Lessons

The sun bore down on the little boy who sat atop the cinder block steps leading to his house. His unruly copper hair danced on his head and glistened in the sunlight, but his pale skin looked as if he hadn’t seen the sun at all in his short life. He bent his left leg at a right angle on the steps and rested his tiny elbow on his knee holding his head up like he was resting. He wrinkled his forehead and furrowed his brow over his pouting lips. He hated it when his mother didn’t let him do things. He was a big boy at six years old. He could do things on his own. She just didn’t understand that.

He looked back at the clear storm door behind him and listened for his mother. She had just stepped back in the house to get him a cup of water. He couldn’t hear her or see any sight of her. He hopped up and glided down the steps quickly. He made a beeline for the road in front of his house moving with a speed that would put him over the hill by the time his mother returned to the door.

He stopped for a brief moment at the edge of the road and looked left and then right just like his mother had taught him. The slick rural road with heat emanating from the blacktop sat silent and empty. He couldn’t even hear any cars coming. He took one step onto the asphalt and felt the excitement of adventure awaiting him. He took another step and hurried across the road without hesitating.

Once he crossed the road and crested the hill on the other side, he could see his great aunt in her bonnet below meandering among the blackberry bushes picking berries methodically. He smiled. He had wanted to go with her when she had walked by his house, but his mother refused to let him go. Didn’t she understand that he always helped his great aunt when she had important work to do?

He continued walking down the hill toward his great aunt on the cross street that ran perpendicular to the big road he had just crossed. He stayed to the far left facing any potential traffic just as his mother had taught him, but staying on the edge of the road proved difficult given the uneven asphalt. He persevered focused on his great aunt ahead of him. She didn’t notice he had crossed the road and was walking toward her because she was so absorbed in picking the scrumptious berries. He kept quiet. He wanted to surprise her. She’d love it that he came to help her.

At the foot of the hill, a slight breeze pricked his neck and tickled him, and then, a sudden, long shadow cast about the valley in which he entered. A shrill voice yelled his name puncturing the quiet that had bottled his determination. He stopped in his tracks. His great aunt turned and looked at him and, then, angled her neck to look up to the top of the hill. The boy knew what she saw before he turned around to face his insubordination.

At the top of the hill, his mother stood with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. She yelled his name again and demanded that he return to the top of the hill to her. The little boy slumped his shoulders and looked at his great aunt. She offered no shelter from the wrath of his mother. He whined and exhaled frustration before he turned and stomped up the hill toward his angry mother.

As he reached his mother, he protested and gave his reasons for disobeying her. He was a big boy. He only wanted to help his great aunt. Why couldn’t she let him do what he wanted to do?

His mother would have none of the argument. She grabbed his hand tightly in hers, looked both ways from the edge of the road, and dragged her son back across the street. He resisted, and she pulled harder until the heels of his feet rested on the grass in his yard as she pulled him toward the house. She yanked him up into her arms and carried him into the house. He started crying in anticipation of the punishment.

He had disobeyed her specific orders to never cross the street alone. She had told him that he couldn’t go with his great aunt, and he went anyway. For that, he had to be punished. She put him on the couch and demanded that he stay there. He froze and cowered in fear as she left the room momentarily.

When she returned she brandished a fresh switch in her hand. The angry look on her face said more than the words she would mutter. She raised her hand and brought the switch down upon his pale legs. The thin branch lashed his legs leaving a little red welt across them. Her arm flailed like a mad woman until the cries and pain reached a crescendo. She stopped. A rash of red welts cut across his legs.

Did he plan to disobey her again? No. Did he understand what he had done wrong? Yes. Did he understand the dangers of the road? Yes. Would he ever cross the road again by himself? No.

Some lessons are learned the hard way, and this one, the little boy would never forget.

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