“Hey Jair, what you doing down here so early, skipping out on Kathleen are you?” Said Vasco with a grin peeking at me over the top of the newspaper he was reading.
Kathleen is my mama; she is one of the teachers for the local area, a well-respected woman, even if she is a Caucasian. She has the pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes of the stereotypical North American. This caused some people to distrust or dislike her but for the most part everyone that knew her accepted her. The fact that she was such a warm hearted and compassionate person probably didn’t hurt her in this regard either. She has been teaching for some 20 years, which was a bit of an accomplishment these days.
“No Vasco, she already let the class out. Some high rank ejército officer came by to see if she was good enough to teach their little brats so she had to stop the class and answer their questions. I really can’t stand those arrogant bastards ya know, the way they always push people around like they’re better than everyone really gets on my nerves.” I said, as I set my backpack in the little security hut that Vasco worked in.
Not that he was really that much of a security guard, the job was really done by the cold eyed soldier with the assault gun I had passed further up the road. You see Ecuador had been in a constant state of civil war between the radical la Fuerza de la Pura Raza <the force of the pure race> or FPR and the equally radical Ejército de la Transformación <army of the transformation> for the last few decades. At the moment my hometown of Puerto Esperanza was in the control of the ejército though it had changed hands several times.
“Watch how you talk Jair, the new governor just showed up and the docks are crawling with his men, you don’t want to get your father in trouble do you?”
“No of course I don’t” I replied a slight grimace coming to my face. I don’t get along all that well with my father anymore. As a child he was my hero, a paragon of pride and honor, everything that I had ever wanted to be. But every since I had started working for him at the port a few years back where he was a supervisor, that had changed. I came to see the man for what he really was, a cowered willing to take any abuse that one of the ejército men or their guards wanted to dish out. He was always trying to please them and make them happy in any way he could. I was convinced that was how he got the top management job at the port.
“That’s a good boy.” Said Vasco absently running a thick-callused finger down a clipboard.
“Now then let’s see Carlos is down at pier four why don’t you go down there and see if your father needs a hand.”
Vasco was one of the few people that could get away with calling me “boy” he and my father had been friends since they were young, growing up in the same slums on the out-skirts of the city. Neither my father nor Vasco would tell me much about that time in their lives. They would just get this kind of sad look in their eyes if asked about it and say that it was to long ago to remember or that they would tell me some other time. I didn’t press them as I could tell it brought back bad memories.
It was Vasco who first convinced my father to let me work at the port after school. He said that they would need someone to take over for them when they were old men with gray hair and spent all their time in chairs at the beach letting the sun bake the chill out of their old bones.
My mama, who had just walked into the small dingy kitchen where this discussion was taking place just snorted and told Vasco that he only wanted me there so there would be someone willing to sneak him beers. Which earned her a wink and a “don’t you know it” from the always-grinning Vasco.
My dad had reluctantly given in after making me repeatedly promise to do as I was told while on the job and that I realize that I would have to work just like anyone else at the port, even if I was his son.
As I walked along the dock front, picking up a pair of the heavy work gloves that I would need on my way, I looked around at the rundown and neglected state of the port. It was a perfect match for the rest of Puerto Esperanza. It had once been a thriving, if small, tourist city or so I understood, but since the war no one would visit or vacation here. Not that I blamed them, the city was a shambles after repeated bombings and elemental attacks left it a wreck straight out of some post-apocalyptic B-movie.
A lot of the population had left or been driven off fearing for their lives. The rest mainly tried to eke out an existence in the slums, except, I thought bitterly, for the ones favored by whatever regime currently held the city.
As I neared the area of dock four I slowed down. Vasco had been right, there were a lot of soldier types about mostly lounging around and cracking jokes with each other and there seemed to be some kind of a commotion at the end of the dock. I slowed to a stop and then ducked behind some wooden crates as what was being said or rather screeched became clear to me.
“Listen to me you little worthless piece of filth, there have been three different people that we have tracked into this god damn little city and not one of them, Not One, could be found again. I want to know how they got out of here and where they went. They probably snuck onto one of these damn ships when your lazy ass wasn’t looking. I want this place secure do you hear me!? And if you can’t do that at the very least Carlos, I’ll see to it that you get a job more in keeping with your level of intelligence, or maybe I’ll send some soldiers to pay a visit to your wife. I’m sure they would enjoy that and who knows. Maybe your wife would enjoy being with a real man too! Ha ha”
This came from a shrill sounding voice but the next sound was unmistakably that of my fathers voice though it had a begging quality to it that made me grit my teeth in anger.
“Yes, of course, I will see to it a once, please let me keep my job. I promise I will see to it that every thing is as you wish it. I will do better next time sir, I won’t disappoint you again.”
I couldn’t believe it, that man had threatened his wife; my mother and my father had done nothing but apologies and suck-up, practically trying to lick that son of a bitch’s feet! He should have been looking for a two by four to beat that guy bloody. I couldn’t stand to hear this anymore I moved off deeper into the stacks of crates and boxes that were waiting to be shipped.
My father shouldn’t have to beg like that, not for some little basted who apparently didn’t know a thing about this city. People disappeared here every day, if someone had wandered in to some of the rougher parts of town without knowing it they were lucky to get out just being mugged and beat up a bit. In most cases they would never have gotten out at all. They would be found dead in some alley.
I scowled angrily to my-self, ripped off the work gloves and heaved them against a crate with as much force as I could. It didn’t have much affect, on the crate or my anger. So I tried kicking them a few times, still no good.
God I hated all this, first my mama now my father, why couldn’t these stuck up bastards leave everyone alone? Why did they have to treat everyone like dirt all the time and rub just who held all the power in everyone’s face?
All of this angry ranting in my head had started to give me a headache. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get out of here I had to get to some place were I didn’t have to see all of this crap. I walked back to the hut were Vasco was still reading his newspaper my head pounding.
“What you doing back here Jair, something wrong?” said Vasco a worried expression on his face.
“No, no, I’m just not feeling to well all of a sudden, I think I’ll go home and rest for awhile. Will you tell my father where I am if he asks?”
“Yah sure Jair, you go on home and try to feel better. I’ll cover for you with your old man” Replied Vasco. I could always count on Vasco for help, he was like an uncle to me. I guess I was like a replacement for the son he had lost because of the war. That same skirmish for this city that had lost him his son had also lost him his wife and their unborn daughter. It had happened some 20 odd years ago, before my parents had even met each other but you could still see how much it hurt him.
“Thanks Vasco I owe you one,” I said really meaning it.
“No problem Jair” he said then grinned “just remember next time I ask you to go get me a beer.”
That comment left me smiling all the way until I saw the guard further up the road, which brought back the reason for my headache.
“What you doing back here boy I just let you in a while back,” asked the soldier giving me a hard look.
“Not feeling well, going home to rest” I said curtly
He gave me a sneering look, not liking my tone. “Well get to it and quit wasting my time, and if you waste it again I’ll really give you a reason to feel bad.”
I made my face blank as I walked past him. I had already gotten in trouble with these guards once and only the fact of who my father was kept me from getting the beating of my life.
I continued my way home ducking down side alleys a few times because of approaching soldiers and once when a group of unemployed thugs blocked a street. This was the normal way of things in this city and this fact seemed to cause my head to throb even worse.
I finally reach my home, though it was no mansion by any stretch of the imagination but it was a little better than most people could afford and we kept it in good repair. With my father’s management job and my mama’s income from teaching we had a good life. Of course in places like the US and parts of Europe we would be considered dirt poor.
I let my-self in leaving my backpack on the kitchen table, my mama wouldn’t be home for several hours as she did tutoring after classes were over, and father usually didn’t get home until seven or eight in the evening. So I had the place to myself.
I popped the top on the aspirin bottle and swallowed a couple dry, something that always made my mama wince when she saw me do it. I decided that I really would get some rest. I wondered into my small cramped bedroom and set my old alarm clock to go of in a few hours so I could try to start dinner and maybe lessen the blow of skipping out on work. I lay down and tried to forget about my headache and all my other troubles.
When I woke up it was already dark out and I could hear the buzzing of nocturnal insects out side my window. I thought that my alarm clack must have malfunctioned again but when I looked it had been turned off. I groaned in part because my headache was still with me but also because I figured I must have turned the damned thing off with out realizing it, I did that some times.
“Jair, are you up honey.” Said my mama her voice slightly muffled from being in the kitchen.
Ah, Ya mama I’m up, hold on a sec and I’ll be out.”
It looked like it was time to face the music. I put on the rumpled shirt I had been wearing this afternoon and walked into the kitchen.
My mama must have seen the worried expression on my face for all that I was trying to hide it. She seemed to instantly know what was bothering me and gave me that quiet smile of hers.
“Vasco called me and let me know that you weren’t feeling well so when I got home I checked on you and I turned your alarm clock off. You looked worn out, you still do actually.”
I shook my head smiling “I swear you must be a telepath, it’s like you can read my mind, mama”
She let out a derisive snort “Ha, no telepath here; it’s easy to know what someone is thinking if you raise them for sixteen years, and don’t you forget it young man.”
It was the same old joke that we had exchanged for years and the familiarity of it made me feel better.
“I was going to get up and make dinner since I was here already,” I explained
“And get everyone in my house sick, I don’t think so buster. You go back to your room and rest or if you can’t do that go finish up you homework exercises and I’ll check them,” my mama replied giving me a stern look.
I grumbled a bit but eventually went back to my room to do my homework. It wasn’t really homework per say it was some exercises that my mama had given me after my private lesson in the morning. You see I had long mastered all the basic teachings that were the only thing taught at the school and my mama and some of the other teachers gave me extra lessons in the morning before classes began, I would then spend the rest of the day helping the teachers with their classes and tutoring some of the slower students so they could catch-up with their classmates.
To keep me from getting too full of myself my mama always reminded me that if I was in a school with proper standards of education I would only be in the higher level classes for my age group or maybe the bracket above me. But that I was still missing things that she and the other teachers didn’t know.
I never have let the fact that I know more than most of the regular people in Ecuador go to my head. I knew that I was lucky to have the opportunities I had and that I was blessed to have such a good life. Besides it was kind of fun helping the little ones learn new ideas and there was always this satisfaction in seeing their faces when they finally grasped a new concept.
I knew that my mama secretly wanted me to follow in her footsteps and become a teacher. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life yet. While teaching was a prestigious vocation and I honestly did enjoy parts of it the pay was horrible and nowadays there was so much politics that you had to deal with.
I wanted to have a wife and children some day though, I thought wryly to myself; I would need to get a girlfriend for that to happen. Not that I wasn’t good looking or anything, I had enjoyed plenty of dates but no girl ever really captivated my attention.
For a wife and kids I would need a good paying job because I was determined to give my children all the same opportunities that I had. I could always keep working for my father at the port. Eventually I knew with my drive and hard work I could get a job as good as the one my father had now. But I really didn’t want to work for my father my whole life and again there was the problem of the whole politics of the situation.
I was brought out of my musings by the thud of the front door closing. I was a little startled to see that I had been sitting and thinking for over an hour and had only gotten three of my homework questions answered.
“Hey son, you feeling ok, I heard from Vasco that you went home early.”
My father was leaning against the doorframe to my room giving me a concerned look.
‘How could he act like nothing has happened after what I heard at the pier, he doesn’t even seem like he’s all that worried. Maybe he really doesn’t care.”
“Don’t worry I’ll be at work tomorrow” ‘He’s probably afraid he’ll look bad if I miss any more work.’ Jair thought to himself disgusted anew at his father.
“That’s good, Kathleen said that dinner will be ready in 20 minutes why don’t you go ahead and take a shower and get cleaned up so you can go straight to bed after you’ve eaten.”
I felt like arguing with him, but a hot shower did sound good and I probably would go to bed after dinner. I always hate it when the person I’m angry with makes a good suggestion; it feels like they’re cheating somehow.
I picked the under shirt and long flannel pajama bottoms that I would change into after my shower out of the stack of clothes by my dresser. The stack represented all the clothes I hadn’t variously hung up or put away yet. They also made up the majority of my everyday clothes. I never really did see the point of spending my time shoving all my plain clothes into different drawers just so I could pull them out again the next day.
I stopped a second in the bathroom after striping down to look at my self in the mirror. I thought my appearance wasn’t too bad. I was about 5’ 7” with a somewhat stocky build I had filled out in the past few years of working at the port and while I didn’t look like a body builder I did have muscles. I had the common Latino look and coloration if maybe a little paler thanks to my mama’s blood with short black hair and black eyes. Though at the moment the eyes were kind of blood shot from my afternoon nap.
I stretched noticing that my body was as sore as the first time I worked at the port and wasn’t yet used to the heavy labor. ‘God I hoped I wasn’t really getting sick that should teach me not to pretend’
I turned the shower on and let the water heat up before stepping in and drawing the curtain closed. The hot water felt so good agent my aching body, it was enough let me forget the troubles of the day and just relax.
The water must have really relaxed me big time because the next thing I new my father was knocking on the door telling me that dinner would be ready in a few minuets and that I should hurry up. I rushed through my normal bath time ablutions after scrubbing down with the thin yellow bar of soap that smelled faintly of flowers but mostly of disinfectant. I used the soap on my hair too, hey it works just as good as shampoo with my short hair. I checked in the slightly fogged mirror that was stuck to the side of the bath; nope still didn’t need to shave of course I had just shaved last week but you never know.
I got out of the shower and dried off and dressed as fast as I could, not wanting to make my parents wait for me to start dinner. My mama insisted that we all sit down and eat as a family without TV or any kind of interruptions. She said that when she was a child she almost never got to sit down and eat with her family and blamed this as part of the reason she was never all that close to her brother.
I had tried to point out that I didn’t have any brothers or sisters so there wasn’t any real reason for us to have a sit down dinner. She had just given me a look and told me to sit down and eat my vegetables.
I hurried out of the bathroom my hair still damp and walked in to the kitchen the smell of roasting meat was heavenly and my mama seemed to be just finishing up
Even though my mama had made my favorite dinner I didn’t have much of an appetite. I picked idly at my food and wondered if I could take another Tylenol I was staring down at my food when every thing went bleary and my fork fell out of my hand
“Jair are you all right what’s wrong honey.”
“Sorry mom I just got dizzy for a moment I’m all right.”
“Are you sure? You look pretty pale, why don’t you go back to bed and I’ll wrap that up and put it in the fridge for you. “
“OK thanks mom” I said pushing my char back and standing up, I only made it half a step when my legs gave out and I fell to the floor. The last thing I heard before it all went dark was my mom yelling my name and the feel of my fathers ruff callused hands grabbing at me.
When I came too I was looking at the darkness of my room. I could hear the scrap of chairs being moved over the linoleum in the kitchen and the gentle murmur of subdued conversation. The glowing red numbers on my clock claimed it had only been an hour and a half.
I still felt like shit, my body ached and my head pounded to the steady rhythm of my heartbeat. I groaned and managed to get half way up before I was violently sick. Luckily I reached my trash can just in time and didn’t make too much of a mess.
When I was done, mostly because I had nothing left in my stomach, I struggled upright, paused for a moment to regain my balance then walked out into the kitchen.
When I got there I was greeted with a sight that would have been funny if it weren’t for the fact that I felt so bad. Sitting at the table besides my parents, which I had expected, was Vasco and all of them had identical expressions of surprise and guilt. They looked like I had just found them sneaking cookies from the cookie jar.
“What’s going on”? I said slowly. I could tell something was up and from their reaction it probably involved me.
“Sit down son we need to tell you something,” said my father in a voice that he probably hoped would be calming. It wasn’t, I was immediately on edge. I sat down in one of the kitchen chars and repeated my self.
“What’s going on”?
“Jair honey, when you passed out earlier me and your father suspected what might be causing it so we called Vasco and had him bring something over to see if we were right.” My mama seemed to lose the thread of what she was saying and looked helplessly at my father and Vasco.
“Jair” said Vasco taking the initiative “I’m sorry, we did the test and it confirmed it” he took a deep breath.
“You have MORFs”
End chapter one
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/