You’re not really supposed to smoke in a school Moses. That’s what I told him. He said something clever because that’s all he ever does, Moses has never said anything genuine in his life, not that I’ve heard. That’s not even clever I told him and he laughed but not at me he laughed up into the ceiling, into the air that his smoke was making heavy and smelly and thick. I called him wicked after that but his laughter had made my bite much softer and a little smile poked through the words and that made us both laugh now.
Moses was sitting on a desk in the front row, his feet on the chair, his bottom on the table part, facing the back of the room. He was wearing jeans covered in grass and dirt stains, his shirt wrinkled and stretched at the collar, and a blue hat that was too big for him. His left hand laid on his left leg and his right hand held a cigarette, in between his thumb and forefinger like a movie star would smoke a joint only this was just a regular cigarette that Moses had taken from his sister’s room. I sat at a desk in the back row, in his column, so he was facing me. I sat how one was supposed to sit. It’s not his column, it’s the column he chose, I was seated first. And it wasn’t our classroom even, this was not our school, not since we were little.
The lights were turned off in the room, though the wall of windows kept everything bright. It was midday, midsummer. Outside the windows, the cicadas wailed and animals looked for shade. We had been looking for a water fountain and found a door propped open by the restrooms in the back by the soccer field. We were quiet at first when we came through the door, like we had come late to church. In the first hall we didn’t speak and our sweat cooled as we walked and then we found the gym and it smelled the same as we remembered but it looked so much smaller than it did in our minds, or my mind at least because Moses said it was always too small which made me smile because Moses was always trying to seem so big.
After the gym we followed the halls and found that most of the doors in the school were locked except for a few. The first one was the closet with the mops and the hoses and the bottles of chemicals that smell like swimming pools. We went from there up another hall to this room. This was a room that I had learned Science in though I wouldn’t remember that right away as it had been repurposed in the years since to be a Spanish class room. Where the little fiesta cartoons were used to be posters of beakers and diagrams of seeds growing into sunflowers. It was on this wall of windows we taped our plastic bags of bread slices. An experiment about mold and food safety and washing hands. It wasn’t meant to teach us how dirty we were, nor was it meant as an exercise to let the children decide who was the dirtiest and who should be ridiculed for it. But sometimes kids can find new and silly ways to be cruel, and that can last longer and grow into worse things. Everything grows like mold and sunflowers. None of that would come back to me right then because even if it had still looked like that room I would’ve still been watching Moses, looking up at the ceiling, coughing through his cigarette, smiling about some joke in his head, sitting on a desk made for someone younger and nicer and smaller.
From there we’d move down the halls into the auditorium and we’d laugh about Mrs. Davis’s accent and her funny teeth and how Tommy had thrown up during our one play and he’d hear about it every day from then until he moved to the town over, not because of the throw up but because his mom died and his dad decided being closer to his job was something that would be helpful and Tommy didn’t miss any of us anyway. After the auditorium we’d start getting hungry and Moses would be getting bored and restless because those are the two things boys got and we’d leave through the front door where we’d walk down Hackberry and then turn to go down Peach and we’d be sweaty again and Moses would take his hat off and wipe his face with it and I’d watch him and maybe make a joke that Moses wouldn’t even laugh at because he’d have something funnier and more clever to say, waiting in his head like a cat waiting in the grass. After Peach he’d turn right and he’d say something clever over his shoulder about never seeing each other again even though we were together that whole summer, that last big summer everyone was still a kid. I’d turn left and then right at the second mailbox into the yard with the flag and I would tell my mom I was with Gracie and Margaret because I knew she wouldn’t check and I knew if I was alone with Moses she would have raised her eyebrow in a way that felt cold it was hardly a lie anyway because I could’ve been with them anyway.
But none of that had happened yet and we were still in the Science-room-turned-Spanish-room and he was sitting facing me and I was at the end of his row facing him and he was still looking up at his cloud of smoke that he had made and that we both knew was against the rules but that would disappear soon anyway and what was the point of being young if you couldn’t break a silly rule when no one was around and it was all going to disappear anyway.