His boots were smooth soled and tattered - busted up like a boiled peewah. Yet, as the athletic coach praised, "Is as if he feet have genius, the way dat Tomas does play football!"
And that was almost understatement as Tomas truly was gifted.
What Coach said had pleased him well enough, yet the equipment manager's proud eyes and quiet pat on his shoulder had felt infinitely better. For in Tomas' opinion, where Mr. Crick - also his Science teacher - walked was hallowed ground.
All the next week, his hunger for praise well fed, Tomas practiced harder, and predictably was picked as striker for the Finals team. The match was to be in the City on Saturday two weeks away, in the grand stadium, in front all those people, people like peas. Daydreaming about it, Tomas saw his challenge as impressing those ultra-expert City fans. He'd have to demonstrate his skills at the Beautiful Game; give them exceptional play that gave respect to its glorious title. Play that would be impossible with the fig-skin slippery worn-out boots he now wore. Then and there, as reality penetrated his reverie, he decided he'd have to get a pair of better boots. Most definitely.
He put aside pride and tried from friends to make a borrow. But no willing one had a suitable size eleven. Undaunted, he decided to face the store. Made the trip to town and saw his perfect boots on a shelf. Beautiful black. Soft leather. Medium studs. The salesman let him try them on. Comfortable fit. He asked the price. As a schoolboy special for him, tax and all they were forty nine ninety five. Most definitely out of his pocket's depth!
On his bike back home Tomas made some calculations. With the near eighteen he had saved, he needed to get thirty or so dollars in two weeks. Make that two weeks less one day during which he would get accustomed to the new boots by wearing it fulltime.
But where he would get all that loot?
A heavy drizzle began and as he resolved himself to the wet ride home, sudden inspiration gave him cause to grin. Rainy season meant grass was growing in people's yards like mad. He mused, "Three yards at ten bones each, an' I set!"
Grin growing broader, Tomas looked up into the shower and began a little singsong, "Fall rain, fall! Don't stop at all!"
By the end of the first week Tomas had made seventeen dollars and fifty cents from weeding two yards, plus hustling errands for his parents, plus a borrow off a first cousin visiting from Venezuela. "Man, dis easy like kissing hand!" he congratulated himself. "Matters stay smooth so an' dey can't stop me with a concrete wall!"
Filled with enthusiasm, he continued his hard practice and was reaching top form. In a friendly with a local second division team, he got a hat-trick consciously holding back all the while.
Then, sweetest score of all, on the way to showers afterwards, he overheard Mr. Crick bragging about him.
Second week, rain fell on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The heavy downpours did not even permit practice, far less weeding peoples' yards. Two days left to make twelve dollars, Tomas' concern grew with the swelling rivers.
Then Thursday dawned clear and the shining sun acknowledged his relieved smile. With a particular target yard in mind, his grateful prayer was, "Thank you rain Gods for keeping calm."
He rode his bike up the hill to the Johns' bungalow. The place was shuttered like a high security jail. So he asked their neighbors and found out that the rich folks were away until Saturday morning. No problem for Tomas though. He had worked for the Johns before, knew the man to be a fair fellow. So Tomas tackled the yard anyhow.
Most certainly he would get at least ten for his labors. He worked hard, did a job so good even the neighbors expressed admiration.
Still, back home and just to make certain, he asked his mother for a small loan. Ten dollars for twelve in a week, he offered.
"I can't buy a cockroach off de gallows, boy!" she pleaded. "Not a cent to spare!"
Still she let him hold three dollars from her kitchen purse. Two weeks. No interest.
Frustrated, but grateful, Tomas gave her a quick kiss, hung his hopes more heavily on Mr. Johns.
Friday morning, he went to school and sought out his best buddies for help in the emergency. But none of the boys were flush. So back dropped his prospects into Mr. Johns' pocket.
Friday afternoon during final practice, he was brilliant. Had the spectators happily howling and hollering at his moves, roaring their solid praise. Privately though, Tomas wished that their appreciation might magically affect flint-hearted Mr. Bajnath, the shoe storekeeper, and despite his motto of 'No Trust equals No Fuss!' move the stingy man to pass over the black size elevens.
To Tomas, everything - his whole future - depended on them. For when the city coaches saw him play they were bound to give him a scholarship to some college. Then it would be football in the Oval, and Inter-Collegiate games, and the National Youth team, and overseas tours, and then, in a few years he'd be on . . .
. . . a few!!!
What he really needed was a few dollars more! He had to get Mr. Johns' money. And soon.
Friday night Tomas lay restless in his bed. He was thinking, planning, scheming of ways to make the boots his own. The wishful part of his mind kept wondering how he could persuade Mr. Bajnath to give him the boots on credit. His practical side remembered the storekeeper and his mingy mottos: "Pay cash here! Take credit next door!"
So he closed his eyes and got fanciful: maybe he would canvas the important rich people. The inspector of police. The prime minister. The president of FIFA. Aladdin's genie . . .
. . . today the genie was wearing a purple turtle neck sweater and white satin bell-bottomed pantaloons. Misty and massive, he bowed down like a low cloud and handed Tomas the game ball, a pair of beautiful boots, a fancy sports car. . . then abruptly Tomas was in Brazil trying trick shots with Ronaldino . . . he was demonstrating a curving free-kick technique when he jolted awake from the hurt of his toes forcefully colliding with the bedroom's wall.
He massaged his toes, looked at the clock face. Only three ten in the morning. He closed his eyes, changed position, determined to sleep. At four thirty he was up. He tried again. Made it until five fifteen. Another attempt got him to five thirty six. At which time he gave up, went into the yard and watched dawn depart from Saturday.
It took countless hours for eight-forty-five to come around and by nine-ten Tomas was encamped at the front gate of the Johns' bungalow. He leaned on a post and scraped holes in the dirt with his big toe, sweating the minutes as they crawled past. Asked, a neighbor told him it was ten-thirty-five and Tomas went from very concerned to terribly anxious. Bajnath, as all stores on Saturday, closed at midday.
But what else to do? So Tomas waited!
The indolent minutes, taking all the time in the world as his hopes sank lower, sauntered by. His heart squeezed tighter, hurting from the smirks of the cruel eons. Then at eleven-fifty-five his breathing caught the sniffles and tiny tears seeped from his searching eyes.
Although, forlorn, he resolved to tarry a bit more. Just a little longer.
Then two minutes later. Wait! A car was turning into the Johns' driveway! Yes! At last! O Yes! It was them!
Tomas dashed to the driver's side. He held Mr. Johns' sleeve, spoke his story in swift desperate sentences, gestured stretched-open palms to the work he had done. His eyes were brimful, his voice high-pitched, his whole being urgent and pleading.
The good man shifted in his seat, dug into his pocket and handed Tomas a twenty!
"Thank you, sir," said Tomas, already pushing on his pedals. "Thanks!"
At Bajnath's store in next to no time, Bang! Bang! he hits the barred door. Bang! Bang!
Swiftly off to Mr. Bajnath's home, he races up their front steps, beats at the door. Again and again he knocks until a servant's rude shouts reach his ears, "Wait, nuh man. Stop dat noise! You is a Russian or what!" she quarrels. "All you people don't have no consideration at all, oui. De people an' dem gone for dey weekend an' still all you come here breakin' down door. . ."
The rest is lost as his world implodes. He notices the crumpled bills in his hand, absentmindedly stuffs them in his pocket. Now distress descends upon him as an agony of profound disappointment. His throat is choking tight and it's hard to breathe. Snot is stuffing up his nose. He cannot even weep. Inside his belly is knotting up painful. His feet feel too heavy to lift as he mounts his bike and pedals off sad and broken and hopeless.
He enters the house, heads directly for his bedroom. There he can suffer in private. There he can hide his shattered life in the familiar patchwork quilt. His mother is saying something. Halfway listening, he hears, ". . . bus leaving at quarter to two and he leave a parcel. He say dat accordin' to de weather, you could take out de short pegs and screw in de longer ones. All a' dem dere in de box and Aiie! Aiie! Where's dis child I talking to?"
On his bed is an open size eleven shoebox. In it he could see the shiny black football boots Mr. Crick had left for him.