A Boy Named Henry
The Simmons public library was a melting pot of the haves and have-nots, a mixture of homeless people and the wealthy older residents of the nearby neighborhood. The silence was only disturbed by coughs echoing from the side hallway: a man bent over, choking on the dip tucked in his lower lip. His companion smacked his back with a dirty, dried and peeling hand. Behind the desk two middle aged librarians stared at each other, gesturing at the pair; neither sure who should ask them to leave. In the lounge area, a group of old men sat. Each of them had gray hair, trimmed neatly above their collar with charcoal and blue ties looped perfectly.
A character that stood out more than the other library guests, was a boy browsing the section of the library that kept various maps. His clothes were clearly picked without proper measurements; his hair a fluffy mess going every angle from his head. Each time he picked up a new map, he had to pull the cuff of his sleeves above his hands. He was far from blending.
Footsteps grew louder and he turned to see one of the library assistants next to him, the third time since he had been there.
“Are you sure there’s nothing I can help you find?” Concern overcasts her smile every time she greets him.
The group of men watched from a distance, snickering amongst themselves. The boy made eye contact with them all. “No, I think I found what I needed. Thank you though.” He put the last map back on the shelf. Picking up his backpack, he pushed passed her, stopped by the group of men. Without even a wince he spoke intently, “I hope you all have a wonderfully uneventful day.”
No one said a word as he went down the hall, dropping a dollar for the homeless pair on his way out the door.
Stepping out to the curb he debated where to go next. Looking at the map he snagged, he felt his cellphone buzz. He took the phone out of his pocket, another missed call from mom; another voicemail. He turned the screen off and slid it back into his pocket.
It would take at least another hour in a car to get to his friends house. Who knew how long it would take walking. If he used the phone his mom could track him. She was the last person he wanted to talk to. Even if he did, he is sure she would never listen, let alone understand. So he kept ignoring her, and tried to forget he had a phone at all.
It has been roughly fourteen hours since he left home, and about six hours since she had noticed. Packing light, meant no disturbance to his bedroom at a glance. His mother would never notice a missing pair of jeans, nor a few toiletries from the bathroom. She was too busy with her important job and her pampered husband to know anything about their “princess”.
He let out a long sigh, “Maybe the cat will miss me.” She was most likely sleeping in his closet, unaware her awkward companion was gone.
Honking brought him back abruptly from his thoughts. A car was only a few feet from his feet. In the midst of daydreaming he must have stepped forward. He jumped back, and yelled “sorry” as the car sped by.
His gaze dropped to his feet. He really needs to keep it together, stay calm and keep going. Afterall he wasn’t welcomed at home.
‘You need to stop this. You’re making your mother cry.’ His stepfather’s voice kept ringing in his head. Everytime he stopped moving, he stopped thinking, the feeling of his shirt being yanked from his hands returned. His face somehow still feels the scratch from the bra strap being thrown at him.
His hand brushes his face, trying to wipe away the feeling. Food seemed to be the only reasonable distraction so he headed to the gas station he saw on the corner.
* * *
He placed a coke and trail mix at the register. The girl behind the counter popped bubble gum, chewing loudly while scanning the pathetic meal. When she handed him the change, she called him what every stranger instinctively calls him. “Have a good day, miss.”
“You too.” Correcting her felt somehow rude. He lowered his head and walked out towards the bus stop. He looked at the schedule hanging above a heavily stained bench. If he gets to the mall on the next bus, he should time for fifteen minutes to spare before heading to the next town.
He waited patiently, avoiding eye contact with the others who slowly joined him at the bus stop. A pair of boys stood a few feet away. He could feel eyes on him. The two were staring at his chest, which was almost completely hidden under a tank top and a flannel. One of the boys snickered when he crossed his arms, trying to further cover them. He turned to face the direction the bus was coming from. It could not get to the crowd soon enough.
A hard thud and he was sitting in the front, staring out the window wondering how much longer he had to wait to start his life over again.
Without a car, he was bound to struggle every step of the way, but cars require money. Resting his head in his hands he closed his eyes and let himself nod off.
A sudden jerk woke him up. The bus was breaking fast and shook both him and the woman sitting to his left. He braced for both of them as the bus came to stop.
He walked out of the way of the passengers behind him. Opening his wallet he counted twenty- eight dollars. He hadn’t planned enough money for meals. In fact he hadn’t planned leaving at all. Thought about it, sure. But, never believed he would ever take off, certainly not before college.
He saw a sign for a cafe across the street. He hadn’t eaten more than trail mix since he left. A bagel and cup of coffee sounded more enticing than ever. He hurried across the street.
At a table near the front he could see a woman holding a baby. Their skin pink and wrinkly; a fresh new baby.
The lady next to the mom asked her if the baby was a boy or a girl. The mother proudly exclaimed she was a girl. He wondered if that’s how his mom acted when he was born. Proud to announce his assigned gender to every stranger who asked. Maybe that’s why she was so angry now. The little girl she saw, grew up to be a boy she didn’t know. Maybe she wasn’t angry, but hurt she can’t be proud of having a little princess any longer.
He watched on, listening to the women adore the new baby. “Is your husband happy you had a girl? Or did he want a boy to be his little buddy?”
The mother shook her head giggling. “Oh he didn’t care. He just wanted it to come out with only one head.”
The woman chuckled, “No but seriously. A girl must have been the real dream. Watching her play dress up and have little tea parties.”
“Well sure that’s wonderful to look forward to. But really, it didn’t matter to either of us. All we wanted was our baby to be healthy, no matter who they grow up to be.”
He felt his eyes well up with tears. He wiped them away and pulled his phone out. He had so many voicemails from his mother. He clicked play on the first one; knowing each one would become more and more painful.
The last one began to play. His mother’s voice is calmer than before. “Hi, it’s mom. But you probably assumed. I know things have been hard, but I know we can work things out this time. Just call me when you’re ready. I love you, Henry.”
He replayed the message over and over again. She really called him Henry. After everything she and her husband said, she called him Henry.
Swallowing through tears he dialed her number. After two rings a soft voice answered, “Hello?”
He wiped another tear from his eyes. “Hi, Mom.”