I snatched up Sunday’s sports section and peeled it open to a random page, holding it taught and high and close enough to my face that the words went double. I sank low into my chair and prayed—please, oh please, for the love of all that’s Holy, don’t let him see me. I felt unnatural and foolish but, most of all, safe from an awkward encounter with a guy who never ever seeing again had become one of my life’s major goals. I didn’t need to look up. I already knew. I put down the paper, and as sure as hellfire singes ass-hair, Benji Kingsley was standing there looking down at me (I never hated a man as much). “What was the score?” He asked.
“A lot to a little!” I said as sarcastically and dismissive as I could.
See, Bengji Kingsley was the kid who was always last one picked to a team for Battleball. Not because he was slow or fat or grossly incompetent, which he was, but because he was a loathsome, obnoxious scoundrel. He was a prankster and a good one, too. No one was safe. He would steal for the sake of stealing, never keeping anything he stole unless to frame someone else for the crime. He would alter another student’s answers before passing their exam forward. I remember he once stole official scho ol stationary and sent out letters to parents regarding their child’s excessive absences. Sometimes he would bring the teachers flowers or candies, never out of kindness I’m sure. If he wasn’t playing pranks, then he was showing off with some outwardly disgusting act, like drinking the last sip of soda from a bottle then spitting it back into the container, then drinking it again and spitting it, again and again. Everyone hated him. Any kid would have given anything just to have the opportunity of hurling a blood-red, rough-skinned ball of compressed air and hatred at his pudgy melon-head..
He looked completely different than the way I remembered him. He was trim, not fat, dressed in a beige suit and light blue undershirt. He looked better than nice. He looked important. Uninvited, he sat in the chair at the side of my table rather than the one across it and flagged one of the young waitresses walking by. “Excuse me, sweetheart, won’t you get my friend here another margarita, and I’ll have a glass of ice water, with lemon if you’d please.”
“Actually, I was just leaving.”
“No, stay, I insist,” he said. “I won’t take up much of your time.” I said nothing, wearing my impatience on the outside. “I’ll get right to it, then. Over the past year I’ve been a part of a twelve step recov ry program, and—”
“AA.? But I remember you saying you were allergic to alcohol.”
“I am. I never touch the stuff. But it’s become a way to redemption for me, all the same.”
“Let me guess—you’re on the step that requires you to personally confront everyone you’ve wronged and apologize.”
“How are you ever going to find the time?” I teased.
The waitress came back with our drinks, and Benji quickly jotted a note on a napkin and handed it to her along with a hundred dollar bill. The girl was as stunned as I was. She read the note and looked at him and then looked at me and then back at him. He seemed to nod, but perhaps not. After she left he went on with his apology, it was something that I had long since forgotten about. The waitress came back with the check which Benji paid and slipped the girl another hundred dollars, which she pocketed guiltily. We said our goodbyes, shook hands, he left, and that was that. Leaving the café feeling quite good, happy to know that even the worst kind of guy can turn things around, I couldn’t help but notice some kids through the café’s window, pointing and laughing. I felt they might be laughing at me, but I quickly dismissed it because the window was probably mirror-tinted on the inside.
I hoped the window was mirror-tinted on the inside.