Average Girl Magazine Short Story Winner 2005/2006

The Key
By Thomas L. Banks

..they won’t pick on me anymore!” He reached for his backpack and prepared to leave (For a moment I was too shocked to move). Lately our neighborhood was getting a bad name. It wasn’t anything like the place I had come to know before. Familiar stores with their jobs began moving out to the shopping malls in the suburbs. Old business places were left vacant, boarded up. Our clean streets and neat houses began to look run down. Now, many people were out of work and standing on street corners. For sale signs went up and people weren’t  as trustworthy as before. To make matters even worse, some people, old and young, began selling drugs to earn money. Ever present police cars, drive-by shootings and drug busts became new problems. Being a kid wasn’t fun anymore.  

Still, we felt safe in our homes and at school, but that was changing. Mom and Dad began to argue more... most times money was the problem. School was beginning to change, too. It looked like almost everyday serious fights broke out on the bus or on  the playground. And just as you see the dark rain clouds rolling in before a big Virginia thunderstorm, I could see that something bad was going to  happen.

And it did. Sure enough, trouble arrived at our house on a Friday night. Dad lost his  job. He not only lost his job, he lost his temper. He blew up.

“Nobody cares a bit what happens to this sorry community, or to the people who have to work night and day to keep things together. Politicians, policemen and so-called community leaders are just in it for the money. I’ve had it up to here with all of it!“  He stormed into his room. He was never the same again.

After a few weeks of looking for work, he ended up in a one-sided heated argument with Mom. She accused him of not trying hard enough. And just like that, he left. We were devastated. It took several months just to get into a routine again. We missed him, and we didn’t feel safe anymore.

Mom started working two small jobs and kept us going pretty straight with the help of our church and some of its members. The pastor, Rev. Larkings, and his wife encouraged us. Several visits to the city officials were made for money assistance. All of this was good, but still the parents, who cared, worried because as they tried to treat one problem, another popped up.

Some kids were having a hard time just getting by: no extra money for school, no one to come home to after school and having to scrounge for meals. Living at home with only a grandmother, an aunt, a guardian or with a single parent made it twice as hard. Now that Dad had gone, we struggled, too--going without  many of the things we needed.

Byron White was an only child of a single mom and a classmate of mine. He lived two blocks away and we rode the same bus to school. We weren’t exactly friends, but I probably was the closest thing to a friend that he had. I  stuck up for him once when he was being picked on by a bigger kid. Both boys and girls were standing around- egging them on to fight. Before I knew what I  was doing, I stepped right in between them.

“You know why people don’t like you, Lewis?” I yelled. “It’s because you want people to think that you are better than they are. Well,  you aren’t and you can’t win any friends with your fists!”

The big kid stumbled when I stood right up in his face. I helped him up and he listened. We didn’t have to fight (Later, we became friends).  

Even then, I felt that there was an answer to these problems that had built up all around us. Byron didn’t say thanks, but  I knew he was glad that I was there in time. 

Any other time I would have been glad to share news with Mom when something as big as getting into a fight happened, but Mom and I were not as close anymore. I felt it was her fault that Dad took off... he didn’t lose his job on purpose. Mom’s unhappiness was bringing us all down. I wasn’t having fun at home anymore...none of us were.

Even our school work was being affected. There wasn’t much laughter. Eating together was just eating together, homework was a drag and nothing was the same, even watching TV was boring. This had to change. We couldn’t go on living like this.

I was feeling lower than a skunk when an idea came to me from somewhere--“write her a letter! Write Mom a letter?”  Strangely, it made sense!

I remembered my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Jefferson, teaching a lesson called “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” and how she had demonstrated it. I was one of the two that she chose  to show how two kids who were mad with each other, could make up and become friends again. “Some one has to be the first to start,” she said.

It was clear to me that this was still true. It could be done at home, at school,  at church, in the community and all over the world. If only people would understand how and just start doing it. With that in mind, I decided I, myself, would be the one to start. I would begin it with a letter.

Writing Mom that letter was the beginning of a bunch of letters. I wrote one to my pastor, to my math teacher, to the principal, to the police chief, to the Mayor and to anyone else I thought needed to hear the other side of  a problem  (I would write Dad, too...he was at the top of my list). I was on a mission! I was sure that saying what needed to be said would make a real difference.  

I had left one letter for Mom on her pillow and could hardly wait to get home from school. I was putting my books away when she called me to the kitchen, my favorite place to talk. I was so happy inside...I knew it had worked!  She had read it!     

“What is this I found on my pillow?” she asked as if it had made her mad (I was reminded of the way she used to read fairy tales to us, and how she would add excitement to the story by giving her impression of how the characters would speak).

I laughed nervously.  I knew she was kidding and that she had read the letter.  After a long over-due hug, we started  talking without fumbling for words to say. I felt like a “new penny”(one of her sayings).

“I’ll always keep this letter,” she said. “I’m proud of you, Freeman, we all need to be reminded sometimes how to show love!”

That little letter “got the ball rolling.” Mom called the whole family together after supper, and we talked and talked and talked. Like a good rain after a dry spell, it was exciting! There were explanations, questions, answers, even confessions and most of all suggestions for helping out. The Johnson’s home came alive again--immediately!

That heart to heart talk with our mother prepared me for the most unbelievable experience which I had the following day.

Byron had been sitting by himself, which was not unusual- but how he looked and what he said was. On his face was a half smile as if a conversation with himself was over and he was in control.  He said almost proudly, “I know where it is and I know how to load it, too....they won’t pick on me anymore !” He reached for his backpack and prepared to leave (For a moment I was too shocked to move).

I was scared, but not frozen in fear. It was intended that I be there at that moment to hear his terrible confession, since now I knew how to solve problems. Byron was my friend. He had a problem. I had the key.                                           

The  End 

 

© 2005  Thomas L. Banks resides in Chesterfield, VA. Email him at btoleba@aol.com.   

 

 

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