perrosWe’re sitting on our bikes and staring down the small alleyway made by fenced-in yards backed up to one another, and one of the kids in our groups says, “Go,” and like a pack of dogs we charge the space, pedaling hard and gnashing our teeth. Ahead the path narrows, and what started out as a wide lane now bottlenecks into a single one, just enough for one rider, the fastest, to slip in and bounce through moguls of mud and grass patches.

We do this run a lot.

Emerging, one must turn a hard left to keep from continuing on into the street. After all
have made it through, we round the block and do it again. Each sweep counterclockwise while the hours count down to the neighborhood voices of parents calling for us, the autumn sky a burnt hue but also this one sound, the adults always having the last say.

There was a girl who came to visit our neighborhood once. She was our age, and for a brief time, there was no other girl in the world. Some of the boys had younger sisters, I had older ones, but this girl was different. We knew her from our sixth grade. She had long straight hair that was all one length, draped past her shoulders, and she carried a pink and purple comb in the back pocket of her Jordache jeans, the handle of the comb poking up as she walked in front of us.

Wispy colors of it swirled like one huge piece of mashed-together bubble gum.

Our pack no longer cared for racing through that slim alleyway. Instead, we walked our bikes alongside and listened to her voice. Whenever she said something funny, we all laughed like it was more than funny. We couldn’t get enough. I was a small kid, and I remember she called me cute, this just before she took the hand of the oldest boy among us. The two of them suddenly grownups shaking their heads at how silly kids could be nowadays. That signaled the end in some ways.

The pack dispersed while the two walked quietly on. I think they went with each other. That was the way we said it back then:

“Are you going with her?”

“No, I already went with her. I’m going with someone else now.”

More than a quarter century later, I can still remember racing around the block by myself, flying through the alleyway and out onto the street, where I spotted them ahead, out for an evening stroll. An old couple already. I wanted none of it as I zoomed past them, cranking hard as the wheels spun in unison, until I was back where I had started. How many times did I ride past those two and glimpse her smile as she dropped her head? My mother was calling me home, but I didn’t want to go. Not then. Not that way.

Jon Pineda is the author of the memoir Sleep in Me, a 2010 Barnes & Noble “Discover” Holiday selection.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore