Just as Job rounded the corner of the trail a puff of dust, delighted, rolled up over the edge of the next hill. Behind the sinking mushroom cloud fuzzy shapes formed, dark brown blotches behind the haze. Job looked up to see what rose up the hill. And above the line of the hill’s top, a few heads bobbed, un-unified, but together. The shapes of many kids, hair in itchy tumbles about their heads varied in color and height; classmates. Even though Job had seen them first they all seemed to know of his presence for each vague shape halted at the top of the hill to look down.
The sun glared a fan of light behind their heads, but Job continued to stare in awe of his classmates’ sudden appearance. Afternoon was waning. One by one they struck their feet against the bare hill. Skidding rocks tumbled down ahead of their feet like an old Persian rug unfurling.
They had all kept their heads down, focused on the descent, and while Job had watched them closely not one had made eye contact.
The rocks came to a slow halt at the foot of the hill, gravity finally tiring. Now they faced each other. A murmuring rose up around the group, twirling lightly around their heads. Some looked at each other, while others stared openly at Job standing small in front of them. Like an army that had gathered across their line with a tricky maneuver to take advantage of their brief lunch break. Most had only run home to grab up the sandwiches left open, sliced diagonally down the middle, each corner easily smashed into the mouth as the feet pounded back to play, lips smacking on the highly processed cheese and meat that came out of clear plastic film. They would have tasted the layer of film that always seems to fuse onto the packaged food, except they ate so swiftly the food went tumbling across the inner cheek and down the throat before they could take notice. Only a slight stickiness left behind any trace of the mingled plastic and meat flavor of the sandwich and this was quickly followed by the second and third bites before the feeling could be sent to the brain as a thought. And after all that hurry they had gathered at the end of the road, some slower chewers lingering over the last few scrapes of light brown crust pinched in their fingertips. Without a head count, they knew when all of them were there and took off, jogging down to play for the last precious day of the weekend, only to find an unfamiliar obstacle blocking the path.
“What you doing out, Job?” called a familiar voice from the group.
“Uh…my gran…my parents let me.” Job answered. “I thought, maybe I could join you guys?” he pointed back over his shoulder at the hand-made playground just recently vacated, but his never left the group. Slowly, as his questions went unanswered, he let his hand curled into a point of his index finger down to his side. Uncomfortable with its hanging there, however, he swiftly moved it to the safety of his right hand jeans pocket which dug into his wrist slightly with the strain of fitting in.
“Oh. Uh, really?”
The boy held certainty in his voice, even with the question. Job had only talked with him one or twice at, school. Nathan, the single voice in the crowd cocked his head to side as he asked Job his ambiguous reply, like a scientist finding a clue without yet knowing how it would affect the experiment.
Job nodded slowly, up and down, his eyes pinched at the sun’s glare still radiating behind the hill like a crown illuminating the crowd of boys below. One fidgeted on the edge of the group, ruining the illusion.
“I don’t know. We already have an even number see?”
Job saw them, staring back.
“It wouldn’t be fair.” Nathan claimed.
“Fair?” Job wondered what this meant in terms of playing.