|Rion Amilcar Scott|
|Gifts We Are About to Receive|
Photo Credit: Matthew Gonzalez
Perhaps he had gotten fed up that time. Fed up is an odd way to describe a kid, six or seven years old, but he's always been sort of strange, popping with anger at some perceived slight, some injustice, some small inconvenience or a bit of stupidity; he's still like that. You'd expect an angry child to scream and cry facing down some wrong, and I assure you, he usually did, but not this day. Perhaps that's why the reaction to him was such as it was. He's the youngest and I often look for that to explain him and that day, but it doesn't. He sat next to his oldest brother and across from me. I often visited my cousins and ate dinner with them—my parents being wrecked as they were during that time.
The house smelled of brown rice and black-eyed peas, Shake 'n Bake chicken and moist green beans. His gums smacked loudly like the sound of wet hooves clopping along the puddled earth as he shoveled a forkful of rice into his mouth. He reached for a chicken leg when his father's voice cracked across the table.
"Did you say the grace?"
"Yes," the boy calmly replied, giving it not a second thought before biting into the crisp golden-brown crumbs that covered his chicken.
"When? I didn't hear you," his older brother—six years his senior—asked.
"Just now," the boy replied.
"I didn't hear you say it," his father boomed.
"Well, I did."
"No you didn't," his older sister—eight years his senior—said. "I've been sitting here the whole time; how come I didn't hear you?"
The boy shrugged and went on tearing at his chicken.
From the other end of the table, came a voice: "Nobody heard you. You didn't say it." It was his mother.
"Yes, I did."
Many years later he told me that it didn't occur to him to ask the very simple question of: Why would I lie about such a small matter? All that occurred to his child mind as the forces lined up against him was: Yes, I did. He said it so simply and firmly as if it was the rule of law—true because it came from his mouth, how he always says even the most bullshit of things. Often it's not any more convincing than it was when he was seven, but he believes it. He's endearing. He's annoying.
His father looked at him with stern eyes, his voice deepened as it does when he becomes irritated: "Say the grace."
"Why? I just said it," the boy replied calmly.
"No, you didn't."
The boy kept scooping forkfuls of food into his mouth.
A chorus from around the table called on him to say the grace. I admit I joined them, simply because it was easy and I wanted to see if I could make him budge, but I couldn't. We couldn't. His mind hardened like wet cement in the sun. It was almost a visible thing. From his spot at the head of the table, his father reached past his oldest son to smack his youngest son's face. It wasn't a hard slap, but no one expected it and the old man moved swiftly and gracefully like a basketball player gliding in for a layup. The boy dropped the fork, but quickly bent to pick it up. He turned to his father and said nothing. There were no tears in his eyes. This surprised us all. He could cry when he wanted to and did often. His slight turn looked like a taunt, but it really was a meaningless gesture.
"Say the grace," his father pointed a chubby finger at the boy.
"No, I just said it."
His father swung again, but this time the boy, expecting the blow, dipped and the hand missed his face. Enraged, his father jumped from his seat. I can still hear the rattling of plates and silverware. A glass of water tipped over onto the tablecloth.
The boy's stillness was ruined by a slight flinch.
"Say the grace or go eat in the kitchen," his mother called from the end of the table.
Being exiled to the kitchen meant missing out on the jokes, conversation, and good times that went with the best part of the day. That feeling that you were part of something. For about a half-hour a night, a child mattered as much as an adult. At least it felt that way. I suppose all of that had already been ruined for a night, but this is a child we're talking about. Remember how at six or seven every moment was new and if there happened to be sadness, in five minutes there could be overwhelming joy. That's what makes childhood seem so exciting and dangerous.
"I'm not saying the grace again."
The boy picked up his plate, his glass, his mat and his knife and fork and retreated slowly to the kitchen. No argument. No pleading. It seemed to be a matter of principle. A stand. I found it remarkable.
"Go eat in the kitchen!" his father shouted even as the boy walked past him into the wilderness.
With the boy away in the kitchen, we were all free to act as if the past few moments had never occurred and that an irritation such as the boy had never existed. My oldest cousin started to talk about soccer practice and her brother cracked a joke and we were all laughing and cross-talking. My uncle was the most boisterous and joyous conversationalist of us all. After a few moments went by, the boy loudly mocked his mother and then his father, a brave and foolish act. After he repeated his father's words in an Elmer Fudd voice, his older brother said, "Dad, you're going to let him get away with that?"
And for that night, his father let him get away with it. I'm not sure why. The boy though, paid for his victory with weeks of short-tempered bursts of anger from his father and licks for the smallest transgressions.
That whole night seemed—and still seems—so out of character for the boy and at times I'm tempted to dismiss his rebellion as youthful acting out, but truthfully sometimes I think that day was one of the only days I ever got to see his authentic self. Perhaps the weeks that followed were where he learned to wrap his genuine feelings in a dismissive smirk and a joke. Maybe his solitude in the kitchen—a jester mocking the king—taught him that alone is where he needs to be, even if it is to his detriment at times. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. God, he's so frustrating.
Ask him about that day and he'd likely tell you that that moment was his greatest and only triumph.
Rion Amilcar Scott has stories forthcoming or published in the pages of New Madrid, Fiction International, PANK, Apparatus Magazine and other publications. He currently teaches English at Bowie State University in Bowie, MD.