By Elektra PAPATHANASIOU-GOLDSTEIN
His lungs filled and emptied uncontrollably. The speed of his legs made them burn with lactic acid as he turned the corner. He nimbly climbed the makeshift shed that collapsed once he stood on it, gripped the fence with his fingers, hoisted himself up, and skillfully avoided the barbed wire. The streetlamp shone dimly, a lighthouse in the dark and impenetrable ocean of the night. He heaved as he bent over and coughed uncontrollably, and flung his backpack to the ground, exhausted by the fifteen-minute sprint that was now catching up with him. He breathed in the crisp air stolen from him during the run, remembering what it felt like to be still.
He squinted into the shadows to see if he had actually, somehow, impossibly been able to pull this off.
He suddenly heard footsteps, much slower than his, as the two cops turned the corner of the building and headed for the gate, cursing and sweating. Their piercing flashlights moved around in the darkness like fireflies until the cops got closer to the streetlamp and stepped into the light. Their pudgy frowning faces matched their cartoonishly round bellies that wobbled with every step they took.
I can’t believe these fatasses are supposed to be catching criminals, he thought to himself, truly incredible what a shitshow law enforcement has become.
They had spotted him.
He quickly stood up, put his backpack on again, and stepped backwards slowly, hands loosely in his pockets, relaxed and grinning at the slow jog that seemed to have almost brought them to a heart attack.
“Hey, you! Get back here kid, before we have a goddamn car coming after you! What the hell is your name, boy?”
The two cops stumbled towards the fence and pointed the flashlight in his face. He laughed gleefully at their crestfallen expressions when they saw his face.
“It’s Banksy, bitch!” He flipped them off and kept running, his limbs and eyes and brain overflowing with the adrenaline he kept craving every day, like one of the many drugs his friends were hooked on.
His bike was exactly where he had left it, lying on the sand under a eucalyptus tree. He took off his beaten-up sneakers, their soles barely hanging on, and took a deep breath of the ocean air. He squinted up at the moon, a glittering orb that only shone on this side of the fence, its light sparkling on the waves.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Boy, what’s your name?”
I mean, I guess my name is “boy” at this point, he thought and smiled, remembering the dozens of fat cops, shopkeepers, and teachers who had yelled that at him, their faces scrunched up and angry.
His name came from a mother who lived in a small hut and made smoked fish that filled every nook and cranny that it could. His name was red rolling r’s and green hissing s’s, pink a’s and orange e’s. His name was his father’s name. What is even in a name anyway – not much.
What was in his name was courage, a fearless drive for survival. A soft flame on a candle that became a raging, roaring fire that devoured every tree in its sight. It had soldiers’ blood that filled deep trenches, it had the sunrise that he saw from the window every morning. It was his mother’s laughter and her weeping as she placed roses on a stone of remembrance.
Satisfied with the night’s adventure, he got on the bike and slowly pedaled down the dirt road, closing his eyes against the cool breeze that soothed his burnt skin. His fingers were tinted with splotchy rainbows, stained by the paint he had used, and then dropped somewhere while he ran away. His backpack weighed on his shoulders, full of canned food that had lined the shelves in the fluorescent aisles of the supermarket. The night was still youthful. He pulled a cigarette and lighter out of his pocket, riding hands-free, stuck it between his teeth, and lit it as he thought about the rest of his plans for the night.
He felt quite alright. He would drop off the food at his mother’s, change into flip flops, wash his face from the dirt, and ride his bike to the bonfire where the kids hung out. Tell his friends about the fat cops, who would guffaw and lift him up on his shoulders in celebration, spraying alcohol into his face and cheering loudly over the music.
And on the other side of the fence, where people had clean white sneakers and faces and enough food for a hotel buffet or an army in their fridge, there would be a colossal, pristine white mansion with a painting of a man shot dead. The harsh red brushstrokes of a man whose name had been “boy” too, a man who had seen the pink sunrise and heard his mother’s laughter and had felt the ocean’s waves, and who now lay under the sea, buried in a world of sand where he had been given