Meet Alem Reed - black hair, brown eyes, and a bad temper.
After getting kicked out of five high schools for fighting, Alem’s goal of getting a high school diploma was destroyed; that is, until he is asked to attend a secretive new school.
However, when he discovers that the new school is filled with creatures that aren’t human, (and view you as a potentially delicious snack) tough boy Alem needs every fight skill, dry comment, and ounce of wit he’s got if he is going to survive his senior year.
Chapter Five: Of Shacks and Paper Cuts
There was no time to beat around the bush. I had to be ready to leave tomorrow. “Dad, is there a problem with Mr. Ibunku?” I asked him point blank.
Dad froze. Sighing, he rubbed his wise forehead, covered with several thick lines, and looked around the table to see if anyone could hear us. We were at a neighborhood restaurant. It was a family-run business. The people came from the Caribbean, from Jamaica, I think. The owner was very friendly and he listened to reggae music, which gave the joint an authentic Caribbean vibe. On the walls were decorations reminiscent of beach scenes and paintings of the seaside. The tables were original; the wood was hollow in the center and covered with glass. Underneath the glass tabletop, there were little plastic sea animals scattered through white sand as though they were sunbathing in the tropical noonday sun.
This restaurant was my favorite place in the world, but Pops and I don't get a chance to eat here very often. In truth, we usually can’t afford ourselves this luxury. Looking over, my old man had a pinched expression. Anytime he wore that expression, basically it meant bad news for us. He clearly didn't want to discuss Mr. Ibunku. He sighed again and sucked his teeth. “Ibunku is a man who was once in love with your mother.”
I nearly choked on my sip of Coca-Cola. “What did you say?”
The old fart continued, “Now son, your mother was an easy lady to fall in love with, to no fault of her own, but she was real beauty and she was kind to everyone. Now, this creep, well, he damn well tried to break up my marriage. I think I honestly would have killed him if he had succeeded. I loved your momma that much. She knew him for a long time before she met me. In the beginning, I wasn’t very confident about our relationship. I was young and honestly, I don't remember much about him. That accident four years ago really messed me up. My memory is nearly gone, son. Anyway, when I first heard the new principal’s name, I didn't put it together.” Dad smiled softly and paused. I think he was lost in thought. In fact, we both were.
Three years after mom died, Dad had gotten in a huge car accident. He lost a good amount of his memory, and we lost everything else because of the medical bills that kept piling up. Dad only really remembered Mom and me. Other things about his past weren’t coming back to him. I guess it was some form of amnesia. Very few things triggered his oldest memories. Not that he really could focus on his past, with the present have so much drama of my repeated expulsions, the defeating hang-ups from nearly every school he called, and the exciting news of the Institution of Harmony, the one place we hadn’t tried. This was a lot for the old guy to process. It had been a crazy day to say the least.
He sighed. “Anything that I was able to remember about him, would have been distorted by my emotion about your mother. When I first saw his face earlier today, I wanted to fight the guy! I thought he was trying to steal my wife from me again, not remembering that…” He suddenly stopped.
We both fell into a heavy silence. It always happened when we talked about her and the incident that took her away from us. I was numb and I waited. Dad sighed heavily. “I don't seem to remember much at all these days.” He rubbed his forehead tiredly. “But it’s all in the past now. When he called I didn’t recognized the voice or the name, but when I saw him, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up straight. It was like I was a teenager again!” Dad laughed a bit, trying to lighten the mood.
I willed my emotions away and rolled my eyes. Now that explained a lot. “Jeez, this thing is getting personal,” I thought to myself. So, Mr. Ibunku was in love with my mother, eh? What did I know about love? Plenty, actually. But that crazy girl was half-way across the world, right now. Anyway, I had the rising suspicion that this revelation might possibly cause me some trouble later on in the future. I was beginning to see that my mother was more involved in this situation than I had originally thought. This unleashed a flood of repressed emotions that I was not prepared to address. So, I shoved it aside. I had to focus on the present.
“Well, what do you think about his offer, Pops?” I smirked, trying to skirt around the memories of mom. “It’s amazing, isn't it? Lady Luck is definitely in love with me today.” I said as my grin widened. “Whoever she is, she knew that better things awaited me, outside of Principal I-Have-A-Stick-The-Size-Of-Chicago-Up-My-Rear’s dumb-ass school. She certainly didn't want me putting up with his crap any longer. It was she, who found a way to turn my luck around. Remember, it was through my own good deed, Pops, that I got kicked out of that stupid school!”
Dad frowned at my language but didn't comment as usual. “Well, it sure is a lot to digest,” his frown tightened. “It’s amazing, all right, that you got kicked out of one school and then accepted into a better one, all on the same day? That's not Lady Luck, that’s Reed luck. It doesn't come to everyone.” My dad seemed amused by this for some odd reason. “But I have heard something about this school. One of my old bosses talked about a school once or twice. He said that it was where only the best of the best go. He was angry because he couldn't get his kid into this school, and he was cursing up a storm about it. I thought it was called Middleton, but it might be the same school, with a different name. Ibunku did say he changed some things when he became principal.”
I shrugged. “I guess so. It could be after all, but why the hell should I care? It could be called the Wild and Crazy Monkey Love Shack for all I care, as long as I can graduate, and walk down the aisle with a high school diploma, it's all good to me.”
There was a slightly pause in the dining room around us and it gave me time to realize what I just said.
“Did you say, Wild and Crazy Monkey Love Shack?” My dad choked out.
I glared at him, mockingly. “Yes, that’s what I said, all right. What about it?” Oh man, I had just put my foot in my mouth. In my own self-defense, I repeated it. “Does the Wild and Crazy Monkey Love Shack make you want to laugh? So what?” I said, glaring at him, pleading for him not to do anything about it, but I knew what was coming. I could feel it.
Just like that, Pops burst out laughing. He let out a loud laugh that practically had him rolling on the floor with shaking guffaws. He was barely able to contain himself. Jokingly, he fell to the floor and I had to join in laughter with him, as I stared at him in mock surprise. Now, everyone in the restaurant stared at him as my face burned. My fake laughter quickly subsided when I realized that no one else thought this was funny. I tried to ignore the outraged looks we were getting. It took dad awhile to get back up and onto his chair. My face was so hot it could fry an egg. He wiped some tear from his eyes. “It's something your mother would have said. I'm going to miss you, my boy.” And the mood swiftly changed into a sober one again.
“You'll come and visit me right?” I hesitantly asked.
Dad sadly smiled. “I'll try. But by just looking at the address, it’s way up into the upper parts of the city; by the way, it’s kind of depressing up there; and I might embarrass you in front of the friends you'll make. That is, if you choose to have friends and not get kicked out.” My old man leveled a heavy gaze at me.
“Alem, this is probably the last chance you’re going to get to fulfill this dream of yours. Please don't mess it up. You know, the rich folk aren’t very kind to the poor. I’m talking to you from experience. Mr. Ibunku seems different but he can't protect you from those rich kids, not if they decide to boil you alive. This worries me.”
“Pops, what are you worried for? They can try all they want, but they’ll fail. Hey, let them try anyway!” My fighting spirit was firing up. “Ha! I am, Alem, the Greatest Street Fighter in the World! They’ll be scared of me! So, there’s no way I’m going to be pushed around there. I am the one that kick’s ass. I don’t get my ass kicked.”
My old man rolled his eyes. “And then you'll get kicked out of school and we will be back at square one. This time it will be different because we’re dealing with rich kids, so there will probably be a few million-dollar lawsuits to boot. We will have to leave the country if that happens,” he half-joked, trying to take the whole thing lightly. But with my history, that scenario was entirely possible. “No, Alem, you’ve got to be smart. I know you’re smart, but you’ve got to use your smarts, not your fists, you hear me?”
I grunted. I wasn’t sure what else to do, or what to say. He was right.
“You are my son and the reason that I'm always broke,” he said as he looked to the ceiling as if to ask why he had so many troubles.
I glared at him. “You are a crazy old fart,” I said.
“Hm. Then you’re a crazy young fart. You know, they say that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.” His face was swelling with smugness. I stared. What do you say to such a lame comeback?
The owner's son interrupted our insane conversation when he brought us our dinner. We ate in silence. The sudden unexpected heaviness of this silence was frightening. I've always had my father with me, nearby. We’ve been together through the small ups, and some really low downs. We've always been close. My Dad is just a good Dad I guess. I'm actually going to miss him, kind of, somewhat, at least a tiny bit. I guess I could see him on the weekends, so I didn’t have to miss him if I would see him soon again anyway. Yeah. So, I don’t really need to miss him exactly. Man, I’m bad at convincing myself.
My one comfort came in knowing that he was going to miss me too. I judged this by the way he would steal a glance at me from time to time. What a goodbye dinner this was! Food had never before tasted so good and so sad.
After dinner, it came time for the greatest trial of my young life. I will call it Revenge of the Adult World Part Two: The Paperwork from Hell. This I had to go through alone because as soon as we got home, Dad had to rush to his night job. He didn't get any sleep during the day because of my school problems. He had to be exhausted and I felt ridden with guilt; it sliced me into ribbons. Hopefully nothing bad would happen to him tonight while he was working, if it did, it would be my fault.
I rubbed my eyes. I knew Pops was dead tired because I was too. I walked to the gigantic pile of papers that I had to face before I fell asleep. Was I really supposed to read all of them tonight? I know that Mr. Ibunku thought I was smart, but I wasn’t convinced that what he was asking me to do was humanly possible. I looked at our clock in the kitchen. It was ten twenty-four. The day had flown by.
I searched for a pen in my backpack and when I found one, I sat down at our small kitchen table. I picked up the first sheet from the pile, and I saw that it was an introduction letter of some kind. It read: “Welcome Mr. Alem Reed. We would first like to thank you for choosing our fine institution for all of your educational needs. At the Institution of Harmony, we welcome a diverse student population, which carries with it a wide range of customs, culture, and language through our doors.”
My eyes were blurring. I didn't bother to finish it before I moved to the next page. I looked straight at the bottom of the paper to see if I had to sign anything. I didn't and so I was on to the next page. This next one contained the Student Conduct Rule Guide:
These are the regulations which no student must violate, disobey, or break:
1) No student shall deliberately harm another student.
2) No student shall circuitously harm another student.
3) Once on campus, the student must treat his or her fellow peers with equal esteem and respect regardless of the peers' race, culture, languages, customs, beliefs, class, civilization, or apparent difference.
4) No student shall…
I scanned over this page and looked at the next one containing more rules. How difficult could it be to be a decent person? I turned to the next page. After ten more pages of similar material regarding student conduct, I finally found the signature line.
The next topic was that of financial information. I had a full scholarship. Mr. Ibanku told me not to worry, that he would handle that. I turned to the next set of papers. This one had an interesting title, Life at the Institution of Harmony, but still I didn’t really care. These types of descriptions were hardly ever accurate anyway. Hmm, what was next?
The health record was nothing more than a blank piece of paper. It didn’t ask for the usual immunization record, health history, and current physical requiring a doctor’s signature, which was fine by me. All this form required was my name, age, date of birth, and race. I could fill this one out without paying some stupid doctor’s fee that I couldn’t afford anyway.
Still, I stared at it. I hate when documents require individuals to indicate their race. I don’t understand why it matters. This has always annoyed me. I glared at the paper. My mood turned sour. I was tired and didn’t want to deal with this stuff. So, their medical form wanted to know my race. This pissed me off and I decided to be difficult. I wrote human and accompanied it with a curse to stuff it down the throat of those who cared!
What was next? I was relieved to see something interesting. It was the Calendar of Events. I glanced at September. It said, “First Month of the Western Star. Wial la gu. La ve so ti myu goa vei.” There was more writing but I didn't get it. I figured it probably had to do with different languages, or cultures, or something. “September 1: Introduction Welcome; September 2: The Beginning of Classes.” There wasn't anything more for September except for a special ball event near the end of the month. What century where these people in exactly? That was a disappointment.
I turned to the next set of papers. It contained cultural information stuff. I flipped through this quickly and I didn’t bother to read it. It was probably nothing more than useless information anyway. I just had to respect people. That's it. To my utter joy, that was what most of the pile was. Even better, I didn't have to sign anything else!
I arrived at the last page in no time. It read, “Again thank you for choosing to attend our elite establishment. To confirm that you understand all of the school rules, expectations, settings and what is expected of each student here, please sign your name at the bottom and…” I closed my eyes. Finally, I was done. I didn't bother to read the rest. I searched for the place where I had to sign. It was on the left of a round wax-like seal. The seal had a strange design. The animal on it look like a half-bird, half-snake thing. I definitely thought it was weird, but whatever suits them.
It was time for sleep. I quickly signed my name at the bottom. I could breathe easily now. I was finished. I reorganized the papers and carelessly put the three papers I had filled out on top of the heap. As I did this, I cut my finger, “Ouch!” I cried out.
Small drops of my blood oozed from my wounded thumb. Cursing the papers, I waved my hand and sucked my injured thumb. Paper-cuts suck! I can handle a punch in the face, in the gut, and pretty much anywhere else, but I was a baby when it came to paper-cuts. I considered them to be an unnecessary evil and I sucked my thumb like a snot-nosed toddler. As I licked my wound, my eyes wandered about the dimly lit kitchen. The clock said it was ten minutes to eleven. It was getting too late. I wanted to sleep now, but I still had to pack my bag.
I looked backed at the evil pile of papers and blinked. I blinked slowly. Were those red spots on my papers? You have got to be kidding me? I looked more closely. Oh, crap, they were. Now I needed some whiteout. I didn’t want whoever looked at these papers to think I was some violent thug or something.
Thus, I started my epic search for whiteout. It took me a good hour to find the stupid thing. During this time, I filled the silence of my apartment with my dark muttering and cursing. A drunken sailor would have blushed at some of the things I said.
It was ten minutes to one when I finally found it. Man, I'm useless when I’m this tired. I went back to the table. And to my utter disbelief, the red spots I had seen an hour earlier were gone. They were gone like they hadn’t been there in the first place! I felt like screaming.
I had wasted an hour of sleep for nothing. Forget this. I stormed towards the living room closest and grabbed my dad's old duffel bag. He said I could use it. I quickly stuffed some clothes, a towel, some CDs, aftershave, deodorant, and other essentials into the old bag. I had to sit on it to zip it back up. Once at Harmony, I would organize everything.
I looked at my alarm clock. It was now two minutes after three. I had to be up in a few short hours. I set the alarm to eight o’clock and collapsed on my bed. I was out in less than a minute.