Monday, June 14, 2010

"Taming the Tiger" - Chapter I, part 2

Hiya, kiddies, and welcome back. Today, I present the second half of Chapter One of "Taming the Tiger." Enjoy.

I don’t know how long I was out. Al would never tell me. All he would ever tell me was that I tried to get up, but then acted weird and fell on my back. Whatever I did, it grossed him out and he never wanted to talk about it. For a tough guy, he could get awfully squeamish when he saw someone getting hurt.

When I came to, I could see his face looking down at mine. He asked me if I was alright. I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t seem to get air into my lungs. I stood up, struggling to get to my feet. I was surprised to see I was at the bottom of the stairs. Al offered me a hand, but I pulled away. I would at least get up on my own.

“Hey, are you alright?” Al asked. “Can you speak to me.”

As soon as I was on my feet, everything went black again. When I came to, I was on my knees, holding onto the handrail. I could feel my breath coming back.

“C’mon,” he said, leading me away from the handrail. “Let’s get out of here and get home before we get in trouble again.”

We made our way up Newhall Avenue to Augur Street. My head was in fog. I didn’t know what to think. I was surprised by Al’s concern for someone who wanted to kick his ass only a few minutes ago. That was something totally new to me. Usually, the guy I was fighting would finish me off, sometimes with the help of his friends if any were around. I know that’s what I would have done.

My lungs hurt. I must have had the wind knocked out of me. My face hurt, too. It seemed hard to breathe through my nose.

“Are you doing alright?” Al asked.

“Yeah,” I said. It hurt to speak, but I sure wasn’t going to admit it. Just that one word made the side of my head hurt along with my face and lungs.

We turned left at Augur Street. I didn’t know where we were going, but I just staggered along wherever Al was taking me. I got drunk for the first time that previous summer. I remember my friends having to escort me then, too, because I could hardly stand on my feet.

This was like that, except I didn’t have the fun part of getting drunk.

We entered Al’s house through the garage. There were boxes of all kinds of household items waiting to be unpacked. In a corner stood something I’d never seen before. It looked like a part of a telephone pole, about as tall as me. It had three wooden arms sticking out, two at the top and one from the middle. Near the bottom was a tree branch, that stuck out and curved toward the ground.

Several large swords and knives were also grouped together in a pile near the dummy, as well as a large glass jar, half-filled with some brown liquid.

A door connected the garage to the dining room. We went inside and Al said something in what I would later learn was Cantonese. A woman’s voice responded from the kitchen, also in Cantonese. When she came out, I saw a very attractive Asian woman. She had a body like someone who lifted weights, with the biggest shoulders and biceps I‘d ever seen on a woman at that time. Her hair was in a ponytail and she also had some of the thickest glasses I’d ever seen, too.

“My God! What happened to you?!” she said, this time in English, with a trace of a British accent. “Lop Pun, did someone beat him up?”

“We had a little fight,” Al said.

She glared at him, grabbed his arm and pulled him toward her, yelling in Cantonese. Al’s face grimaced in pain and he tried to pull away from this woman. Her fingers dug right into the muscle in his arm. I could even see a couple of tears running out of his eyes.

“Ow! Mom! He tried to sucker punch me on the way out of school!” Al shouted. He said something else in Cantonese, then added in English, “Mom! That hurts! I was just protecting myself!”

She said something else in Cantonese, then released Al’s arm. I could see the bright red imprint of her hand on his bicep as he walked into the kitchen. He came back out with a small, half-filled glass jar of that same brown liquid I saw in the garage.

“Are you alright?” she asked me. Her voice was much calmer, much gentler than when she spoke to her son. She touched my face, around my eyes and nose. I started to pull away, but she said to relax.

Meanwhile, Al was rubbing that brown liquid on his arm. He grimaced in pain as he did it, but the imprint of his mother’s hand disappeared as he rubbed.

“Get me some cotton balls and some tissues!” she barked at Al. He did as she asked, but cut me a nasty look out of the corner of his eye as he went to fulfill her request.

He came back with a box of tissues and a half-full bag of cotton balls. His mother then took a tissue and wiped my face. I could see some blood on the tissue. She then called Al to her, in Cantonese. As he stood next to her, she handed him the dirty tissue.

Taking a cotton ball from the bag, she dipped it into the brown liquid.

“Close your eyes and relax,” she said. “This might sting a little, but it will help with the swelling and keep your scrapes from getting infected.”

She was right. It did sting on the parts of my face that were scraped by Al’s sneaker tread. As she rubbed it on the bridge of my nose, I could detect an odor kind of like a cough drop. It opened up my sinuses and I could finally breathe much more easily.

It had a warming sensation to it, too. I could feel my face go slightly numb as the pain disappeared.

“What is that stuff?” I asked.

“Dit da jow,” Al said. “It’s my mom’s recipe. It’s good for all kinds of things. Bruises. Scrapes. Broken bones.

“See, it even took care of the bruise my mom gave me,” he said, holding up his arm. He was right. The red mark was completely gone from his bicep.

She asked Al another question, also in Cantonese. Al said, “Yeah.”

“Why did you push my son into the waste basket?” she asked.

“Well, someone else pushed him in first,” I said. “I don’t know who. I only pushed him in again as a joke.”

“Some joke,” she said, looking straight at me. “So you both got hurt and you both got suspended. Was it worth it?”

Al didn’t look too badly hurt. At least not by me.

Still, if a teacher or my own mother asked me that question, I probably would have had some wise guy answer. But I couldn’t do that with her. I only meekly answered, “no.”

“I don’t understand what it is with boys!” she grumbled. “Al knows he’s not supposed to get into fights. You’re what? 14? You’re ninth graders. You’re supposed to act like high school students.”

“Mom, he started it!” Al protested.

“I don’t care who started it!” she snapped back at him. “You’re almost men now! You’re supposed to act like it!

“You guys are lucky!” she said. “When I was a girl, if I got into a fight, my teacher would hit me with a switch. Then my parents would also hit me. Then my sifu would hit me, and he hit worse than the rest of them!”

“Seefoo?” I asked.

“It’s her uncle,” Al said. “It’s the guy that taught her kung fu.”

I stood up and thanked her for treating my face.

“I wish I had an uncle who could teach me kung fu,” I said. “Then I wouldn’t be needing all this stuff on my face.”

“That might be a good idea for you to learn,” she said. “It might teach you some manners and keep you out of trouble. Though it doesn’t always work for Albert.”

They escorted me to the door. Al’s mother offered to have him walk me home, but I turned her down. It was bad enough to be walking home looking like I just got beat up, but I didn’t want to be helped along by the guy that did it.

The pain was mostly gone by the time my mom got home. My nose was a little swollen, but the bruises were nearly gone. I had two red circles under my eyes instead of the bruises I thought I would have.

“You got into another fight, didn’t you?!” Mom shouted.

“No, Mom,” I said as I filled a plastic bag with ice. “I told you, I fell down a flight of stairs.”

I sat down, wrapped the ice bag in a paper towel and held it onto the bridge of my nose.

“Bull!” Mom said. “You only get hurt like that from a fight! We’re going to get you some x-rays. I only hope the other kid’s parents aren’t taking him to the hospital, too.”

“I wish,” I thought to myself. The only mark on Al was the one his mother put on him.

“Well, it looks like you’ve broken your nose a few times,” said Dr. Franklin, looking over the x-rays at his office. “But not this time. I can’t see any new damage.

Turning to me, he added, “You got lucky this time. I see you’ve got a few other scrapes on your arms and back, from ‘falling down the stairs.’ ” There was a note of sarcasm to the last few words. He didn’t buy that story, either.

“You know, if you keep going like this, sooner or later you’ll break something worse than your nose, or your hand, like you did last year. You might end up with a skull fracture or a broken back. You don’t know how hard it is for me to tell a young guy like you that he’ll be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Never get to learn to drive or play sports or go swimming. Is it worth it?”

That was the second time I heard that phrase that day. I was in no mood to hear it again.

“Sometimes, you just gotta fight,” I said.

“Well, I hope you still think it’s worth it when you get hauled into Yale-New Haven Hospital on a stretcher and you can’t move your feet. Maybe then, you’ll see what you’re giving up.”

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