Sterile, fluorescent light. I blink. I feel white-washed. It pounds down on me. Sluggishly, pulling me under. And nobody notices, because... who would? I'm in my own world.
"Hey! Kiddo!" Someone's speaking, I whip around trying to detect the voice. "You gon' wait around all day? Or are you gon' get yo ass home to yo mom whose standin', in yo home with a plate o' milk and cookies?" I'm a bit woozy. My lips feel cemented to each other and my mouth tastes like gunk. It takes me a moment to remember where I am. "Kid?" I'm in the newsagents. A copy of the latest issue of the DC comic is propped in my hands. The filmy, glossy cover feels clammy against my course hands. "Kid?!"
"Yeah, yeah, sorry. What?" I glance up at Dennis. Dennis doesn't own the place, I don't think, but he's here all of the time. Just imagine your average cashier. Tallish, broad-shouldered, wiry, bald, chocolate-skinned with the most cackly, hoarse laugh in the room. Today he wears a red jumper and a silver watch. Jumper? In the middle of Summer? I know, right? But he says it's cos he's from Jamaica, and it's like tropical over there.
"I said... Whatever."
"It's alright. Tell me."
"Nah, is all good, man." Dennis waves it away and looks down at the counter to finish sorting the loose change. I watch him intently. The clanging, tinkly coins fall into little vaults before he shoves it all away into the till. There's a musty smell of magazines, and unrolled tabacco that sits in packets on the shelf behind Dennis. The newsagent's cozy and worn. By that, I mean it's cramped and falling apart. The pea-green wallpaper can easily be ripped off, a bunch of kids steal snacks regularly off the shelves, there's a drip in the ceiling, even in the middle of the summer. That's not all, I haven't even started on the outside. "So... You gonna buy that?" He points at the DC comic. My grip tightens around the comic.
"Umm... yeah." I shuffle toward him.
He raises his eyebrows. "That’ll be $1.99"
"Right." I dig my hands deep into the pits of my pockets, resurfacing with a handful of coins, a piece of gum, and a glinty piece of tinsel. His eyebrows knit, half smiling.
"Boy, why you come at me with all this?" He gestures at the clutter on the counter. "I asked for $1.99 dude, not the contents of your mother's purse."
"Yeah, sorry." I bite the inside of my cheek and feel as the outside flames up. My fingers lace together behind me and I press my palms together, waiting for them to sweat up. He doesn't move. I don't move. Then he clicks his tongue.
"Well, I ain't counting it." His shoulders rocket up to his ears. I nod. My fingers fumble around the counter, sorting the 1 cents, from the 10 cents, from the 25 cents, from the 50 cents. The coins feel balmy, and just about the right weight in my hands. Someone I know used to say money was the dirtiest thing in the whole world. I slide the coins over to him and shove the rest into my pockets. He drops the coins into the little compartments, looking at me all the time. "You're different son." He slips me a candy bar with the comic.
"Firstly." He leans over, elbows on the counter as if he isn’t aware of my disengagement. "You not like all 'em other boys. You don't buy the porno mags, like ever."
"Nah, I mean that's cool man." He raises his hands above his head. "Like, respect, man. Respect! Secondly, you're like a quiet dude. You know? Is always chill and shit with you. And thirdly, you don't goof up the vibe, you get me, man? You know, like, the vibe is essential. See what I'm saying?"
"Uhh... I guess."
"Haha, that's great, man. You get me too." He claps my back in a guy kind of way and I awkwardly oblige.
"Yeah, well, I've kind of got to head."
"Bye Kiddo." I let the door fall shut behind me as I walk off, hands stuffed in pockets, comic stuffed in the sleeves of my hoodie. The sun splatters the outside of the corner shop, as I clamp a pair of headphones over my ears. After the creak of the rubber, there is nothing to be heard, that's the way I like it. Sometimes that's the best in life. A silence. A nothing. It often tends to make more sense.
The walk to where I have to go is short. No more than a couple of blocks from the corner shop, so it takes roughly about five minutes, but I am not surprised that I make it in three. It's a big, big building, with a grassy porch and a couple of pitiful, kind of pretentious plaques. But I don't think it's that bad. It's a home, you see. A home for those who can barely walk or talk anymore, for those that could lean back in time, if they had the memory to. It's for the old folks. It's an old folk’s home.
There's a woman at the sleek front desk. She has a loud voice, guessing that comes in handy. Where's Anna? My sneakers squeak against the marbled floor as I trudge over to her.
"Naomi, right?" She looks up from a piece of paper she was scrutinizing on the desk.
"Oooohh, you must be Arthur's grandson." She puts a hand on my shoulder as if she's known me since birth. She's about the same height as me, with soft features.
"Umm.. no. Sorry. I'm Morrie's grandson."
"Right, of course. " She's embarrassed, looking down.
"Oh, don't worry. A lot..." I lie, sighing. "A lot of people mistake me for Arthurs grandson... but I'm not."
"Ah." She cocks her head to the side.
"Yeah. I look like him, people say." I point up at my face as if what I mean isn't already obvious.
"Yeah, umm... Ok. Can I help you, Morrie’s grandson?"
"I need a favor," I say, pulling the comic out and putting it onto the front desk. "Can you get Anna?"
"Of course, hang on there."She's the chirpy type for sure, which is kind of annoying, but at least she can find people quickly. Before I know it, Anna is by my side.
"MJ? Hi! What do you need?"
I point at the comic. "Can you bring it to him."
"You know we aren't supposed to."
"Oh, come on. Not now, Anna."
"Well, I'm sorry, but I really can't help you. I can't do it again, MJ. Chance is I'm going to get a warning next."
I look her deep in the eyes leaning forward. "Please." She half shakes her head. "Please, Anna."
"Our policy clearly states-"
"Anna?" I take her arm. "No offense, but I really, really, really don't give a fuck about the policy. Please Anna, just this once."
She studies me. "Fine, this once. Hey, this is getting me into guaranteed trouble, so you owe me."
I was tempted to tell her it wouldn't get her into one bit of trouble, but I wasn't going to push it. "Thanks, thanks! Appreciate it!"
"Alright. I have to go now." I half turn away. "Hey, Anna?"
"I was just thinking... I mean I was wondering if..." I bite my lip. "If he remembered me this week?"
"Look, I'm sorry, but... MJ, he barely remembers his own name, some days." Her voice breaks. "Sorry."
"No, look, it's fine." I run my hand through my hair frantically. "I should have never asked. Forget that I even asked. It's all good. Don't cry."
"Look, MJ. Forget what I just said." She drops to a whisper. "Come again next Friday, yeah?"
"No, just come, MJ, okay?"
"I'm sorry, Anna. I wouldn't be doing this if things were different. But Anna... He basically raised me."
"He was the bomb, man. My buddy and role model all at the same time. He was a fucking superhero. And then something called Alzheimer's gets to take it all away just like that."
"You don't know how much he loved me. How many of them DC comics he bought me. How much he taught me." I clench my fists. "And no one knows how much-" I falter. "How much I want to be his superhero."
"Oh, MJ." She comes over and pulls me into a meaningful hug. Her breath dances on my neck. "But you are his superhero, MJ. You don't know how much you actually are."
"Yeah, right" I laugh through tears into her auburn hair. "I thought heroes were memorable."
"Real-life ones don't get credited enough." She rubs my back. "Unsung heroes." There's a lull before we break apart.
"Anna." I smile at her through my glazed, tear-filled eyes. "Have we gotten cringy, or what?"
"I'll see you next Friday, MJ." She replies over her shoulder.