Friday, October 24, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Tocayo”


Martin turned to look behind him but there was no one there. Nothing behind or in front of him but shadows.

Must have been my imagination, he thought.

He continued onward.


Martin turned again. Again there was no one behind him.

My imagination again, he thought.

He started walking faster.


This time he almost jumped out of his skin. The voice sounded very close that time. Yet he could not tell where it was coming from.

One of the surrounding apartments maybe?

Perhaps but they all looked dark. It was unlikely that anyone was even in one of them. And even if there were, they were probably asleep.

Then who--


Martin started walking faster. He had no idea who was calling him, but they obviously meant no good if they kept ducking out of sight. Besides he didn’t even know this neighborhood. He normally rode the bus home at this hour. Just his luck that tonight he had stayed after class just a little too long and ended up having to walk home instead.

Still his home couldn’t be too far away. He just wished he knew the neighborhood better.


Martin circled around, hoping to see someone shouting at him from upon a fire escape or from behind a garbage can. But there was no one in sight. No one at all. Except himself.


It’s a gang, he thought. They spotted my umbrella and briefcase, and they assumed I was easy pickings. Never mind that I’m probably poorer than they are. They’d probably just make up the difference with bruises.


If it was a gang, he thought, it was a pretty strange one. And how did they know his name anyway?


They picked a name at random, he thought. The minute I reacted to it, they knew they had the right one.

He frowned. The thought of having been fooled so easily made him angry. He felt like throwing down his briefcase and umbrella and challenging the mysterious name callers to a fight. He would never do that though. He knew better.

“Mar-teen Gar-see-ah! Doan-dey ess-staas?”

The voice sounded strangely familiar. As if it were someone he knew.

That’s crazy, he thought. He didn’t know anyone in this neighborhood.

So how come they knew his complete name?

Coincidence, he thought. Just coincidence.

“Mar-teen Gar-see-ah! Doan-dey ess-stass?”

The buildings were starting to look more familiar now. He recognized the corner street light ahead and sighed with relief.

He suddenly realized that for the last few feet he had been brandishing his umbrella like a sword and his briefcase like a shield. Pretty foolish of him, he thought. He wasn’t the type to start a fight, and you could fill a thimble with everything he knew about self-defense. Still if he had discouraged someone from messing with him, it was worth it. Even cowards could fight when cornered.


There he went again. He was beginning to sound nearer. Much nearer. Yet Martin still couldn’t see who was calling that name.

There went the voice again, calling for Martin Garcia. By now he was sure it was a coincidence. After all, he was in plain sight. Why keep asking where he was?

Whoever the caller was, he was obviously after another Martin Garcia. Which was just fine with Martin. He had no intention of getting involved in another man’s business.

Then he rounded the corner and ran into a dark-clad figure. He stopped and dropped his jaw in amazement.

The stranger before him was just a few years younger than he was. Young enough to be a possible gang member.

His hands were empty but there was no telling what he had beneath that black windbreaker. And that face. If it had not been so pale and free of chickenpox scars, it would have almost an exact duplicate of Martin’s own face. A coincidence, perhaps, one worthy of all those dumb TV shows his cousins watched, but it was unsettling all the same.

“Who are you?” Martin asked.

The stranger before him answered, “Martin Garcia.”

Martin scowled. His hands curled into fists. He was tempted to deck the stranger, but he noticed by the boy’s trembling that he was more scared of Martin than vice versa.

Maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he too was named Martin Garcia. It was not all that unlikely in this neighborhood.

“You’re kidding, right?” Martin asked, just to make sure.

The boy looked at him as if he was going to throw up.

“No, I’m not,” he said with an effort. “I really am Martin Garcia. Who are you?”

The unknown caller interrupted. “Mar-teen!”

Martin noticed that the boy paled as soon as he heard the voice.

“Who is that?” Martin asked.

The boy replied, “My father.”

“Your father?”

“Yes,” the boy said. “I ran away from home and now he wants me to go back.”

He looked Martin straight in the eye. “But I don’t want to go back. My father did mean things to me when I lived with him. He used to beat me and -- and --” his face blushed. “--treat me like a man treats a woman.”

Martin did not know what to say.

“That’s why I ran away,” said the stranger. “I -- I just couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to fight back but I couldn’t. He was too strong. Besides he’s my own father. So I ran away.”

“I see,” said Martin. Actually he did not see anything, but it seemed the right thing to say. The real scary part was how frightened the boy looked. Nobody deserved to be that scared of his own father.

He’s just a few years younger than me, Martin realized. He even has the same name. A tocayo, he thought. A namesake. There but for the grace of God...


The voice was louder this time -- and even closer than before. The boy grew paler.

“He’s coming,” the boy said.

Martin looked around. “Where is he?”

“Close,” said the boy. “Too close. He’s been following me ever since I ran away, and he doesn’t ever stop.”

Martin stared at the boy. “Why don’t you go to the police?”

“It wouldn’t do any good,” said the boy. “He’d just get me there. You see, just before I left home, I hit him on the head with a frying pan. I hit him real hard -- and it didn’t do any good. He still follows me.”

“But surely--”

“I hit him so hard his skull broke. I’m sure of it. And still he follows me.”


The voice sounded like it was just a few inches away now and still Martin could not see a thing. The boy’s eyes, however, were as wide as they could be.

He seemed to be staring at something just behind Martin’s shoulder -- something only he could see.

Then he screamed and ran off in the opposite direction. Martin started to run after him, then stopped and wondered what he was doing. It was then that he heard it. A second set of footsteps running right by him in the boy’s direction. And not a soul in sight.

There but for the grace of God, he thought. He walked hurriedly in the opposite direction.


He did not bother to tell his parents about what he had seen that night. He did not tell anyone. He just went straight to his room and buried himself in his homework.

Martin was never so grateful for night school as he was that night. At least it gave something to think about apart from what he had seen. When at last he was through and he retired for the night, he wondered what had happened to the boy. None of his business, he decided. It wasn’t his problem.

Nevertheless, it was a sad case. And lying there in the darkness, Martin could almost hear the same voice he had heard before.


It must be his imagination, he decided. Or a dream.

Even the sound of pebbles being thrown at his window was just his subconscious’s interpretation of a more mundane sound.


The voice sounded louder now. The pebbles being thrown against the window sounded louder too. Almost any minute he would see his namesake before him...


Martin sat up in bed. For a minute there, it sounded as if someone had thrown a huge rock at the windowpane. He turned on the lamp on his nightstand and saw that the windowpane was still intact, the street below still empty.

It was just a dream, he decided.

He reached for the lamp switch and brushed against something. It was a human hand.

Before he could scream, another hand clamped itself over his mouth. Then the lamp went out and things got really interesting.

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