“Give the ball back, fucker.”
He brandishes his knuckles. He spits on the ground. He is six.
“Heard what I said?”
I shuffle my feet in the ground and squeeze the ball in my hand. It is a bright orange, the kind that glints even in the weakest of sunlight. Besides for the colour, it is plain. Nothing seems particularly attractive about it in the slightest. Even when under my grip, it bends and reshapes poorly. I continue to compress and decompress, the elasticity giving way underneath my fingers. He continues to speak.
“It isn’t your ball.” He takes a step forward.
I stop squeezing. I tell him how I found this ball here at my feet. It rolled my way while I was wandering the playground. I picked it up and played with it for some 40 days. This was its new history. Didn’t that matter anything?
“No. I was given it by my teacher.”
I whisper. “And I was given it by chance.”
“That was then. This is now. I’m taking it back.” He doesn’t flinch when he says it. A civil war could be going off, and he wouldn’t notice. His world is the ball and the ball, the world.
I dig my feet in the ground again. He steps forward. I ask him how could I be sure if it was his ball at all.
“Because it is, shithead.” My six year-old mind wonders what a shithead looks like. I imagine a sentient toilet bowl. But lacking such visual stimulation, I just look in front of me at the boy whose face is contorted and red.
I continue to press the orange ball between my fingers. “Do you mind if I play with it or not for a while? Or maybe we can toss it around in a game of catch?”
“It’s mine. What don’t you understand?”
“Well, how it’s yours.”
He takes another step forward, and swings. The six year old hits like a trained boxer. I fall to the ground.
Things blur. The ground licks my lips. Liquid iron tickles my tongue.
Before I can reorient, he is on top of me. His left hand raises and lands on my chin. His right, my left cheek. There on the ground, part of me can’t help but wonder if he’s done this before. He’s a professional. He wastes no time.
The other part of me is leaking out bit by bit by bit.
I jut my hips upwards and wiggle. My knee frees from under his, and I slam it into his side. He winces. For a few seconds, he is caught in between an inhalation and an exhalation, neither breathing nor not. A sound comes out from him like two freight train colliding – just the awkward moment of pause between life and death.
He scurries to his feet and tries to breath in all the oxygen his little lungs can load. Blood has seeped into my eyes. I try to clear my eyesight for his next onslaught, but the dirt on my hand only clumps on the wound. In a few moments, I’m blind. In a few other moments, I figured, I’d be dead.
This is it. I think. Six years of life go by. It isn’t much, but it’s enough. It’s all I know, all I have.
I wait lifeless, my limbs at my side. It is only a matter of time.
Only a few more seconds.
Okay. Maybe he just needs to catch his breath.
I listen around me, but I do not hear panting. Instead, I hear patting on the ground and mumbling. I focus and hear, “Where is it? Where is it?”
With my eyes closed, I ask, “What?”
He says, “The ball.”
In the violence and name-calling, the punches and the verbal abuses, I had forgotten about it. It was just a ball after all. I guess absentmindedness can be forgiven.
It might even be expected. God willing, of course.