled
a date for his deportation. A rumor went around the school that he had been
wanted by the law.
they left Warwick, Baby Mercado called Brian’s house. They were going to
Canada the next day, Baby told Mona. Destino was to report to the Newark
courthouse for his deportation. After she hung up the phone, Brian’s mother
burst into tears. Brian could not remember ever seeing his mother cry like
that. He stood paralyzed in the doorway of the kitchen and watched her quiver
and snivel wetly into her hands. Then he picked up a box of tissues and
handed it to her.
later, when the winter had passed and spring was almost over and there was
only one month left in the seventh grade, Brian and Davey were walking home.
“Hey, remember that guy
Julio?” Davey asked.
who had grown three-and-a-half inches since November, three-and-a-half inches
taller than Davey, thought about the Mercados every day.
“Yeah,” he said.
“So, was it true?”
Davey asked. “Were they really running from the law? Was Destino really an
ex-con? Did they get away to Canada, or did they all get deported?” Brian
shrugged. “Well, don’t you ever wonder?”
Brian had examined all of the possibilities, in
bed before he fell asleep and during particularly boring classes. In his version,
the family made it to Canada. They went underground like in the movies.
Somehow they got their papers. Julio enrolled in a school in a Toronto
suburb. Destino went to college.
returned to the Philippines against their wills. Baby Mercado reunited with
her husband, even if she didn’t love him. Julio and Destino returned to their
old lives. They were back to being just like everyone else, even if they were
never as rich as they once thought they were.
telling this to Davey.
“They were so
weird,” Davey was saying, as he kicked a pebble down the path. “Julio was so
fat and gross.”
walking, stepped up to his best friend, and stared him in the eye. Davey
backed up. His lower lip trembled.
“Shut up,” Brian
said. “Just shut the hell up.”
Ko is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She is completing a collection of
linked short stories called No Street Like Home. Visit her at incommunicado.net.