Down there by the river is where all the boys from 801 West End would play “Indians.” We used to play the good old “Cowboys and Indians,” but one of the older boys, Lucas, had an unhealthy obsession with Indians (he had a collection of arrowheads and pointy sticks) and convinced us that they were cooler than cowboys because they could peel the skin off people’s heads. So no one wanted to be a cowboy, and it turned into just “Indians.”
That bench is where the homeless guy was sleeping when we decided to rob him. It was a bright, sunny Saturday and we had nothing better to do. Whose idea was it to take the man’s shoe? Victoria’s, of course. She was the only girl in the group, and had earned her reputation as one of the boys many times over.
We all usually met in this field at around noon, or whenever our mothers got tired of us watching cartoons and kicked us out of our apartments. But on this day, no one was in the field. Instead they were huddled in a circle on the sidewalk, bending half-over and whispering in each other’s ears. Shit, something’s up, I thought as I jogged over to them. Secretly I wanted to say the word out loud just to see the look on Vicky’s face.
I was thinking about how to work the word into a sentence (Hey what shit’s up you guys?) when Vic locked eyes with me and said in voice that made everyone else quit their whispers: “We have an enemy in our territory.”
“Shit,” I said. (It was a testament to the seriousness of the group that no one reacted to the word.)
“Yeah,” she said, “We must eliminate him.”
It was lucky for us that he was out cold and didn’t stir a bit when Lucas pulled off his shoe and we high-tailed it down to the river. We were also lucky when we stole his other shoe the next day (it was me that time). One of the boys got daring and jumped on the man’s shopping cart and rolled away with it. We whooped, pressing our hands to our mouth over and over like the victorious Indians we were, and then we donned the various grungy clothes and threw his plastic bottles at passerby in celebration.
Lucas silenced us soon enough though, saying that he wasn’t truly defeated until we had scalped him. He came back the next day with a pocket knife, and it was Vicky’s idea to chop his long hair off. She knelt at the edge of the bench while we watched, slowly sawing at his hair till there was a pile of it below the bench slats. He smelt so bad that she had to cover her nose the whole time, which made for slow going. But when she was finished, we each took a lock to keep in our pockets, as a symbol of our bravery.
Tuesday though, luck wasn’t on our side. There were three policemen standing around him. We looked on, pinching the locks of hair between our fingers, ready to toss them away, but it turned out we weren’t in trouble. He was just dead. He had been all along. Go figure.