José Manuel Lleras
Both boys lost their feet in the tall grass, but the way they lost them was different. Ish was a breath or two behind Osk, and he pulled one foot out of the tall grass as deliberately as he pressed the other one in. He felt himself stamping pockmarks in the earth. Osk didn’t bother with any of that. His feet flew, he never saw anything and he didn’t care.
Ish looked up at Osk hoping that he would change direction. But Osk’s Reeboks were whirring ahead, towards the field. Their backpacks and jeans were wet. Rain was their companion, making its way deep inside their clothes even on cloudless days. Ish looked at the sky, which was full of clouds, and dropped his head. They were going where Osk wanted them to go.
Both boys had dark hair and dark eyes, set in round faces with stubby noses. Their teachers were given only one clue who was who: Ish was a head taller than Osk. When newcomers asked if they were brothers or cousins, Osk would grapple Ish towards him. He'd shake him like a baby’s rattle and say, “Of course! Ish my little brother! Ishhhhhhh.”
Another difference, mostly invisible to the teachers, was their Reeboks. Ish had gotten his third-hand and at this point they were dead shoes walking. Their soles were shot. They'd lost their color and turned green from following Osk through grass. Despite having traveled through the same grass, Osk’s Reeboks still looked brand new. Old green shoes and new white shoes did not seem like natural allies. But the boys' own friendship was the most natural thing in the world. They were like two rivers that found each other for no reason on a plane and agreed to flow together into an ocean, also for no reason.
“Hey Osk! We can go over the fence here and get back on the road. We don't need to make up any more time.”
“Hey Ish! You’re a baby chicken! We’ll get to school before everyone else and when they find out we crossed the field...they’ll know we’re the fucking bomb! You’ll see how my beibicita looks at us when she finds out.”
“Why do you want her to look at us? She’s already our friend.”
“Ohhh poor, little Ish doesn’t know any better. If my brother were your brother then he'd know.”
“That girls are no good for friends. You gotta get a head start. From day one you gotta have the girls right here.” He pecked the palm of his right hand with his left index finger.
Ish didn’t answer. He dug his hands deep into the pockets of his jean jacket. He felt the blades of grass tickling up through his Reeboks to the soles of his feet.
His parents had warned him about crossing the field. “Always stay on the road. The field is not safe for kids,” said his mother about once a week. And once every three months, after one of the weekly mother reminders, his father would say: “Listen to your mother. Don’t be stupid. Never put a foot in the field.” Neither of his parents had ever given Ish a reason.
Osk and Ish generally kept to the road. Occasionally they took shortcuts under fences and over meadows full of stupid, skinny, wide-eyed cows, but never through the field. This time, Ish held the two wires apart to let Osk through. Then Osk did the same for Ish. Ish worried that Osk would let go of the wires and hook him like a fish on its knotted spikes.
It seemed to Ish that the field stretched out in every direction. Greener than any other field he had been in. At the end of the field the mountains were yellow, although Ish couldn’t see from here where the field met the mountains. There was a valley or a gulch between them, his father had told him this. In the valley lived rats as big as people.
Ish felt a shudder in his neck, as if a few droplets of rain had fallen on him that were much colder than the others. His body stiffened. His left foot, which had been hunting instinctively for the shallowest puddles of mud and the softest tussocks of grass suddenly lost these instincts and got stuck in a deep reservoir of mud. As Ish fell, he felt a sprain go up his calf. Osk turned and started laughing.
“My poor dumb, son of an Ish, come here.”
Ish grabbed Osk’s hand and pulled his foot out. The mud made a slurping sound, as if giving back a lollipop it had wanted to keep.
“That’s a deep hole,” Ish said looking at his jeans, browned-up to the middle of his shin, “I cut myself on something.”
“Come on Ish, you can look at your leg all day long in school, alright? We have to keep moving.”
Five steps later Osk's own left foot got stuck deep in the ground. He fell over too, though he felt no sprain.
“Shit!” Osk shouted punching the ground.
From the ground he hurled his backpack at Ish. It hit his friend on the arm and Osk flashed his conquistador grin.
“Osk! What did you do that for?” “Hurry up Ish! We lost a lot of time with your bullshit.”
Ish clenched his mouth as he stumbled over to where he thought his backpack was. He stumbled angrily, bursting through the grass with sharp kicks. It had come to rest in a hole. He picked it up and kept still, scanning the field for more holes.
“Isn’t it weird that the field has holes?” Ish asked.
Osk looked at him with eyebrows raised and nostrils flared. “No holes marica, just grass in this field of Ish.”
“Osk, look!” said Ish pointing at another hole.
“Holes are everywhere: on the road, in the playground, in my house!” said Osk leaning over it.
“Yeah, I know. But it’s not normal.”
“Don’t cows come and go, aren’t there dogs here and there and everywhere? Don’t you remember how your piece-of-shit dog followed you to school?” Osk blasted, “Jesus, Isidoro. Stop thinking, it’s bad for you.”
Ish kept quiet. He thought about his dog, Blue. He had been a good dog, too. He sang:
I had a dog and his name was Blue
And I betcha five pesos he's a good dog, too
Come on, Blue
You good dog, you
“Shut your mouth, Ish” yelled Osk. “We’ll get to school at the same time as everyone else, and then what? Why are you breathing like a velociraptor Ish? Are you tired? We can’t stop now.”
“Just getting hot. Let’s go back. I think we already made up enough time.”
“Not enough Ish.”
“Dammit Ish we are crossing the whole field, ok? Stop bugging.”
Ish continued to walk. The blades crunched like seconds in a clock that you see ticking but don’t hear tocking. Ish knew the ground was there but he couldn’t find it with his feet any more. His feet were scared too.
“Osk I don’t like it here. Let’s hurry up.”
“Shut up and run Ish. We have to get there fast.”
“I’m going as fast as I can!”
Their Reeboks churned up sods of mud. No-one saw the sods flying up though, because the grass was very high and Osk and Ish themselves did not look back, even once.
Jose Manuel Lleras is an essayist, short-story writer and script writer. He trained in England, although his heart has always been elsewhere.