I was supposed to write a poem about ancient Knights for an assignment. That wasn’t going to happen, I missed out on getting the poetry gene. The professor and I negotiated down to a story that captured the essence of the Chivalric Code. She probably wasn’t expecting this, but it’s what came out of my fingers:
Spanish Johnnie was bleeding out. The beating and slashing had stopped; he was alone on the pavement now, beyond pain, knowing the garbage men would find him in the morning. It was alright; he’d died for a good cause. His legs were numb now and the blood pooling around his head was warm and he could feel his wounds throbbing, pumping blood onto the streets.
He thought about his Mother, at least he’d die better than she did, with a needle in her arm and her pimp’s name tattooed on her eyelids. She was fifteen when he was born and 31 when she died last summer. She loved him but couldn’t stop her life long enough to take care of him; he’d raised himself. He loved her but the gang gave him life, they took it away too. The gang was his family and he did what they needed, he served them with passion and with fear, because he didn’t want to be alone.
He was a good soldier, as a boy he delivered packages for them; he ate dinner with their families. As he grew, the jobs increased and he was happy to prove he belonged. He went to war for the gang, protected the turf, protected the trade routes, he killed for them. He was loyal and obedient. He survived this long because he did what he was told. Sure enough, he thought, as his waist and stomach went numb, he was right, when he crossed the gang he ended up here. Dead.
There was this one teacher. An Anglo with blue eyes and blonde hair and a smile like nothing Johnny had seen before. She was his 3rd grade teacher and he felt something from her he’d never known. She’d made him feel like he mattered, like he was smart, she even knew he was hungry and cold. She called him into her room one morning, he remembered (as if he’d forget, he was thinking about it now, as he lay dying), and given him a coat and some shoes that almost fit. She said her son had outgrown them and to keep this our little secret.
She was always doing stuff like that for the kids and it was no secret, she’d bring treats, shoes, and books. He supposed she was an angel. Her classes were good too, she read stories and explained things with laughter, with smiles, and he wanted to please her. He tried to get the answers right for a change because she was so happy when he got the answers right. It was weird, he didn’t understand why she did it, she wasn’t in the gang, and she didn’t live in the hood.
He knew that because she drove a nice car and had a nice diamond ring on her finger. She came and taught school and drove home to a life he could only imagine. Only, he couldn’t imagine it and by the time he was 12, he’d quit going to school. He was making more money than the teachers by then, working for the gang and selling little packets. He never got caught, he knew every open door, every abandoned car, everyplace to hide and disappear for a while. He was a good soldier. By the time he’d shot another kid for the first time, he had all but forgotten the teacher. But he remembered her now. Her smile, he’d seen it today.
He was with Felipe and Enrique, as he usually was, they were going to boost a car and get what they could from it. He was the backup on this one, watching from the corner for the cops or anything else that came along. They headed through the hood towards the school, there was a meeting tonight, so there were a lot of cars, some nice ones too. The rest happened in a second, a blur, and he ended up here, breathing his last breaths.
They smashed a few windows and grabbed some money and a few phones, people are so stupid, Enrique was pretty stoned tonight and sloppy, he made more noise than he should have. He was talking shit and saying how much he needed to get some, he didn’t care how. And Johnny knew he didn’t: he’d seen him take what he wanted before. The parking lot was empty and they found a couple of unlocked cars and smashed a few more windows when she came out. His teacher.
From the edge of the parking lot he recognized her but not before Enrique saw her. She’d come out of the school and was looking inside of a car, must have been hers, and starting to dial her phone. Before she hit the last one, Enrique was upon her, throwing her down and holding a gun to her head, she cried. That made Enrique mad and it wasn’t a good idea to get him mad when he was high. Nothing good ever happened and this was going to end badly.
Johnny didn’t think, he didn’t make a choice; he just reacted. He was upon the pair in a second and he pistol whipped Enrique and knocked him off her and for a minute the teacher looked in his eyes and knew him and she smiled. She found her phone and dialed the last one and they ran from her. Enrique swearing that he was going to kill him the whole time.
He did. Felipe made his choice, he fought along side his brother, Enrique, and they made short work of him. With cop cars flying towards the school, no one dared shoot or even make any noise; this would be handled quietly and brutally. Fighting the brothers was like fighting a pack of dogs; when he faced one, the other stabbed him. The punches and the bricks they hit him with hurt more than the knives, but he knew the knives were going to make him die.
His head was numb now; he couldn’t feel anything. The last thing he thought of was the angel who gave him a coat and some shoes that almost fit. She was smiling at him and asking him not to share their little secret.