Monday, February 27, 2012

Why do you walk backwards?

“There he goes again.”
I drop my book and run to the window nudging my sister over for a clearer view.
“Why does he keep doing that?”
My sister shrugs chewing on a piece of her hair.
Watching the old man walk backwards in the park every afternoon is a welcome change from the view inside the apartment where I live.
“Brittany, where is my brush?”
My sister cowers as my aunt stomps into the living room. Her makeup is smeared, and it makes my hands itch to fix it.
“I don’t know, auntie.”
I push away from the window ledge.
“I’ll help you find it, aunt.”
My aunt ignores me as she yanks clothes off the couch and curses.
“Brittany I want my brush in two seconds, or I'm going to give you something to cry about.”
My sister crouches beneath the window whimpering. I step in front of my aunt.
“I said I’ll help you find it.”
The intensity of my aunt’s glare tells me to brace for impact. Her aim is off, but there will be a bruise on my arm tomorrow.
“Don’t you disrespect me, boy.”
I rub my arm hoping she will leave Brittany alone.
“Damn kids. Why did my whore sister die?”
She wipes her eye with the inside of her forearm. My fingers wriggle at my sides as I draw straight lines of color on her face, in my mind.
A knock at the door sends my aunt scrambling to her feet. She opens the door to her newest girlfriend, Talia, who strides into room surveying the terrain with a sneer.
“Why aren’t you ready to go?”
My aunt looks at Talia with awe. It’s hard not to, her hairdo nearly touches the ceiling, and she glares at everything in her severe, gothic makeup. Her lip curls with aversion when she looks at me.
“What a waste of a body.”
I step back and sit next to Brittany while my aunt buzzes around Talia like a fly around manure.
“Just give me a second to get ready, Talia.”
My aunt rushes to the bathroom, and Talia sits on the couch with a heavy grunt.
Brittany and I stare at the ground. I know if I make eye contact with Talia, she will release a torrent of hateful insults about how useless boys are.
Mercifully, my aunt exits the bathroom with her hair in a frizzy ponytail and makeup adjusted for a night of partying.
“How do I look, Talia?”
My aunt sticks her hip out and puckers her lips. Talia stands and walks to the open door.
“It will do.”
My aunt laughs and then frowns in my direction.
“I don’t want you to burn down the apartment, so make sandwiches.”
Brittany drops her hair from her mouth.
“But, there’s no jelly.”
My jaw clenches and I send Brittany a look that silences further protest. My aunt throws up her hands.
“Fine, starve.”
She slams the door, and I listen gratefully to sound of screeching tires leaving the apartment complex.
“Danny he’s still doing it.”
Brittany chews her hair and points at the man walking backwards.
“Why does he do that?”
“I don’t know Brit, maybe he has eyes in the back of his head.”
I press my nose against the glass, and my breath fogs my view. Turning away from the window I call over my shoulder.
“Come on, let’s put on our face, so we can go ask him.”
Brittany follows me into the bathroom and watches as I put on one of my aunt’s wigs. Talia isn’t the only one who hates the fact that I’m a boy.
The counter feels cold and hard against my stomach as I lean close to the mirror. I expertly apply eye shadow, mascara and lipstick.
“Is it my turn, Danny?”
I fluff the curls of the wig and check both sides of my face for any flaws.
“I’m not Danny, I’m Dacia now.”
The colors are a stark against my skin tone, but I’m limited to my aunt’s supply.
“Come here, Brittany and purse your lips.”
Brittany closes her eyes as I darken her lips.
She looks in the mirror and smiles at her reflection.
“Why can’t I have eye makeup?”
I walk to the hall closet to get my sneakers.
“Because you’re still too young.”
Brittany pouts as she puts on her shoes.
Brittany nods, and I open the door. She grabs my hand as a neighbor offers candy. The revulsion quickens our pace to the park.
“There he is.”
Brittany points to a white form flitting in and out of sight between the trees. I lead Brittany to a bench near the walking path, and we sit and wait for the man to pass.
The crunch of gravel warns of his approach, and I scoot to the edge of the seat. My heart beats a little faster, but Dacia isn’t afraid of anything.
“Hey you!”
The man keeps walking.
Brittany scrambles off the bench and waves at the old man. He stops, looks at her and then at me.
I hurry to Brittany’s side as she demands.
“Why do you always walk backwards?”
The man puts a finger next to his ear and shakes his head. Brittany yells louder.
“Why do—“
I put a hand on her shoulder.
“He can’t hear you, Brittany.”
 Brittany drops to the ground and wipes away the gravel to reveal a patch of dirt. She grabs a twig and begins to write.
The man and I watch her slow progress. When she finishes she looks up at the old man and points at the dirt and then to her chest.
Her voice sounds strange as she over annunciates each syllable.
The old man crouches next to her and gently takes the twig from her hand. He writes and then points to his chest.
Brittany giggles, snatching the twig back to resume scribbling.
“Why do you walk backwards?”
Brittany takes a few backward steps and points to Edgar.
The man gets a misty look in his eyes. He shifts the dirt to freshen the writing surface and accepts the twig from Brittany. I peek over his shoulder and read out loud.
“I prefer the view.”
Brittany laughs, mars his writing with her hand and writes in return.
The old man shakes his head sadly and takes the twig after scuffing the dirt.
“All my loved ones are in the past so that’s where I look.”
The old man stands and tries to wipe off the dirt clinging to his knees. He gives a brisk wave and begins walking away from us.
Brittany waves in return and then looks at me.
“I’m hungry, let’s go home and eat.”
I take her hand and think about the old man’s words.
“Do you miss mom, Brittany?”
She squeezes my hand and wordlessly we walk home backwards.


  1. nice story! i guess i also have to walk backward from time to time now .....

    1. It stems from a real experience I had walking in the park one day. An older gentleman was walking toward me on the sidewalk and without warning turned and walked backward. It was so strange I knew I had to write a story about it. :) Thanks, Narendran!