'It belongs to human nature to hate those whom you have injured.'
The wind blew at full force through my hair, the small strands grazing against my skull, making my skin itch. I pulled my head further out of the window, trying to escape the smell of nicotine that the car held, my mother just having lighted up a cigarette in the passengers' seat. The wind made a constant whooshing sound in my ear, with the help of the cars on the other side of us, and I thought this was better than the silence that currently entranced the car. As I tried to move even further out of the car as physically possible, the restraints of only the seatbelt holding me back, a smell smacked my nose and made me wrench. The sweet, sour smell of weed, fire, and burning paper. Moving my hand up, I tried to pinch my nose in an effort to make the smell disappear, and breath through my mouth, but then I tasted it, and that was worse. Not worse than holding my breath, though, I thought, and began to count the seconds that my lungs could go without oxygen, holding in the carbon dioxide that so desperately wanted to escape. Ichi . . . ni . . . san . . . yon . . . go . . . roku . . . I recited, going over the Japanese numbers in my head, trying desperately not to release my breath. As soon as I would let it go, and sucked some more of the sour air up, it would be worse than before. I knew this from experience. Shifting in my seat, I felt the slippery sensation of the fake nylon as it prevented me from successfully moving towards the window, always making my pants slip back to their previous state in the centre.
'Shura?' I heard someone call, and I reluctantly fit my head back into the car, still trying to hold my breath. 'What are you doing, Shura?' my mother asked, leaning over from the passengers' seat, cigarette hanging out of her left hand, still smoldering under the heat of the small fire trapped inside.
I let my breath out. 'Nothing, Mom. Just seeing how long I could hold my breath,' I answered, trying not to cringe when she took a drag off of her wrapped paper and blew smoke right into my face. I held her gaze for as long as I could take it, finally relenting after what seemed like forever to stick my face back into the wind, the cars still whooshing by, the scent of the nicotine riding with the wind. I wondered what it would be like if I jumped out of the car right now and followed the wind. The urges to escape suddenly caught hold of my hand, and I felt it begin inching towards the door handle. However, my conscience caught up with me and I put it back in my lap, entwining it with the other hand, feeling the roughness of my jeans. You can't do that, I told myself. No matter how much you want to, it would just end up being another one of your screw-up's. Just stay here. The smell isn't that bad. Stop being such a baby about it. Jesus Christ.
'Are you sure you're all right, Shura?' My mother was still looking at me. I suppose she had seen what my hand did. I was never good at hiding what I felt inside. So, I just covered it up with a smile.
'Fine, Mom,' I replied, straining my eyes to try and make them look bright and healthy, like they should look. 'Just thinking.' This time, my mother nodded slowly and turned back to the front of the car, looking back out at the scenery as we drove eighty-miles-per-hour on the highway, slowly reaching our destination. I looked out the window, but didn't try to put my head out again. I could just deal with the smell, no big deal. I wasn't a baby. 'Mom?' I said, hopefully looking at her, studying her face as she inhaled smoke from her cigarette, seeing her eyes glazed over as it took in its effect. She made a grunting noise, so I continued, 'Do you know how long it'll be 'til we get there?' I continued to look at her, but she didn't blink and I just figured she was stuck in a daydream. I wondered if it was anything like the one I had just had. Did she want to escape the silence by jumping out of the car, even if it might kill her? Mentally shrugging, I figured probably not. She was never one to be rash and try to escape. She would much rather have others suffer with her. At least, that's what I thought. My mother wasn't the most forthcoming person about her thoughts in the world.
My mind began to wander as I looked out the window again, unaware of where we were, but knowing we were still on the freeway. Then, my stomach made a barely audible screech, and I thought back to when we had last stopped. It was before I had gone to sleep last night, when it was still light outside. I didn't know the exact time, because the clock inside of the car was broken and kept on blinking '12:00'constantly in a dull green light. Thinking of this, I glanced at the clock after craning my neck around the drivers' side, trying not to catch the attention of Nikolai. Just taking a quick peek, I saw that the clock was smashed in, the small screen no longer there. Inside were a bunch of red and yellow wires, but the plastic was gone. I was surprised and tried to think of when that had happened. Most likely when I was asleep. Maybe Nikolai had gotten tired of the constant flashing light and punched it with his fist. That probably explained why in my dream where I was watching a fight between Nikolai and my mother, but not running like usual, which wouldn't have mattered because they didn't even notice me anyway, a band of ninjas had burst through the door making it fall down and began to whip Nikolai using their nunchaku. They had yelled in Japanese, but I didn't know what they were saying, because I only knew how to count and say yes and no. Nonetheless, they had taken Nikolai away, and one had winked at me, pointing silently to my mother, who was crying with relief on the floor. I had gone over to comfort her and she kept on thanking me for finally taking 'Kolya'—as she called him—away, and actually hugged me, which she hadn't done since I was a baby. I didn't like it so much because I wasn't a baby, but she was happy, so I let her do it. We were so content afterwards, and I would come home from school, she would be there making a snack like the other kids at school said their mother's did. Then, we got to move out of the trailer park with the men that sort of scared me—but not too much, because I wasn't a baby—and Mom had told me never to talk to. We lived in a huge house with four bathrooms and seven rooms, and I even got to sleep in my own room, which was cool. Then, I had woken up and realised that it was all a dream. It sucked that it was, but it was one of my cheery dreams, so I was okay. Nikolai didn't even start yelling at me because I was thrashing around in my sleep, either, which also meant that it was a good dream. Besides, I know that dreams don't come true.
A motorcycle zoomed past us on the freeway, and then got in front of us where there was a big space. That made Nikolai angry. He kept on saying curse words, which got my mom angry. She said that Nikolai shouldn't say those in front of me. I would have said that it was okay, because I had heard them before and knew not to say them, but then Nikolai began to yell that he could say whatever the hell he wanted, and that if my mom—only he called her Zhenya, even though her real name was Yevgeniya; but he called her Zhenya, just like she called him Kolya, and she called me Shura—didn't like me saying this shit then she could just go shove herself into someone else's dick. That just got Mom even more irked. I didn't want to watch the fight anymore, so I looked back out the window. But they were just so loud, so instead I got my book out of my backpack and tried to read. When I read I could pretty much tone them out and I got lost in the book about Minnipins and how they become heroes even though they're small. I had already read this book but I liked it and it was the only book I could keep. The rest we had to sell to make money. Nikolai had wanted to sell The Gammage Cup, but my mother knew how much I liked it, so she didn't let him. They had started another argument because of me when that happened, and Nikolai still had the book in his hand, so I couldn't get it back. However, we were still at the house, so I just turned on the television with no volume and tried to watch a stupid show about babies. They had cool adventures, but I wasn't a baby, so I couldn't like it.
The sun was right in my eyes when they finally stopped yelling and I didn't like that. How was I supposed to read when the sun was in my eyes? I couldn't turn because I was surrounded by all of our stuff we were bringing with us on our move to Washington. We used to live in Florida, which I thought was a pretty cool place to live, and I had actually made a friend at school for once whose name was Yakov Sokoll. I got to go over to his house sometimes and it was really big. Humongous even, you could say. His father was sort of terrorizing because he was almost as big as the freaking house, but he wasn't there much when I was over, so I was okay. Yakov's mother would pick him up from school, so I got to ride in their car sometimes, which is different from riding the bus. There's definitely more space, and they had a way bigger car than Nikolai's. When I went to Yakov's house, his mother would make him take his shoes off right when he walked in by the garage door and hang his backpack on a hook in their kitchen. Of course, I did everything Yakov did when I was there, and that was cool, to do something different for once. When I usually got home, I would go into the living room and put my stuff by the couch where I slept because we only had one bed for Nikolai and my mother. I had the television right in front of me, so I didn't mind sleeping on the couch. Plus, I wasn't a baby and didn't need to sleep with my mother anymore.
'Aleksandr,' I heard Nikolai call me in his deep voice. It sounded sort of like a motorcycle when it is revving up.
'Yes, sir?' I asked, attentive, watching him glare at me through the rear-view mirror.
'Kolya, don't,' my mother said in her warning voice, and I took my gaze off of Nikolai for a second to look at her. Her eyes were wide open like she was scared, and that made my back tingle, though I didn't know why. Maybe it was because Nikolai wasn't watching to road, and another incident like the motorcyclist could happen. I didn't really want to be in a car crash, because I had seen what happens on the television. Someone always dies, someone always has to go to the hospital, and then, afterwards, you had to pay over a thousand dollars for something that wasn't your fault. It was cheap and stupid, I knew it, but I didn't really want to experience it, even though I knew I wouldn't cry like those babies on the television when it happens. I'm not a baby.
'Aleksandr, do you know what the word "fuck" means?' Nikolai asked me, his eyes that were light green and always crept me out never leaving mine.
'No, sir,' I answered, trying to make my voice not sound scared. My back was still tingling.
'Well, have you ever heard of it before, Aleksandr?' he asked me.
I hesitated, thinking of my answer. I had heard it before, but it was from him. If I told him that, he'd probably get enraged at me. I didn't want that. 'No, sir,' I decided to say.
I saw his eyebrows narrowed over his slanted eyes. Jesus Christ did that make him look evil. 'Are you lying to me, Aleksandr? Do you know what happens to boys who lie?'
'No, sir, I do not.'
'Are you getting smart with me, you little fucker?' My mother gasped at that, but didn't say anything, just continued to watch the interaction.
'No, sir. I just really don't know.' My voice was still normal, which I thought was weird, seeing as my stomach had gone cold, and my spine still tingled a little bit, along with the back of my neck. I didn't feel so well all of a sudden. I just wanted to look back out the window.
His eyes all of a sudden went back to being blank, and he changed the subject. 'Aleksandr, are you hungry?'
I was taken aback, so my voice's volume went down by itself. 'I . . . yes, sir.' Nikolai just smiled, but it was a smile I didn't like.
'Kolya, what are you planning?' my mother asked, and I could hear how her voice kept on changing tones. It went from her warning voice, which was deep and forceful, to her scared voice, which made it go up to a squeaking sound. Nikolai didn't answer and just turned off at the next exit. It had a big sign above it talking about the Holiday Inn. Except, while he was driving down a four-lane road, he didn't stop at the Holiday Inn. Instead, he looked for another hotel which was called the Merciful Motel. I didn't know its name at first because the sign didn't light up like the Holiday Inn's one did. It seemed as though it was supposed to, because one of the 'M's' was blue and lit up, though the rest wasn't. Nikolai shut off the car, took out the keys, and pulled open the car door handle, opening the door. My mother just stared at him while he did this, but eventually followed suit, and I thought that if she did it, it would be safe for me to. We followed Nikolai to the front of the building which was just a three-storey rectangle with two square windows at every floor. They were all covered by dark-red curtains that looked ragged and used too many times.
Nikolai opened the door, though he didn't hold it open for my mom, which I would have done. She didn't seem to mind in spite of everything so I just let it go. We stood off to the side near some chairs that Mom didn't sit down in so neither did I. In the centre were some magazines, but they all had women dressed in black leather and they looked like they might hurt someone with their whips, so I didn't look at them. We had left all of our stuff in the car so I didn't have The Gammage Cup to read. After Nikolai spoke to the man behind a desk with plastic in front of him with only two small holes, one at the bottom and one in the middle where people spoke through, he had a key and motioned for us to follow him. Nikolai said we were in Room Ten for the night, which was on the first floor, so we didn't get to ride the elevator. I was sort of glad, because the elevator gave off an ominous vibe, though I wasn't scared off it, because I'm not a baby. I was just glad we were on the first floor.
Nikolai opened the door and led us inside. The first thing I saw after following my mother was two beds. I was ecstatic. I hadn't had a bed to sleep on since Nikolai came to live with us and even then I had to share with my mother.
'Now, Aleksandr, where do you want to eat?' Nikolai had turned towards me, his light green eyes piercing into mine, making the hairs on the back of my neck start to prick up and hurt.
'I don't know, sir. Wherever you eat, will be fine. Sir,' I added swiftly, synchronously gulping. He didn't like it when I forgot the 'sir' part when speaking to him. I hoped he hadn't noticed.
'Kolya, just leave Shura alone. We will eat whatever you bring us. You are scaring him. Please, just leave him alone,' my mother pleaded in her scared voice. I thought that she should have used her warning voice because the one she used didn't sound very convincing. I think that Nikolai agreed with me because he just smiled. He looked like a jack-o-lantern when he did that, one of those that have candles in them, making their faces shine and look evil. I didn't like it when he smiled. He was still looking at me, not even glancing at my mother who had moved up beside him, her hands hesitantly hanging in the air above his outstretched arm. I definitely didn't like this.
'Now, Zhenya, the boy has to learn to speak up for himself. He obviously wants to. Isn't that right, Aleksandr? Do you want to say something to me?' he asked, his eyes all of a sudden getting darker and no longer had any light in them. My stomach felt like it was in the waves by the ocean I had been to once when I was younger. Waves of my insides were crashing one atop another, making my mouth start to fill up with spit.
'No . . . sir,' I answered, my voice wobbling like my mother's.
'Are you sure, Aleksandr? Are you positive? Because I think that you do. Don't you remember your dream? Remember saying how happy you were to Zhenya, happy that I was finally gone? Do you not remember saying that you'll never let me back inside your house as long as you live? I remember that clearly. And I have to say, Aleksandr, I was a little hurt. Have I not been good to you and Zhenya? Have I not provided money for the bills and gotten a new job in Lynden, Washington that pays more just so that you two can live in a house? Have I not done everything possible for you and your mother, and yet you still want me gone? Why is that, Aleksandr, I'm wondering? Why the hell is that?' While he was asking me all of those questions, which were all true, he had helped my mother and I more than any other man my mother had been with, he had inched towards me slowly, his eyes never leaving mine. Why did I want him gone? It just didn't make any sense now. He had done nothing but help us, so surely I didn't want him gone. In embarrassment, I lowered my head, my eyes finally leaving his. Before I did so, however, I took one more overlook of my mother. She had stayed in place, just watching Nikolai approach me, with eyes so much like the ones I had worn watching their many fights. Only none of those fights were ever his fault. I just kept screwing up and my mother kept defending me blindly. We didn't deserve him, and I realised that now. We really didn't. Maybe if my mother and I didn't make so many mistakes we could, except that it was too late for that now. I now realised that all Nikolai had wanted was the help us, and it just made me feel even more guilty, my stomach now in the middle of a tsunami of waves.
Nikolai's hand had gripped the bottom of my chin gently, and he made my face look back into his green eyes. They didn't look so evil now. 'It's okay, Aleksandr. I won't hurt you. You do realise that, right?'
'And do you know why I'm here? To help you two?'
'Good boy, Aleksandr. That's a good boy.' He patted my head with his right hand. 'Now, what do you want to eat?'
'I don't know, sir.' His face scrunched up and he stopped smiling. Goddamn it, I had made another mistake. And I didn't even care that I had just cursed. Why should I? I could just blame it on being another one of my mistake's. 'I . . . I mean, whatever you want, sir.' Nikolai's eyes clouded over again.
'What did we just talk about, Aleksandr?' he asked. My eyes started to get blurry and I tried to take a deep breath because that usually stops me from crying. But I couldn't because I was too busy staring into his eyes. They kept mine trapped on his, and I was so scared of making another mistake that tears began to build up in my eyes. That just made me cry harder, letting them loose to take over my face. I wasn't supposed to be a baby and I was supposed to be able to handle this. But, as always, I couldn't, and my gaze wandered over to my mother, who was exactly like the last time I had seen her.
'I'm sorry, Mom,' I said, crying, though I don't know why. She just closed her eyes in response and began fiddling in her purse for another cigarette. Nikolai's hand tightened on my chin, making it hurt a little. I was never good at holding in my emotions, so I suppose he could see the pain that was on my face.
'Aleksandr, look at me,' he said, his voice strained and still deep. I didn't follow his command, though I knew it would make him wrathful. I just couldn't make myself take my eyes off of my mother, who had lighted up a cigarette and stopped looking at us, instead wandering over to the window. 'I said, "Look at me"!' Nikolai yelled, his hand now making an imprint on my chin. I still couldn't do it. I watched at my mother's lips suck in the white smoke and then blew it back out, cheeks puffing with each motion. She was leaning against the wall next to the window, the cigarette casually placed in her left hand, between her fore and middle fingers. They were a slight yellow, but they had always been that way, so I didn't see any problem. Her eyes were a deep blue and staring steadily ahead of her right at the back alley of this motel. A white brick building was opposite the window, so I didn't know what she found so fascinating. Of course, that wasn't unusual. Both of us were prone to getting lost in daydreams so I figured that's what she was lost in right now. I had stopped crying by now but I didn't know why. Nothing drastic had happened, except Nikolai had taken his hand off of me and was standing, hands on his hips, directly in front of me, trying to get me to look at him. His eyebrows were knitted at the centre of his forehead, which made him look venomous. 'Fine, you're not gonna look at me? Then I'll fucking make you!' he screamed, his rage getting the best of him. This scene had played out millions of times before, but never had it been directed at me.
The smell of my mother's cigarette wafted into my nose—this time with no wind for it to ride away on—the same time that Nikolai's hand that had just held my chin gently connected right with my left cheek. I still wouldn't look at him. I knew I should have and wanted to so badly, but I just couldn't. And it was so damn pathetic that I just let him kick me in my stomach next. The waves of whatever was in there came rushing up through my throat, mixing with the spit that was already overflowing in my mouth. I opened my mouth to make the disgusting mix leave but then I began to taste the cigarette smoke and blood, though I don't know where that came from. Nikolai was still screaming at me, saying things that I knew my mother would not like me to hear. However, she was too busy staring out the window to care, so Nikolai's choice language went by unchallenged. I fell to the floor, so now Nikolai could only use his feet. They hurt worse than his fists, but on the floor I could cover up my head. So, I rolled up into a ball and just let it be. I deserved it, anyway. How could I have been so damn unappreciative? How could I have dreamed of ninja's taking away Nikolai forever, leaving just my mother and I? We could never last out there on our own. We were so damn lucky to have Nikolai and yet I couldn't even answer a simple question. What would you like to eat, Aleksandr? Right now, I just wanted to sleep, to go back into the car and drive with the wind in my face, blowing my hair, making my skull tingle. Right now, I didn't want to be here. I thought about counting to see how long this time lasted. Last time, I had gotten all the way up to gojyuu-kyuu,which was fifty-nine in English. Besides, I needed to practise my Japanese if I was going to escape to Japan or another country one day.
And, so I began, 'Ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku, nana, hachi, kyuu, jyuu, jyuu-ichi, jyuu-ni. . . .'
We got back into the car after eating at Burger King. I didn't like it as much as when we ate at a real restaurant, but my mother said that we were running out of money, so I didn't complain. The sun was still bright in the sky and it was scorching hot outside, making me appreciative that I was a boy and could take my shirt off. We had to put it back on when we went inside of Burger King, but I didn't care that much, since it was air conditioned in there. Nikolai started up the car and my mother lit up a cigarette which bothered me. I had just finished eating, so my food was still digesting. But I wasn't a baby, so I could deal with the smell. While we were in there, Nikolai had said that we were about at Nevada, and I was glad since we had been driving for two whole days, though some of that time was spent on sleeping and eating and getting gas. We had left the motel early in the morning the next day, when the sun was just coming up, which was pretty cool to see, and drove until it was in my eyes. The bruise on my face was barely visible, though the rest of my body was a different story. My mother said that I was lucky, but had to be sure that nobody except her and Nikolai saw me with my shirt off. So, I couldn't stick my face out of the window, though it still blew up against my face as I looked at the freeway, because I had my shirt off. I thought it was a stupid tradeoff.
The silence in the car was beginning to bug me sometimes since I couldn't listen to the car's pass as vividly, but I figured that if my mother could handle it then I could, too. Nikolai sped up a bit when he saw someone trying to get in front of us in our lane, which made me feel a sensation like I was flying. At least, I thought that was what flying would feel like, since I had never flown on an airplane in my life.
'Mom?' I asked hesitantly, knowing that she didn't like to be bothered while she was smoking. She had always said that it calms her nerves, but that I shouldn't start. When she said that, she had shown me her fingers and how yellow they were. Then, she compared hers to mine. That's apparently the reason why I should never start smoking.
'What is it, Shura?' she replied harshly. I slightly winced, but I knew that the silence must have been getting on her nerves, too. We really weren't that different, I suppose.
'Can we turn on the radio?' We hadn't been allowed to turn it on since a song that Nikolai thought was a 'piece of shit' came on. I figured that even if it was on for a little while, a song might get stuck in my head that would fill the silence void for me.
'I don't know, Shura,' she said, 'why don't you ask Kolya?' I gulped. I didn't want to ask Nikolai.
'Never mind,' I muttered. Nikolai's knuckles tightened around the steering wheel when I said that and I could predict what was going to happen.
'You really haven't learned anything, have you, you little piece of shit?' Nikolai asked through his teeth. He hadn't opened his mouth all the way. I suppose it was a way to not yell. I didn't see why it mattered now, though. It's not like anyone could hear him except for my mother and I.
I sighed inaudibly. 'What do you mean, sir?'
'You know what I fucking mean, Aleksandr,' he replied.
'No, I really don't.' I couldn't help but think of how much this was a repeat of our previous conversation.
'Oh, now, you want to get smart with me, Aleksandr?'
'It sure fucking sounds like it,' he replied, and I saw a strained smile on his face through the rear-view mirror.
'No, sir,' I said absently, staring out the window. I wasn't paying much attention to the conversation, therefore didn't come up with an appropriate answer to his question.
'What the hell did you just say?'
'Now, Shura, don't get Kolya angry,' I heard my mother say in her scared voice. It seemed like that was becoming more and more her regular voice.
'Yes, ma'am.' My mother's jaw tightened. Nikolai didn't say anything and silence filled the car once more. I knew that my polite act was getting on their nerves, but I didn't want to deal with this right now. All I ever wanted to dowas to turn on the goddamn radio. Was that such a big deal? My eyes widened, though, as Nikolai turned off at the next exit, the reason perfectly clear.
'We just ate, sir,' I said to Nikolai. He smiled in his jack-o-lantern way.
'You're not going to eat this time, Aleksandr. Don't worry. I just need to tell you something in private. All right, Zhenya?' he said to me, then asked my mother. She was staring out the window. Somehow, I knew she wasn't daydreaming this time. When she lit another cigarette up, I rolled my eyes and put my shirt back on. I didn't care what she did anymore. I just didn't want to smell any of her fucking shit anymore. I stuck my head out the window, smelling the crisp air of the Western United States. There were no cars along this two-lane road at the time, and I looked at the trees. Back in Florida, all we had were palm trees. They were okay to look at, but weren't as cool as pine trees, I figured, as I sniffed up their sweet scent, then gagging as cigarette smoke mixed with it. Holding my breath, I thought about what was to come. At least I knew this time. I could prepare efficiently.
As Nikolai parked the car into the parking lot of another cheap motel, I made a silent pact to myself to not cry again. I wouldn't degrade myself to that again. I deserved it, sure, but that didn't mean I had to fuel his rage by crying. I would just take it. He can go 'stick that up someone else's dick,' as he had said to my mother. He was doing all of this shit for us, so I had no need to cry. I didn't need my mother to try and protect me this time and look at her in hope while I felt his kicks in my stomach and side. No, I was a screw-up and deserved this.
We turned into the room, which was still on the first floor. The elevator wasn't as bad as the other places, but it was still a bit creepy. Zhenya said that she was going to go smoke by the leaf-infested pool. I laughed bitterly inside of my head. Screw her, I didn't need her. As soon as Nikolai and I stepped into the room, it began. I didn't cry. The window was open a crack and looked right into the pool, so I smelt my mother's cigarette. The sour smell of nicotine, paper, and fire wafted through the air as Nikolai's kicks stung my side. I smiled imperceptibly as he vented his rage upon me. I hadn't even cried out once, though I had to cough when blood came spurting out of my mouth. I felt proud of myself for not crying. I really wasn't a baby anymore. And I had a man who would take care of my mother and me forever. If I just didn't make any more mistake, all would be okay. Everything was okay. After all, I wasn't a baby anymore, so I could handle this, no problem. I could handle anything.
18 June 2006