Whatever It Takes
A couple of hours before all of this some Arab kid had called Jeff a “motherfucker.” Jeff had thrown the kid out of the library because the kid had been asking for it all day. He’d been pounding on the keyboard of his computers, and playing these obnoxious video games with the sound on. Patrons had complained. When Jeff walked up the stairs into the children’s room to warn the kids they basically brushed him off. He could hear the Arab boy’s laughter as he walked down the steps back to his desk in the adult room. Then came the kid’s voice again. The shouting. The noise from the video game. Jeff let it go for a little bit longer. It was Saturday and he just wanted to get through the workday, come home to Ariel, and have some wine on the couch. It wasn’t so hard to get through a day, was it.
Jeff watched the snow as it fell outside of the library in between helping patrons find books by the latest best-selling authors. They were calling for nearly a foot by the evening. Kids were already out playing in it, laughing and hitting each other with wet snowballs. Jeff smiled to himself and then checked the weather on his computer. Yep. A foot was coming. He looked up, thinking about old snowfalls from his youth. That’s when a couple of girls came running down from the kids room. One of them was crying. They both looked wet.
“They hit us,” the one girl said. “They went outside and got snowballs and hit us.”
“Who?” Jeff asked.
“They did,” the crying girl said. She pointed up to the children’s room, and the loud noise of boys playing video games.
“God damn, “ Jeff said, getting up.
The two girls took off back up the steps as Jeff followed them. He didn’t need this, he thought. The snow was coming. It would be one-foot by nightfall. He just wanted to be home in the warm apartment with Ariel having some of that wine and talking about her day. Not this. Not kids. He didn’t want to deal with kids on a Saturday like this.
“What happened?” Jeff asked.
“They did it!” the girls both shouted. They pointed to a group of boys who had their heads slumped at the computers. In the middle of them was the Arab boy.
“Okay I warned you,” Jeff started. He looked at the floor in the children’s room. It was wet in various spots. “Who threw a snowball?”
“If you were really serious about kicking us out you would’ve done it already,” the Arab boy said. He kept his eyes focused on the video game in front of him. “You would’ve done it.”
“You can go,” Jeff said.
“But I didn’t throw a snowball.”
“I don’t care. You want to be smart. You want to leave the library you can go.”
“I was just saying,” the Arab boy started, whining a little bit.
“Well, you can say it outside,” Jeff said. He glared at the boy. Everyone always told Jeff that he was intimidating, especially when he had his goatee and shaved his head. Jeff’s superintendent at the apartment called him big man. “Get out.”
The Arab kid looked up at Jeff and smirked. “I’m playing a game.”
“Yeah, well learn how to play outside.” Jeff walked over the kid’s computer and shut it off. “There’s nearly a foot of snow out there.”
“This is bullshit,” the Arab boy said, getting up. “I didn’t throw anything.”
“You don’t need to talk like that,” Jeff said. He waited for the Arab boy to get up. The rest of the boys sitting at the computers were stone silent. He followed him down the stairs, and then held the door open for him.
“I can come back next week, right?” the Arab boy asked.
“We’ll see,” Jeff said.
The kid put on his hat and walked out into the snow. He stood defiantly in front of the library. Jeff watched him for a second and then figured the hell with it. Let him stand there all goddamned day in the snow. Jeff went and sat back down at his desk, and checked the weather again. It still said one-foot of snow. He looked up at the children’s room. It was quiet up there. The boys were quiet and the girls who were crying and wet were quiet. The Arab boy was outside. Jeff just had to glide through the last few hours and then he would be home free. He could taste the wine already. He smiled and thought maybe he’d taste Ariel as well. That’s when the Arab boy came back into the library and called Jeff a “motherfucker,” before running back out into the snow.
There might’ve been six inches on the ground already by the time the library closed for the day. Jeff let all of the clerical people go, and then he shut off the lights, set the alarm and locked the building up. No one was on the street and it was only five in the afternoon. Cars crawled. The streetlights and storefront lights illuminated the swirling and falling snow. Everything had an ugly yellow look to it.
Jeff began walking down 14th Avenue, and then he made a right onto 6th. He walked past the coffee shop and it was still filled with most of the old guys from the morning. They’d been talking about football when he was in there, about the old Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Jeff was more of a baseball fan anyway. Bu he listened to these two guys go back and forth about Namath and O.J. Simpson, as he had his morning cup of coffee and moaned over the coming work day. A Saturday. One foot of snow expected. It was really coming down now, he thought. All he had to do was take that long B4 bus ride and he’d be home and warm with Ariel and wine, the snow safely left outside. It made him smile to think it.
There was hardly any room to stand at the bus stop. People were crowded in tightly between the two partitions of glass. Jeff usually stood outside of this barrier because he didn’t want to deal with people after a day spent talking to them, catering to their questions and needs, but with the snow and wind howling the way they were he had no choice. Jeff squeezed in between an old man and good-looking brunette waiting for her bus. Next to her was a woman speaking in a thick Russian accent. She had packages at her feet that were taking up a lot of the room. She had a child with her, a boy who was bundled up with a maroon jacket and a forest green snowcap. He was moving around the small space, singing, and bouncing up and down. Jeff thought that if the woman could hold one of her packages and get the boy to stop moving around so much, they wouldn’t be so damned cramped at the bus stop. There’d be room for all of them. He was going to say something to the woman, but then a bus came around the corner.
It wasn’t Jeff’s B4. It was a B49. The old man and the good-looking brunette got on the bus, and suddenly there was room. Jeff spread out a little. He felt less and less claustrophobic between the glass partitions. He didn’t even mind that the Russian woman still had her packages on the ground. Jeff didn’t mind the snow either, or the ugly yellow tint of the late afternoon. He didn’t mind anything in that moment because it had been a long day and he was going home.
The boy moved outside of the partition and began walking around in the wind and heavily falling snow. He stomped on the pavement and snow kicked up. It blew around. A little of it got on Jeff’s jacket, splattered on his goatee. Okay, he thought. Just a few more moments of this before I say something. The boy kept it up. He began stomping and stomping, moving around in circles and kicking up snow. It blew between the glass partitions. It went all over Jeff. It went all over his green Army coat and all over his Steelers snowcap. It hit the Russian woman as well. Snow was on her packages.
“Lady,” Jeff said.
The Russian woman stared straight ahead for a moment. “Yuri,” she finally said to the boy. Her accent was very thick. It bothered Jeff because he spent all day dealing with Arab and Russian people, dealing with people like this lady, her son, and that little bastard who called him a name.
Yuri looked up at his mother. He smiled in the ugly yellow tint of the late afternoon and then stomped some more. “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!”
“I know a boy who vill not get his presents,” the lady said.
“No you don’t, no you don’t,” Yuri said. He spoke perfect English. He stomped up and down in the snow. It kicked up in the wind and a cold rush of it came back and hit Jeff in the face.
“Lady, goddamn it,” Jeff said. “God damn!”
“Vat would you like I should do?” the lady asked him.
“Control your kid. Whatever it takes!”
“But he’s excited. They call for a foot of snow.” The lady and Jeff watched Yuri run around in circles outside the bus stop. “A whole foot.”
“That’s fine,” Jeff said. “I understand. But he’s kicking it up all over the place.”
“Yuri,” the woman called to the boy. Yuri stopped running in circles for a second. “You vill not get.”
“But I want it!” Yuri said. He stomped up and down, and snow went everywhere. “I’m not doing anything!”
“Christ,” Jeff said to himself. He wiped the snow off of his jacket. He tried to think about home and Ariel and the wine, but this kid and his mother were pissing him off. He thought about that Arab boy, and Jeff realized he’d been having one fucker of a day. Sure, others had it worse. But this was Jeff’s life. This was his fucker of a day. “Just make him stop, Lady!”
The Russian women turned to face Jeff. She smiled apologetically. He glared. He wondered if the glare was still strong enough with his shaved head covered. Jeff spread out his shoulders to seem broader. He felt bad doing this to a woman on a cold and snowy afternoon, but he really wanted to the kid to stop.
“He is boy,” she said. “It is snow and he is just excited.”
“Take him to the park,” Jeff spat. “This is a bus stop. Let him run around and stomp in the snow at the park. That’s what my old man used to do with me.”
“Yuri,” she called to the boy. Yuri bounced and stomped and got snow on everyone. Finally the woman came out of the glass partition and grabbed the boy by the arm. Yuri squealed in mock pain, as she dragged him back between the pieces of glass. “You vill stand still!”
“But I can’t, I can’t, mom,” Yuri said.
“You vill. You vill. You vill stand still. You vill do whatever it takes to stand still.”
Jeff watched them argue for a moment, the woman pathetically giving demands and Yuri bouncing in place. Fuck it, he thought. The bus would be here soon. Jeff turned away from the woman and her son to look down the street. Snow swirled in the yellow streetlights. Cars continued to crawl. In the distance he could see two, large white lights approaching. Jeff could make out the sign on the digital marquee. B4 it said. He rubbed his hands in anticipation. Jeff thought about home and Ariel and wine. Then he felt a spray of cold mist hit him on the side of his face.
“Yuri!” the Russian woman screeched. “Yuri! no!”
Jeff turned when more mist hit him. He turned and the cold mist got him square in the face. It covered his glasses with a fine spray and it got in his goatee. Through the tiny droplets of water Jeff could see Yuri. He had his back to him. Yuri had his hands in front of his pants, and a puddle of water was on the ground. It was running down and seeping into the bags holding his mother’s packages.
“Lady he’s pissing!” Jeff shouted, as more spray hit him.
“Yuri! Yuri no!” the Russian woman continued to shout.
Yuri turned to face her. He looked at his mom and then he looked at Jeff, just as the B4 got to the bus stop. “Mom our bus here,” he said.
“Yuri. Yuri no!” the woman shouted again.
“But you said to stand still. You said to do whatever it takes to stand still.” Yuri shook himself dry and zipped up. “I did it. I did whatever it takes to stand still, mom.”
“But Yuri,” the Russian woman said.
She looked at Jeff for help. She looked at Jeff for something. But Jeff just took off his glasses. He felt sick. He wiped the glasses on his jacket, and then pulled out his wallet to retrieve his bus pass. He got on the bus and found a seat toward the back. Jeff sat next to a group of Arab boys who weren’t the boys from the library. It didn’t matter. He glared at them anyway. He could smell Yuri’s piss on him, and wondered if anyone else could. Then Jeff just sat there as the bus idled at the cold and snowy stop. He didn’t want to read or think about anything. They all waited there, Jeff and the Arab boys. They waited as the Russian woman slowly picked up all of her packages. They waited as Yuri stood by her patiently waiting to get on the bus.