Tim Sackton CC
Angry Joe sneering like a rabid dog. He wasn’t the tallest or biggest at the school, but at 5’7” and stringy he was taller and bigger than me. He bleached his hair jet black. He had the Misfits logo on the back of his jean jacket. I was 5’2”, brown skin, very thin, and a freshman, like Joe.
Angry Joe, always walking fast, head down, kicking whatever was in his way. Rumor had it that his parents were getting a divorce. His father was a Vietnam veteran and was beating the crap out of his mom for the nightmares he had after the war.
It didn’t matter to him that I was Cambodian. It was enough that I was from that part of the world that hurt his dad and mom, and Joe was hurt and angry. It didn’t matter that we breathed the same cold October air waiting for the same MTA bus that afternoon. It didn’t matter that we both were lost, confused, and scared. Unlike Joe, I wasn’t angry though. I was hurt, alone, and wanted a friend. I lost my parents to the war. They were gone, like forever gone.
When I saw him walking towards me, I smiled and almost bowed my head. He snarled in return. I heard growling from him. His teeth grinding. Maybe in his past life, he really was a dog.
Then he bumped his chest against mine and pinned me against the wall of a Bank of America. His breath reeked of cigarettes and destruction. My back pressed hard against the cold hard wall.
I was waiting for the bus at Malden Square. It was a beautiful crisp fall day. Sunlight warmed my face and hands.
I looked around to see if anyone was willing to help. But other kids and a few adults didn’t seem to notice or care.
Joe took a lighter from his jean jacket, clicked it once, and flame burst into being, thrashing itself in the wind. He moved the lighter slowly towards my face.
I felt blood rushing to my face. I thought about America and why we came here in the first place. I didn’t have a choice. No one did. And here was Joe trying to burn my face off.
I screamed, pushed him away, and ran towards the high school. I didn’t look over my shoulders for fear that Joe was right behind me. I ran and ran up those steps that led to the entrance of the high school. Once I crossed the threshold, I pulled the door close behind me, closed my eyes, and breathed. Oh, Lord Buddha, I had never been so happy to be back in that prison building.
Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer and critic. He is the author of several poetry collections. His prose and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in New York Quarterly, Copper Nickel, The Lowell Review, Massachusetts Review, The American Journal of Poetry, carte blanche, Diode Poetry Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Consequence, among others. He teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.
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