Introduction: Patricia Hilliard is a freelance writer and political activist. Her fiction genre is Social Realism. She has self-published two novels. One "Pledge Unspoken" about students protesting the U.S. war in Vietnam and "Making Changes," about union organizing among women office workers in the U.S. insurance industry.
The story War Toy Boy is written based on a discussion with an elderly Afro-American neighbor who told the writer how he felt about the boys in their neighborhood.
War Toy Boy by Patricia Hilliard
I tried to reach out to him. I knew he’d be a boy in trouble some day. He stood there defiant with the toy machine gun in his hand, his dark brown eyes glaring at me with hate. I was the enemy. That was clear.
I smiled anyway and tried to be reassuring.
“Hey, there,” I called cheerfully. “That’s quite a machine gun you have.”
I had played with toy guns as a boy and I remembered the power I felt. His defiance did not fade into friendliness. He was not playing. He was preparing himself for a real war. His hate ran deep and strong. He pointed the gun as if to shoot me. He saw my body drop to the ground. But it didn’t. So he turned and ran away.
I spent the morning raking the autumn leaves in the yard that were falling as quickly as the temperature was dropping here in the Northern Hemisphere. I watched as the neighborhood boys—three of them now—ran back and forth over the yard, in and out between the apartment buildings. They were in a mock battle with three other boys. The three others were white kids, equipped with all the expensive toy guns, camouflage and canteens their parents could afford.
But my boy’s team was not as well financed. Their toy guns were smaller, cheaper. They dressed themselves in regular clothes, but made up for their lack of fancy U.S. military “camo” print by dressing all in black. This would have been a great camouflage idea had they been playing at night.
I raked the leaves into three piles almost as high as my hips. One near the fence, one under the big oak tree and one near the gate. If I knew boys, they’d be in these leaves in just a few minutes.
Now that the leaves were removed from the lawn, the grass could grow during the winter. I leaned on my rake and looked at the work I had done. Here I am, sixty-five. I have made it from childhood through all of life’s challenges—especially the hate that my dark complexion tended to garner—how incredible. A feeling had come over me lately, I wanted to help someone else make it through life with the knowledge I had gained. Well, my raking was done, so I went into my ground-floor apartment and deposited my rake in the closet with my boots.
On the table were the letters and brochures from various do-gooder organizations. They would appreciate my help, but the neighborhood boy haunted me. I still saw his angry eyes burning into the depths of my soul. Why? I don’t know. I tried to figure it out as I cut up some onions to fry with my potatoes for dinner.
Let’s see. This was a little Arab boy. I don’t know what country his parents might be from. Maybe he was Iraqi, I don’t know. I thought about what that might be like, being a kid from a country that is being bombed by the country you’re living in now—the U.S. I never had to go through anything quite like that when I was a kid. Kids always pick on each other. It must be terrible to be an Arab boy in a country where most of the other kids would call you a terrorist.
I remembered how his angry brown eyes confronted me this morning. He took aim at me with the machine gun as though willing my extermination. The bullets of hate pierced me deeper than I had expected. I was felt vulnerable then, like some old geezer that ought to be put to rest because I was a waste of society’s resources.
Just pull the trigger.
I moved around the kitchen with a great sense of fright. It occurred to me that this child was going through so much anguish. Every day on television, we were told that people needed counseling for “post traumatic stress disorders”. What about this child? Who was helping him cope with this conflict? I needed to reach out to him. It was my duty. I could be preventing a future catastrophe.
My whole life I had maneuvered through the strong winds of opposition, trying at all times to sail myself in the direction of success and accomplishment. Now, here was a child being blown by a bad wind. He too was only trying to move in a righteous direction.
Suddenly, I heard screaming. I ran to the large window that looked onto the lawn.
It was the boys. They had found the military advantage of hiding in big piles of leaves. My team of boys was in the pile by the oak tree. The other three were in the pile by the gate. It was a full force shoot out. Then they dashed out of the leaves and ran across the yard to hide behind the buildings. What a glorious moment in military history. I had to laugh.
The orange sun was setting now, casting the long shadows of autumn across the brown grass. I sat down to eat dinner while watching the news. The war in Iraq was dragging on. It was being called a “quagmire.” The generals and the president seemed lost as to what to do next. The critics were becoming more vocal. The economy wasn’t doing so well either. That was a fright for me. How would I live if war inflation ate up the fixed income I had. I felt fear.
Fear, like the boy had. Fear and anger in his eyes.
I took my now empty supper plate back to the sink. Outside the window I heard yells. I looked out. It was hard to see anything. Dusk had come. All I could do was listen.
“You punk, you don’t deserve to live. My brother is over there in Iraq right now and he’s fighting for democracy.”
“Your brother isn’t doing anything for my people.”
“Shut up, I’ll bloody your nose.”
These words sent pain through my heart, but I knew I had to take action. I rushed to the closet and got my jacket and boots.
“Don’t forget your keys,” I told myself. “You don’t want to lock yourself out.”
I got the keys and went out the door.
It was now dark, but the lights on the porches lit my way. The boys were still yelling from behind the building. I struggled to see a tangled heap of camo print and black shirts. They were wrestling with each other on the ground.
“What are you boys doing?” I asked, sounding like an angry schoolteacher.
They looked up at me startled.
The white boys got up, grabbed their guns and held their ground. My boys also stood, but the Arab boy lay on the ground, his nose gushing blood.
“You boys shouldn’t be doing this,” I scolded. I moved toward them with my fist in the air. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
I bent to help the Arab boy. I pulled the cotton handkerchief out of my hip pocket and wiped the boy’s face.
“Listen son, come into my place and let me fix you up. Hey, fellows, come and help me.” I motioned with my arm to his comrades in black, but they yelled and ran off in the opposite direction that the white boys had run.
So there he was, the Arab child that had pointed the machine gun at me earlier in the day. I could see he resented receiving help from the likes of me.
“Come on, son, let me help you. They shouldn’t be hitting you like that. You don’t deserve it.”
“Leave me alone,” he screamed, “I’m going home.”
“Let me help you. I can help you get those boys punished.”
He lifted himself as he pressed the handkerchief to his nose.
“I don’t need your help,” he said. He picked up his machine gun and walked away into the darkness.
I tried to escort him to the street light.
“Do you live near here?” I called to him. “Will you be safe?”
He looked back at me with doubt and disregard, then continued his journey up the street.
I went back to my apartment. Hung the keys on the hook and put my boots and jacket away. All night I wondered how a boy in his situation would ever cope with the contradictions in this society. It wasn’t until a week later—I was out raking the last of the leaves—that I saw him again, I wanted to see if we could talk.
“Hi there,” I said, smiling.
“Hello,” he said.
I accepted this as an accomplishment. He looked at me and I looked at him. His eyes were no longer angry, just suspicious. I knew he was trying to figure me out, but he wasn’t going to let go of his doubt.
“I see you’ve recovered. You’re really strong,” I said. He accepted my complement with a smile of pride, but he was not going to let down his guard. He turned and walked away. I went back to my raking, hoping I had helped him realize some greater truth on his path to becoming an adult.
Note: The story was first published with the writer's own web site http://www.hilliardbooks.net/. The writer is the soul responsible for the idea she depicts in the story War Toy Boy.
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