Truthfully, I have done little in the way of editing this chapter. Further still, I’m considering deleting it entirely. It does little to move the story. However, it does drive home in a (hopefully) uncomfortable way, exactly how bad of shape some people enter the social welfare system. It is also the first time we see Kid and John Birmingham interacting.
Side Note: I’ve learned many homeless people purposefully break the law in order to gain access to their most basic needs like shelter, clean water, and food. One particularly bad situation here in Albuquerque, I heard that a man had so many layers of clothing, and had not bathed in so long, that much of his skin actually fused with fabric of his clothing. It had to be surgically removed.
I hope most realize that the “free handouts” the poor and destitute receive are far from golden paved streets and filet mignon. That said, here is a working version of chapter 3 of Ride for Life:
With the meeting over, everyone but the dust-ball of a man at the table’s head shook hands with everyone else. John’s Speech Therapist and Intake Physician left. The boss with long hair and beaming smile followed after a few more slaps on Kid’s shoulder and a “Here’s the keys to the company car. You know where the apartment facility is.” Kid realized the position he found himself in.
There was nobody to lean on for advice. All who could speak, left the room. Only he and grisly Mr. Birmingham remained. John stared at Kid, chuckling and giggling softly. Warmth grew in Kid’s armpits and beaded on his forehead. He wondered if he actually remembered how to get to the facility at the far end of town. Looking up at John, their eyes locked. He could not ascertain if it was lack of knowing what to do that kept his eyes on his client’s. Or if the sense of familiarity kept them locked together.
“Well,” he said rather quietly, “ Shall we?”
John cocked his head and made an odd high pitch squeal resembling a ‘huh?’
Thoughts of what others beyond the door might think if they became too loud, he wondered how to get through to John. Rather than raise his voice as his boss did earlier, he lifted the company keys in his hand to eye level and jingled them in his direction. John straightened. He laughed.
Not two steps in, John’s balance swayed. Kid’s heart stopped. Instinctively he jerked his whole body to get under his dirty client. He knew he could not hold him up, but he hoped he would at least break John’s fall. Grabbing the table’s corner for support, John stopped dead, appearing to reassure himself that he was okay. They locked eyes again.
This time he added a thumbs up gesture to his question coupled with an accentuated quizzical facial gesture. John’s eyes remained frozen wide for a moment. Then he nodded. Slowly he prepped himself to walk again, taking each step methodically. As he caught up to his new staff, he patted him on the shoulder giggling a breathy giggle sending a wave of putrid air thick enough to hold back an approaching storm. It took every remaining piece of Kid’s energy to swallow the sick pushing hard at the back of this throat.
Outside, Kid had to match the key’s number to that of many vehicles in the first row of company cars and vans. He hoped it sat at the far end so he could enjoy the cool fresh air as long as possible.
Every few steps, Kid looked over at John, evaluating if he needed to rescue him from another close encounter with the ground. When they reached the end of the row, the numbers did not match. John looked to his staff and hiss a ‘what?’ He did not speak. Instead he held up the key, pointing to a number on its side before pointing to an otherwise corresponding number on the back of the van they stood in front of. With what Kid figured was an ‘Oh’, John took off down the row in search of the correct number.
One car and two vans in, John stumbled back to check the number on his staff’s key. Then, like a dog on the hunt for his master’s ball, he took off again. Several more cars later, he yelled, pointing at a vehicle Kid could not see from where he stood.
Catching up with him, John smacked Kid’s shoulder which was turning three shades of raw. He was right. Too fearful of John tripping on the pavement, Kid missed the car. His nostrils had only just begun to enjoy fresh air when they each got into the car warming in the mid-morning sun. Kid’s finger rested on the window button before he fully turned the ignition key.
Their trip to The Club nauseated Kid beyond where he thought possible. Though he rolled all the company car’s windows down, sour sweat smell emanating from John stagnated inside the vehicle. At stop signs all Kid could do to keep from vomiting was to stick his head out the open window as far as possible, breathing in snippets of fresh air still mixed with his passenger’s stench. His eyes watered. However, he did not wipe away the tears fearing doing so might push the smell further into tear ducts. Against his better logic, he knew, but it did not stop him from fearing it just the same.
Kid rubbed his pasty arms trying to console his nervous system into holding out just another mile or so. Even with overpowering scents wafting through car’s interior and forcing down the sick, Kid’s eyes darted from the road ahead and John to his right. Through his grit and grime, he was certain he knew John from somewhere. However, not able to see his eyes from where they each sat, the feeling evaporated but hung heavy in the air they breathed. No matter how open the windows were, it seemed no air recirculated in or out of the cabin.
John sat as still as his shaking body let him. His fingers interlocked in his lap, his twitching thumbs tried their best to orbit each other. What resulted Kid could not pull his eyes from. They appeared as a stuttering DVD repeating itself, none of it’s characters finishing any singular action. Against the blowing yet somehow still too stagnant air flowing throughout the cabin, he heard Mr. Birmingham chortle occasionally. He could not identify what he laughed at, or about. It seemed to just happen. A nervous tick perhaps. Or chuckling at something his mind only briefly allowed him to witness.
Each time he chuckled loud enough to overcome the whistling stagnant air, his staff looked over at him. Kid half feared John gurgled in pain or discomfort. Upon seeing the wet and dirty bearded smile, he just wanted to know why he laughed.
He looked out the windshield following his client’s stare to where it mostly focused.
He tried considering everything that occurred at the Intake Meeting hoping to find some semblance of the source of the sporadic laughter. His boss made accentuated Sign Language gestures. John’s laugh may be a result of that. Or perhaps he, too, finally realized the absurdity of learning to ride a motorcycle with medical diagnoses of Mental Retardation and Cerebral Palsy, not to mention anything the Intake Physician neglected or missed.
Then again, he thought, he could just be laughing at nothing. After all, he watching his baby cousin giggle and point at nothing in particular for hours on end while his mother and uncle entertained themselves in his parents’ bedroom. The thought of which sent a puff of chilled air through his veins. Only five years old, he still knew the basics of what happened on those long weekdays before he started school. His mother’s comments that Uncle did not go upstairs left a bad taste in his mouth. He turned nine before he walked in on his mom and uncle naked in bed.
His mother spanked him and grounded him for two weeks when all he wanted was to know where he could find his little cousin’s lunch. Another few months passed, and several screaming matches over dinner between his mother and father took place before his father left for good.
A disturbingly loud chuckle from John brought Kid back from his daydreaming. John stared directly at him, just laughing a hissing laugh that shot waves of bad breath his direction. With a nod from his client to the front of the car, Kid turned to see them parked at a stop light. It was green.
John’s ripe scent finally took hold of Kid. He felt as if he wavered in and out of consciousness. Swallowing hard stopped working to keep the vomit in place. Each time he gulped now, bile ratcheted upward further. Sweat gathered on his forehead and under his arms. He held his breath in spurts trying to keep from inhaling at part of John’s odor. Kid struggled between breathing in through his mouth and through is nose.
As he breathed through his mouth, he felt the grit hovering in the air collect on his tongue. Breathing through his nose burned his nostrils and allowed for complete pungency to encapsulate his senses.
Just another block. Just another block. Just one more car. Then you can turn in. Just over there. There’s gotta be a parking spot. Dear, God. Let there be a parking spot open.
When they arrived at The Club, Kid drove faster than appropriate through the parking lot to it’s front door. Popping it in park in the midst of one of his attempts at hold his breath, he jumped out of the vehicle. He ran several feet away from the car, stopped, and leaned over grabbing his knees. As he leaned he felt his head go dizzy. The ground below teetered in and out of focus. He wanted to, his body wanted to, but he swallowed with all the strength left to him.
Don’t do it. It’s your first day. Don’t do it. You can do this.
Knowing if he straightened and stood he would likely pass out, he let himself fall backward onto the curb. Sharp pain shot up on tail bone but at least he sat. The parking lot slowed to a mere shifting rather than full on spinning. Allowing himself to take in all the fresh air available, he ran his hands through his thick greasy black hair.
He felt his phone vibrate against his leg again, but his attention remained focused on stilling his surroundings. The same shorter vibration after a moment of calm indicated another voice mail. It might be his boss. More likely, his mother left another scathing message.
“Ay,” bellowed from somewhere to Kid’s left.
Finally able to chance opening his eyes, his hands still holding his hair out of his eyes, he looked over his shoulder. John bounced up and down in his seat pointing violently at something just out of view. Kid watched John bobble a few times, the whole car shaking in time with the bearded man’s jumping that looked more like convulsions. Then Kid’s stomach made several jerking motions in time with the beat. Still holding his hair back, he sat unable to react as his body purged itself of several hours of inhaled rotten sweat molecules.
Just as soon as it started, it stopped. When it did, Kid’s eyes refocused on a maple tree overshadowing much of the parking lot. He honed in on individual branches, then individual leaves. As pieces of reality set themselves back into place, the parking lot stopped spinning. The tree stood still. The concrete stayed where it was suppose to stay.
He spat without regard to where the projectiles went, as long as they left his mouth. He wiped his mouth with his flannel shirt, gave a few deep breaths, and realized how much better the new odor was to John’s pungent scent. Thinking this made his innards twitch slightly but nothing gave way in a wave of dizziness. The worst is past, he thought.
Exhausted and sore from the torso up, Kid turned again to the bearded mess who managed to unbuckle and exit the car. Not sure if John swayed or if Kid felt another episode coming, he turned to the car for reassurance. And found it. John’s poor gait swayed. The world did not. He sighed in relief again.
John grunted something Kid could not make out, but clear from his movements, he was trying to ask if his staff was okay. Keeping a watchful eye on the car for stabilization, Kid nodded slightly and slowly. He held up a finger to ask for just another moment. John appeared more than willing to oblige.
In time, Kid eventually stood with relative ease given his current condition. He hobbled toward the front door of The Club where the company car he just vacated was pointed. His knees remained weak yet they held him up as he walked. John screamed another screeching sound. Tapping his staff on the back with his jittery hands, he pointed into the car again.
“Oh, hell no,” he said, shaking his head like a drunkard.
John chuckled. Then he pointed again with increased fervor.
“Not going to happen today, sir. Just can’t do it.”
Then John grabbed his staff by the shoulder, tugging him away from his route to the building’s front entrance. Once turned, John’s shaking fingers clenched a tuft of Kid’s shirt and dragged him back to the car. He pointed again with is empty hand.
“So I left he windows open,” he shrugged. “There’s nothing in there but a clipboard. Let it air out. Trust me. We’re doing everyone else in the company a service.” Kid did not try to explain his comments in made up Sign Language. He was still far too weak for pretending. Instead, he waved walking dust cloud of a client away from the airing car.
Screaming, John pulled his staff back to the open car. He pointed yet again into the car. Kid wondered if John was not just too attached to his bottled up odor to walk away from it. Between his phone vibrating in his pocket again, inklings of John’s scent wafting under his nose, and a general lack of energy, Kid rolled his eyes. Looking at his dirty client to tell him a final time to give up on the windows being open, he wondered why he cupped his otherwise deaf ears. Why would he be trying to listen for anything? If anyone knows he’s deaf, he does. Then the encrusted fuzzball in front of him jabbed his finger into Kid’s bony chest, pointing at him, before returning his hand to cupping his ear.
Confusion dripped away as he focused on the sounds around them. A few birds he now realized were very different from those in his home town tweeted somewhere close. He wondered if he actually heard John’s odor breaking away from his scaly flesh. Pebbles crunched under their shoes as they both swayed somewhat in the dull breeze working ever so slightly in Kid’s favor. And the sound of a car engine idling.
Kid peered around the parking lot looking for another vehicle that someone left idling or perhaps a car that just pulled up with an occupant still inside. Only the blue sedan beside them remained within reasonable earshot. When Kid’s eye’s bulged at the epiphany, John cackled. He smacked his staff several times in the arm as he continued chuckling, his staff reaching through the window, turning off the car.
This time, when Kid waved for John to follow him into The Club, he did.