When I went to buy milk, the last thing I expected was to be criticized for leaving blood stains on the freshly mopped floor. The air conditioning in the shop had conked out so I lingered over choosing a bottle of milk a bit longer than necessary, letting the moist air ripple over my sweaty face.
“Hey man, get out of the milk fridge,” the clerk snapped from behind the counter. “This isn’t a hotel.”
I plucked a bottle from the shelf and turned around. Small blue eyes tinged with slivers of black stared at me through thick glasses in slightly distorted frames. Thinning coconut brown hair trickled over large almost elfin ears, and the dark stubble on his cheeks made it look like he’d kissed a cactus.
“Joey?” a husky voice whispered. “Is that you?”
“No,” I said, pushing past him. “Sorry, wrong guy. My name is Enfaldo.”
The eyes bulged slightly. “Seriously? You’re not Joey Hogan?”
“I just told you I’m not,” I said, walking towards the counter.
“I swear you are the exact image of Joey Hogan,” he said. “What kind of name is Enfaldo?”
“What’s it to you?” I snapped, grabbing a loaf of bread off a shelf.
“No need to be like that,” he replied. “It’s just rather unusual. In fact, I would say it’s unusual because it’s a fake name and you are actually Joey Hogan.”
“Sorry to butt in,” the clerk said from behind the counter. “But my name is also Enfaldo. Really, I would like to know what is so weird about that name?”
I gave the other customer the smirk I reserve for the truly foolish. “See?”
“One of you is obviously lying,” the man said, looking down and sniffing.
“Not me,” the clerk said with an excited smile. “It’s written on my badge.”
“Nobody move,” a voice called from the doorway. “This is a robbery.”
“Really?” the clerk said, his voice still gliding on the euphoric win gained over his customer. “I thought you were delivering my lunch.”
“That’s right, get smart,” the robber said, raising a thin, black gun. “I’ll blow your damn…”
He stopped. A tremble started in his shoulder and rolled down his arm, causing the gun to quiver like a nibbled fishing line.
“Wait a minute. Your name is Enfaldo?”
“That’s what the badge says, don’t it?” the clerk said, crossing his arms.
“I don’t believe it. That’s my name, too,” the robber said, his eyes blaring delight. “In all my time robbing shops, I’ve never come across another Enfaldo before.”
“You’re kidding me?” the clerk yelled, his arms dropping to his side. “That guy’s name is Enfaldo, too”
“This is incredible,” the robber yelped, the gun waving as he jiggled his arms and hopped from foot to foot, his head flung back in ecstasy.
“Yeah, hilarious,” the man next to me said. “Except that isn’t his name. His name is Joey Hogan.”
“What do you know about it?” the robber asked, moving closer, his gun raised again. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“I don’t have to tell you,” the man said, but from the way his eyes widened I could see he regretted getting involved.
“You do if you want to leave this shop with your bowels inside your belly,” Enfaldo the robber said.
“Okay, fine. My name is Tony Parks.”
My knees trembled, and my head spun. Suddenly I was fourteen again. Trees slapped at my face and my bare arms. Behind me, twigs snapped, and voices rang out over the hiss of cicadas. I saw the bridge but not the mud. Gravel slammed into my face as I flew across the ground, my head hitting the side of the bridge with a sickening crack.
“Get up,” Tony yelled, two thin sticks hanging from his right hand. “We’re going to fight.”
The group of boys blurred in and out of view as I stood up. Warm liquid dribbled down my knees.
“Take the stick,” Tony hissed, thrusting it towards me. “I know you know how to fight. Everyone knows your dad taught you.”
My vision settled and I grabbed the stick. A buzzing mosquito-like sound whizzed past me and pain sizzled in my left arm. I screeched.
“Fight back,” Tony snarled.
I swung my stick, but he smashed his against it. Splinters spun out over the side of the bridge. Laughter filled the air. My knees gave way, and the stick sung again. Pain blasted through my back.
“You bastard,” I shouted, dropping the milk. “I remember you. You beat me up in middle school.”
I reached out and grabbed two grey, plastic children’s swords that sat on the shelf next to a packet of colored pencils. I threw one at him, and he caught it, his eyes wide, his tongue poking out between his incisors.
“It’s payback time,” I yelled, running at him, the sword high above my head.
He screamed and swung his sword up. My sword cracked hard against it producing a long squeal. I struck again. He fell back against a tall stack of canned tomatoes. They tumbled to the ground and rolled under shelves.
“What on earth are you two doing?” Enfaldo the clerk shouted. “Stop it! You’re destroying the shop.”
“Yeah, cut it out you two,” robber Enfaldo yelled. “Either pay for those swords or put them back. You should both need to leave. This is a place of business.”
I looked at them, then back at Tony. I raised my sword, gritted my teeth and ran at him once more. My sword crashed down on his left hand and he dropped his, and flew backwards. Shelves of bread and vegetables tumbled to the floor and blood dribbled from his hand. He trembled as he stared up at me, clutching his wounded hand to his chest.
“Hey, come on,” Enfaldo the clerk mumbled. “I just mopped.”
“Have you no respect for the common worker?” robber Enfaldo snapped, waving his gun at us.
My lungs burned as I approached Tony, my breath thick and wheezy, my plastic sword held high.
“Wait,” Tony yelped. “At least let me explain.”
The fatty skin around his neck dimpled as I pushed the tip of the sword against his throat. I looked back at the two Enfaldo’s. They nodded.
“Come one,” Enfaldo the robber said. “Give home a chance. Be the better man.”
“It should be a pretty good story, too,” Enfaldo the clerk said, rubbing his hands together.
I looked back at Tony. “You have thirty seconds.”
“Your dad was sleeping with my Mum,” he said, tears snaking down his cheeks. “My dad left because of him. Your dad hated me and whenever he came over he forced me out of the house. The evening before our fight, I stood up to him and told him to leave us alone. He laughed, then challenged me to a duel the next evening. He said he’d bring two swords and we would fight to the death. I was just a kid, I didn’t know he was messing with me. That’s why I wanted to fight you. I thought it would help me prepare for the duel with your dad. Later, when he never came back, Mum blamed me. She sent me to live with an aunt. So, now you know.”
“That’s a heck of a story,” clerk Enfaldo said, scratching his nose. “You should forgive him, Enfaldo.”
“I concur,” robber Enfaldo said, slipping the gun into his back pocket. “Revenge just perpetuates the cycle of violence.”
I looked down at Tony and his bleeding hand. I lowered my sword.
“My dad died a long time ago, or I’d make him apologize,” I said, extending my hand towards him.
He took it, and I pulled him up.
“Can you forgive me?” he asked.
“I guess so.”
“Hey, wait. You can’t leave until you’ve paid for all this damage,” robber Enfaldo said firmly, pulling out his gun again. “Otherwise it’ll come out of Enfaldo here’s paycheck and that’s not fair.”
“I’ll get this,” Tony said, looking at me. “It’s the least I can do.”
“Hang on. Does this mean your name isn’t Enfaldo?” Enfaldo the clerk said, looking up at me from the till.
“It is my name,” I said, as Tony handed over his credit card. ” I had it legally changed from Joey a few years ago.”
“Good choice,” robber Enfaldo said with a grin.
Outside, birds sung, and the trees flung cooling shadows over the footpath as Tony walked away, nursing his wounded hand. I never saw him again.