We were tossing the football around in the street when he shouted for us to stop. A few of us turned to the voice’s direction. It came from the bus stop on the street corner. It was hard for me to tell exactly what type of voice it was. I thought it was an older voice, very raspy, but not like a smoker’s. More like a father commanding his children to take out the trash.
Greg stood with the football in his hands. We all stood — unsure of what to do — before Greg tossed the football to me. His long reach sent his near-perfect spirals to me with ease. I ran back a few steps and attempted the same throw, but it sailed away and bounced to Greg’s left. He had to quickly run over to get the ball from bouncing too erratically.
“Hey! You kids hear what I said?” shouted the old voice again. This time everybody turned to it, including Will, who was also playing with us. Even the people sitting down or just standing around the bus stop turned to see what was happening. Greg approached the back of the house — the side that faced outward, toward the street where the bus stop was. I followed him.
“The fuck do you want, grandpa?” Greg asked.
“It’s just an old man,” Will said behind us. “We’re probably just being too loud or some shit.”
It didn’t look like Greg was going to go knock on the door; the bus could be here any minute. I couldn’t see anybody in the backyard, but I swore I saw a pair of eyes hiding behind some blinds on a second-story window.
The voice spoke again. This time I could tell it was from somewhere in the backyard. “Kids gotta keep out of the streets,” he said. “Too loud and too dangerous. You kids don’t know what’s good for you.”
“Whatever.” Greg and I rejoined everybody just in time for the bus to turn the corner.
This went on for a few weeks. It became a nightmare of a routine: We’d get to the bus stop early in the morning, either Greg or Will would bring out a football or a baseball, and we’d all play together until the old guy yelled at us. It seemed as though he got louder every day. Greg’s spirals slowly got worse, and they’d often head into the bushes where Will would have to go chase for them.
On one day, we were at the corner for our school bus. Greg threw an errant toss to Will, sailing far over his head into the bushes near the old man’s house. Will went back to get it. We hear him shouting to the old creep’s house a few seconds later. Greg asked what was wrong.
“That fucking piece of shit called me the n-word!” Both sides were nearly shouting, but it was easier to hear Will speak, and he seemed beyond angry.
“What the fuck?” Greg dropped the football and picked up a nearby stone. “Let’s teach the old fuck a lesson.” He chucked it into the old man’s backyard. Will immediately followed suit. I hesitated.
“Hey, pick up a fucking rock and hit his house,” he said to me. For some reason I followed suit. I’m not quite sure why, and to this day it still frightens me. I picked up a stone and gave it a pretty decent throw. It didn’t sound like it hit anybody.
Later that day, I was pulled from class and into the school deputy’s office.
“Have a seat,” the officer stated when I entered. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“We received a call today from somebody in the area. Said they witnessed some kids attempting to damage his property by throwing rocks. This person also said that these rocks almost his 6-year-old daughter.”
My eyes widened. “I didn’t do anything,” I said.
The officer fumbled through some notes on his desk. “All the details match up, kiddo: physical description, the time for your bus route — ”
“He started it,” I bumbled out. “He was being really weird, like he’d always watch us and yell at us from the street. He said racist shit to my friend — ”
The officer rubbed his forehead. “Not another word.” My stomach was doing flip flops. “You’re lucky he’s not pressing any charges on you or your friends, because if he did, it’s your ass in juvie. And don’t worry, I plan to speak with all of them, not just you.”
“W-what am I going to do, then?” I said, my voice cracking.
The officer scratched his mustache. “Well,” he began, “We informed your parents about this. It was his decision, as well as our policy; you ever have to step in here, it’s usually not a good thing. For him, it involves what your ‘punishment’ will be personally. For him.”
My dad walked me from home to the old man’s house. He only lived a few streets down from my home. In my hand was a handwritten apology letter, something my dad thought would be appealing.
The old man was sitting in a lawn chair on his front porch. He was wearing faded jeans, and a nice untucked button-up shirt. He held two things: a beer in one hand and a small smile on his face.
“I’m so sorry about all this,” my dad began. “He never acts out like this. He’s a good kid.”
The old man nodded. “It’s fine, it’s fine. Some people need to be pushed in the right direction in their life, especially with young people nowadays.”
“That’s very true,” my dad responded. “Kids these days lack initiative.”
The old man raised his hand. “All in all, my wife and I are just happy that our daughter is okay. Nothing bad happened to her.”
“Where’s your daughter?” I asked. Where’s your wife?”
He paused. “They’re not here,” he said matter-of-factly. “She needed to take her away from you and your friends.” He pointed to my letter. “Now, I believe you have something to read to me. Oh, and call me Mr. Kern.”
The following Monday, I showed up to the bus stop in slow fashion. Greg and Will were playing catch with a football. I didn’t even bother to ask if they’d got in any sort of trouble.
I looked up and saw Mr. Kern looking below from a second-story window.