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You Want McDonald’s or What?

“You want McDonald’s or what?” he asked, after I told him that I was hungry.

“Sure,” I said.  He slowly extended the middle finger of his left hand to press the turn-signal lever.  He glanced over his right shoulder, then into his rear-view mirror before slightly turning the steering wheel.  The loud high-pitched hum of tire-road contact and the deep murmur of the 1986 Honda Civic engine waned as we slowed, changed lanes, and pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot.  Sitting in the passenger seat, I waited quietly for the last shriek emitted by the blue car’s brakes.  He sat lazily in his chair and pulled up his emergency brake.  The sound awkwardly broke the silence with a boisterous zipping noise.

He turned off the engine and looked at me with hopeful sadness.  His black beard was growing thick, covering the skin under his chin and climbing halfway up his cheeks.  It had also merged with his mustache, providing a neat scruffy border around his lips.  He smiled halfway and said, “ We should hurry.  Your mother will be mad if we miss your flight.”

“Ok,” I said obediently.  I pulled the door handle on my right and stepped out of the car intently.  My father exited from the other side of the vehicle and we both turned toward the entrance.  He grabbed my hand as a car passed in front of us.  His grip was firm and commanding.  After the car had passed we walked slowly to the door.  My legs pulled against my body with reluctance.  The three-hour drive had made me tired and sleepy.

My father opened the door and allowed me inside.  As I walked in, I noticed a train above the tables and chairs to my right circling the room where the wall and ceiling met.  It rushed along its tracks steadily, whistling here and there amid the hustle and bustle in the open kitchen.  Below I saw restroom door, placed squarely at the end of an aisle created by two rows of chairs and tables.  The walls were painted an array of colors, forming several imaginary characters.

I looked behind me for my father.  His beat up blue jeans paced toward me.  I tilted my head up to see his face as he scanned the room and laid his hand softly on my back, guiding me toward the counter.  As we walked toward the counter, I glanced over the room once more.  There was a condiments stand to the right and a half raised wall exposing the playground outside to my left.  The playground was behind a huge glass window beyond more tables and chairs.

We stood behind about five people patiently waiting for our turn.  The forest of tall people standing in front of us blocked my view of the menu.  I turned around for one more look at the playground and watched the other children play.  My hunger became less important and my want for playtime increased.

“Come on, boy,” my father urged.  He was standing next to the counter across from the ticket lady.  They both stared at me impatiently.  I walked up to the counter and my father grabbed my hand.

“What do you want?” he asked.  I looked up at him and we stared at each other. “Tell the lady what you want,” he said.  I turned my head up toward the menu.  Slowly deciphering what it read, I replayed the display I had seen earlier.

“Um…I want…the number …four,” I said indecisively.  The lady quickly punched her finger into a machine and handed my father a piece of paper.  He grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the counter in search of a table.  I turned and gazed at the playground.

“Can we sit outside, Dad?” I pleaded.

“You want to play with those kids, don’t you,” he replied with a smirk.  I smiled back at him, trying to hide my deep excitement.  “Ok, let’s go sit outside,” he said.  I eagerly pulled his hand toward the back of the restaurant under the train and through the glass doors into the dining area next to the playground.  As we found a table, he gently stopped me and said, “Before you can play, you have to finish all of your food.”  We sat at the table.  I stared at the children with great envy and a noise came over the loudspeaker.

“Wait right here,” my father said.  I sat impatiently.  All the waiting made me anxious.  He returned holding the tray of food firmly between his palms.  As he walked toward me, his draping green shirt pulsed with the movement of his legs.  My feet swung back and forth above the ground sitting in my chair awaiting his arrival.

He sat down across from me, passed my food and readily began unwrapping his burger.

“Finish it all,” he said.  I began eating my food, first picking at my fries with the occasional bite of the burger.  My father looked at me with a smile, ”Are you excited about seeing your cousins in Toronto?”  He seemed somewhat nervous.

“I guess,” I replied, half staring at the happy children and half eating.

“We’ve got a long way to go.  We have to pick up your mother and luggage in Killeen on the way to Dallas to catch your flight at six,” he commented.

“Yeah, it’s a good thing we came back for my passport,” I replied, for a moment trying to keep up with the conversation.  We conversed a while longer.

I near finished my food and gazed at the other children.  One of them wore a plain white polo shirt and khaki shorts.  His short and shiny brown hair cupped his scalp just above his freckled face.  He ran back and forth from the playground to what appeared to be his grandparents, occasionally sipping on a happy meal drink.  The grandparents smiled at him from the dining area while he interacted with the other kids.

“Can I go play now?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said after glancing over my plate.

I hopped out of my seat and rushed to the playground.  I slipped off my black suede shoes, placed them into the shoe holder, and looked around eager to meet a new friend.  The kid in the white shirt and khaki pants approached me.

“What’s yer name,” said the boy.

“Koby,” I replied.  My shyness took over my body.  Making friends was always somewhat awkward for me.  I looked at the floor timidly, rocking back and forth.

“Hi, I’m Tim,” he informed me.  I said nothing.  “You wanna play hide-and-seek?” he asked.

“Ok,” I said.  He smiled, quickly raised his hand and tapped my shoulder.

“You’re IT!” he screamed and scrambled up the tiny ladder into the playscape.  Dodging the other children, he giggled and laughed with excitement as I chased after him.  Crawling through tunnels and traversing play nets we played for several minutes, trading the “IT!” disease back and forth.  From time to time, I would glance over to the dinning area where my father sat to see if he was watching.

Eventually, Tim’s grandparents told him that it was almost time to go.  Over the course of our playtime, we had argued numerous times over who was the faster of us both.

“You wanna race?” I finally asked him, aiming to prove myself with sheer confidence.

“Ok,” he said “but get ready to lose.”

“Nuh Uhh,” I replied, “You get ready to lose.”  I knew I could beat him because he was much shorter than me and I caught him several times during our game of hide-and-seek.  We lined up beside each other at one end of the aisle created by the fence and playscape.  The fence was composed of bricks that were piled about four feet high.  It had several brick pillars that stuck out slightly every four to five feet.  Iron rods stood vertically atop the bricks in a lined formation.  The fence cornered about twenty-five feet ahead, creating a sidewall and back wall composed entirely of brick and iron.

“You wanna race to that wall over there?”  I asked eagerly.

“Ok,” he smirked.  We both slightly crouched, awaiting the moment of release.

“On yer mark…get set…” I called out preparing myself for victory.

“Go!” he screamed and darted across the playground floor.  I ran after him excitedly and quickly caught up to him.  As I passed him, he began to lose his footing.  He leaned forward, reached up to me and grabbed the bottom of my shirt.  “He’s trying to keep me from winning,” I thought and pried his hands from their firm grip on my shirt.  As I sped in front of him and touched the far wall, he fell forward and forcefully rammed headfirst into the corner of a brick pillar.  I looked behind me and saw the frightful display.  Tim was on the floor wailing in pain.  His hands covered his face as he squirmed trying to find relief.

“Are you ok?” I asked nervously, running over to him.  I tried to remove his hands from his face to assess the damage.  Blood fled into his palms.  I pulled his hand back to reveal a deep gash lodged in the left part of his forehead.  His screams eventually attracted his grandparents and a few other onlookers.  Horrified, in fear of persecution, I ran over to my father in the dining area.

“What happened?” He asked grimly, “There’s blood on your shirt and all over your hands.”

“I was racing Tim and…and he fell.  It wasn’t my fault.  I promise!” I answered short of breath.

“Oh no,” he said looking me up and down.  “Go and clean yourself up.  Don’t worry you’ll be fine.”

I went over to the glass door leading back into the ordering room.  I glanced behind me and noticed a small crowd of people gathered around Tim.  I opened the door and raced by the tables and chairs, passed the line of people waiting to order and turned into the aisle where the bathroom door stood.  I heard the train whistle and passed the colorful characters on the wall.  I opened the door, ran into the bathroom and locked it behind me.  I saw myself in the mirror as I frantically tried to wash the blood from my hands into the sink and wipe it from my shirt.  I was shaking.

After a few minutes of washing and scrubbing, I looked at the figure standing before me.  His eyes seemed hollow.  His black and white striped shirt bore orange-brown stains near the shoulder.  He and I stood there quietly contemplating Tim’s fate.  I looked down at my watch and back up at the figure.  “Was it my fault?” I asked him.  “Did I push him into the wall? Will I go to jail?” I thought.  I brooded over the situation for some time and finally convinced myself to come out of the restroom.  My father was waiting for me just outside of the door in one of the chairs.  He stood up and extended his hand in order to take mine.

“Let’s go,” he said quietly as we both walked toward the exit.  The flashing colored lights almost blinded me.  A large white truck was parked outside of the door.  Tim lying still on stretcher was loaded into the back of the truck.  His grandparents and a few other people stood, weeping, around him at the back of the vehicle while a man in a white button-up shirt pulled the truck doors shut.

We both entered the old beat up car.  My father started the engine.  I pulled down the vanity mirror above me revealing the same figure I had seen in the bathroom earlier.  The orange-brown stain remained.  I stared at the figure a short while and put the mirror back in its place.  We pulled out of the McDonald’s parking lot and drove away.

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