THE COLD INSIDE
By AL BRUNO III
Friday November 11, 1994
There were two lavatories on the fourth floor of the main building. The one that was closest to the classrooms and the one that was on the other side of the building where a few of the administrative offices where clustered. Bitter experience had taught Tristam that the further bathroom was safer- the stalls there had locks on their doors. I can’t believe I have to live like this. It’s like I’m in prison or New York City or something.
Bathroom pass stuffed in his pocket and the stall door locked behind him he took care of business. He wondered how much time he could waste in here before he had to get back to English class. They were talking about James Joyce’s book of short stories- Dubliners. They had each been assigned one story to read from the collection, the teacher wanted each of them to stand up before the class and give a synopsis of the plot.
Well he may have read his story- ‘An Encounter’ but he was damned if he really understood what it was about. A parable about two young boys that make the mistake of talking to a stranger that turns out to be a pedophile? A metaphor for some life lesson he hadn’t learned yet? The subject matter alone was going to get him snickered at for days to come.
Somewhere between standing and buckling his belt he started to hear a gentle whispering. The acoustics of the lavatory made it sound ominous, like the voices were coming through the walls to get him. Images of projectiles made from wet toilet paper and vicious wedgies filled his mind. He unlocked the door and got ready to fight or run or both.
Yusuf was standing at one of the sinks, his eyes half-closed whispering to himself.
No not whispering. Tristam realized, Praying.
He wondered if he should just causally walk past or step back into the stall until Yusuf was finished. He didn’t want to offend Yusuf, he took his religion almost as seriously as Greg did. A year ago... Tristam realized, A year ago I would have mocked him.
Playing casual seemed the best course of action so Tristam gave the toilet a hearty flushing and strode out to wash his hands. Yusuf’s eyes flicked open but he didn’t miss a single syllable of his prayers. Tristam washed his hands quickly and shook them dry under the blower.
After a final few whispers he looked up at Tristam “You find it safer here as well?”
“Quieter at least. Last year I used to come here to smoke. Never got caught.”
“I hope you are not angry with me.”
“You mean about yesterday?” He leaned against the sink, “No. It’s good that she has someone looking out for her. I hope that if the situation was reversed-”
“I would have said the same thing to her, or Greg or Warren.”
“Ah.” The notion made Tristam feel strangely nice. He never really felt included in anything; he always felt like a last minute guest, even when he was running riot over the school with the popular kids. Back then he had always felt like he was on the verge of making some great faux pas, but now with Yusuf and the rest he almost felt relaxed in their company.
Yusuf examined his reflection, checking his hair, “I think she is in love with Evan.”
Tristam laughed a little, “Every girl under eighteen seems to be in love with Evan.”
“-is eighteen.” Tristam glanced at his watch. Maybe he wouldn’t have to make his Dubliners presentation after all.
“I think Drew said what she said because of her crush. She was very close with Evan before seventh grade. Seventh grade is where things began to change.”
“Yeah.” Tristam cringed a little at the memory of that year, his thirteenth year. He’d thought he was going out of his mind.
“She had many friends, then they all turned on her. A familiar story to you?”
“A classic.” He made for the door, “Listen I better get going.”
“Yes. I can’t keep the study hall monitor waiting forever. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bring money we’re ordering pizza.”
“Oh that’s right.” Tristam snapped his fingers, “The game. I won’t be able to make it this weekend either.”
Yusuf frowned “Your father again?”
He’d lied once already to cover up a weekend grounding, should he lie again? On one hand he had the humiliation of being treated like a twelve-year old, on the other he was lying to the only friends he had. What if they started to think he was blowing them off? Better to tell the truth. He stared at his shoes “No. My mother, she grounded me.”
“Because my sister said she saw me wandering around when I should have been at the assembly.”
“You cut the assembly? And you didn’t take me with you?”
“I didn’t cut the assembly but my mother won’t believe me because of… You know.”
“I’m sorry.” Yusuf nodded with understanding.
“She doesn’t believe in me any more. Used to be she looked at me like I was her son now she looks at me like she doesn’t know who I am anymore.” With a resigned shrug of his shoulders Tristam stepped out into the hallway.
Yusuf followed, “I’m sure all our parents feel that way sometimes. I think it will pass when we are older and have bills of our own to pay.”
“I think I’m paying bills right now if you know what I mean.”