Today I share with you something new, something that I've mentioned but never posted about before: my writing.
I have always loved to write. I remember writing a story as a young girl about a kitty looking for his whiskers. Then I wrote the beginnings of many a fairy tale remake. Then came medieval adventures. And now I work on a fantasy trilogy. But this little story comes from a different place, a place full of quirky mishaps and heartfelt words. It feels quite different than my other writings, which maybe one day I will share with you, but I love this story! In fact, I entered it in a short story contest this spring and await the results.
Enjoy! And comment below what you thought!
“I swear, this road gets longer every day.” Mr. Freddie Gabby picked at his uniform as he drove down the Texas road. The open side of his mail truck let the early summer air blow through, and he started to hum a song, although his manager didn’t like any noise coming from the delivery vehicle. No one could hear him out here.
“Finally,” Freddie thought as he came to his last mailbox of the day. The couple here always moved around during the summer, so he checked the box out of habit. Only, as he put in the box a single piece of mail, a promotional flyer, did he see the boy standing by the mailbox. The flyer fluttered to the ground.
“I thought you wouldn’t come,” the boy said. “You know, one notices much more around oneself when one pretends to be a box.” The boy looked around seven, with sandy hair that stood up everywhere and a pair of round glasses on his nose. A large, square sticker stuck to his forehead with a blue crayon spelling Johannesburg on it. Freddie wondered if kids usually wore stickers on their foreheads nowadays; it had been so long since he felt young, and he never had any kids of his own, so he didn’t know much about the younger folks. Once he thought that he would have kids, but that day vanished on that day. But he vowed never to think of that day again, so Freddie turned back to the boy.
“Ah,” Freddie stammered. “Do you have a letter?”
No one said anything except the mockingbirds who flew overhead. The boy picked up the flyer.
“A new pizza joint,” he said. “Too bad I won’t get to try it, I like pizza, except for when they put too much sauce on it; that just kills it for me.”
“Yep.” Freddie turned to his vehicle. “Are your folks back?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t have any folks,” the boy said. “Just me. Sure, I go from house to house, but I prefer to think of the houses as hotels. Except I have to make my own bed. And usually I have to do the dishes, watch the children, help with homework, and sweep the floors, so they don’t resemble hotels much at all, do they?” Foster Care, Freddie thought.
The mockingbird sung another solo.
“Aren’t you going to ask about the sticker?” the boy whispered.
“I feel quite proud of it, you see, as I wrote it in my best handwriting. I just thought to myself, I sure would like to get away from this life, see the sights that I always read about in books. I love to read, you see, especially big books. And ever since I read Cry, the Beloved Country, I wanted to go to South Africa.”
“You want to what?” Freddie didn’t think he heard right.
“I think that five dollars should cover shipping. How many stamps will that buy?”
“But what do you plan to ship?”
“Myself, of course.”
“Uh, I don’t think that…”
“Mr. Mailman, I know that you will say something smart and grow-up-like, but nothing will deter me. I need to go.”
“Where are the people who take care of you?”
“No one takes care of me, Mr. Mailman; I take care of myself. But if you refer to the system’s people, they left days ago after I tricked them into thinking the system would pick me up.”
“So, no one watches you?”
“As I said before, mailman, I learned long ago to watch myself. And now, if you would be so kind, let’s go. We can’t stand here all day!” The boy started towards the truck, and Freddie didn’t stop him but began to think.
“Do you like the neighbors?” Freddie asked. They seemed best to take care of the boy until the couple’s return.
“Your plan won’t work,” the boy said, smiling. “Start driving.” Freddie sighed and backed into the driveway to turn around, all the while thinking some more. What would he do with the boy that wanted to mail himself to South Africa?
After fifteen minutes the boy started up again.
“My name is Jamie, but call me James. I don’t like the name Jamie, because it could be a girl’s name. In fact, two of the system’s couples actually expected a girl when they signed up for me. They were the worst. You see, sometimes the system sends me to decent families, and if I’m lucky, they ignore me most of the time. But other times the houses try to break me. They either promise me good things but only give me endless spankings and stale leftovers, or they give me everything I want only to take it away from me when a real child comes along. That’s why I’m going away.”
“I see,” Freddie said. He knew he shouldn’t, but he already started to like this boy. The inner
corners of his heart reached out to his bright eyes shaded by a sticker. Thoughts of that day came up again, and this time, Freddie couldn’t stop the memories from pouring in. He remembered his wife laying in the white bed with machines hooked into her veins. He could almost smell the antibiotics mixed with flowers that filled her room. The machines echoed in his mind, slowly fading as her heart stopped beating. But she still smiled at the end. She always went away strong, victorious or not, and Freddie knew that he must too, for her if not for him.
He knew what to do. He never made rash decisions, but today, he knew. He could almost feel her presence in him pushing his heart towards a new start. Live again, she seemed to tell him. Love again.
Freddie turned to the boy who smiled.
“It sure is a long way to Johannesburg,” the boy said. “Are we lost?”
“I thought that we could make a small detour on our way,” Freddie said.
“Now, Mr. Mailman, I already told you that I will not take any side trips!”
“What about to home?”
“I don’t have a home.”
“What if you came home with me?”
“You have a home?”
“How can you almost have a home?” the boy asked.
“Well, I own a house and furniture with all the proper things inside except for, well, hominess.”
“I believe it’s pictures hanging on the walls of fun days in the past and a calendar showing a busy life ahead. It’s laughter and crying, hugs and meals. But if I remember correctly, home contains something more, the feeling of belonging and… something else.”
Freddie sighed at the memory. “Love.”
“Sounds great and all, Mr. Mailman,” James said, “But I prefer South Africa. How do I know you can give what you promise? How can a home beat Africa?”
“I guess you don’t know,” Freddie said. “Tell you the truth, I don’t know we could do it either. But I know, I know that without a home, one cannot truly live in this world. So, you’ve got to make a choice. Come and be my home or go and explore the unknowns of Africa.”
The boy didn’t say anything as Freddie pulled into the mail office. Freddie opened his truck and pulled out the mail for the day, motioning for James to follow. In his heart, Freddie wondered if he made the right decision. He felt so foolish for thinking that he could start over and leave his empty life behind him. A home seemed impossible.
But this boy seemed to believe in the impossible. Freddie had one more idea.
“Here is where the packages stay,” he told James after entering the mail room, a small, dark cube of a room. “We will ship you to Johannesburg tomorrow.”
“Okay,” James said. He settled himself among the boxes and lifted up his chin, smiling and making Freddie wonder if he knew the boy as well as he thought.
Freddie cracked the door and started back towards his truck. He inched down the hallway, each step feeling heavier and farther away from a glorious hope. Soon he would have to go and bring James to the Foster Care system, unless… unless James chose to come home.
One more minute, Freddie thought as he came to the door. A tear rolled down his cheek. Time ran out.
James came running from the back, and flew into Freddie’s arms. Tears from James’ face fell on Freddie’s shoulder.
“I think,” James sniffled, “I think that Africa can wait.”
“Are you sure?”
James nodded, and then, in a moment of finalization, he took the sticker off of his forehead and tore it in two.
“Let’s go home,” James said, and Freddie took his hand and led him to a greater adventure than either of them could ever dream of, the adventure of home.