We pass Hercules every day on our way to school; he’s got that limp, and the purple rucksack, the too small one, pinned up in his shoulder blades like it’s part of his body. We do make comments.
“Where are you going, Hercules?” My buddy, Simon, is up close and personal. “What’s the hurry?”
We’re at Hunter’s Bar roundabout, near the park. There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of noise, but you can still make out that habitual huffing and puffing. He’s a big boy.
I chime in: “He’s definitely in a hurry. Aren’t you, Hercules?”
He stops suddenly. “I told you-”
“Told us what?” Simon touches his arm. “What did you tell us?”
“My name…” He doesn’t finish his sentence. He studies both of our faces slowly. He gets it.
We flank him into the park. Tight formation.
“Do you like girls, Hercules?” I ask as we cross the small bridge. “You know, kissing, that kind of thing. Shagging.”
“You gotta speak up, mate,” Simon butts in. “Can’t hear you. You’re gonna need to enunciate a little for us.”
You can see him licking his lips. Sweating.
“Ah, you’re gay, is that it? He’s soft for boys, Simon, that’s what he’s trying to say.”
Hercules stops in his tracks again. He’s bright red.
Simon dances off to the side a bit, in mock shock. I stay close to Hercules; I want to show him I’m not intimidated. We lock eyes.
“Now, don’t be rude,” I say, in my calmest voice. “We’ll buy you a coke. Come on. Do you want a coke?”
At the Endcliffe café, Hercules plops himself down on one of the green plastic chairs. I nudge Simon in the arm; he grins back at me. We order three cokes, and a bacon sandwich for Simon, and then sip at the drinks and contemplate. Hercules scrutinizes his coke can, turning it around in his large hands. I have no clue what he is contemplating, if anything.
Then I seize an idea.
“Twelve tasks! Do you know what I’m talking about?”
He looks up.
“Hercules had twelve tasks to…prove something…whatever it was…”
“His manliness,” Simon interjects, tearing off some bacon.
“Right,” I say.
My eyes land on a couple of girls – university students probably – sitting at a table near the river. They’re pretty fit; one with blond hair, the other with dreads. A bit scruffy, but alright looking.
You fucking genius, I think to myself.
I remember a cartoon of Hercules fighting a beast with many heads and each time he lopped one off, two or more would appear. Of course in the cartoon, Hercules was a brave warrior with big muscles, not anything like ours. Just one look at ours, you know he’s soft as shite.
We watch him move forward in that funny way of his. He’s holding his coke can loosely at the side of his thigh; it just seems to be flopping around, hardly held at all.
Simon laughs. “He’s gonna do it, isn’t he?!”
Who our Hercules is, I have no idea. Maybe he’s on day release; maybe he lives at home with his bat crazy mother. All we know is he’s always around, walking back and forth. Which makes him fair game.
He reaches the two students. Some kind of conversation ensues. The blond girl has her arm across the back of her chair and she seems to be leaning away from Hercules. The dread head is motionless.
Then he lunges down and grabs the dreadlocked one by the hair and starts kissing her, as commanded, but with an incredible amount of violence. She slumps under his weight.
Then he lets her go.
Simon has spilt his coke and he’s backing away. The blonde girl is up now and screaming at Hercules and Hercules is turning slowly in a daze towards us. I can’t say my heart’s not beating a bit faster, but I hold still. Unlike Simon.
“Sit down, you fucking prick.” I tell him. But Simon’s up, walking away really carefully.
The rest is in slow speed.
Hercules moves through soup, his eyes bright and big, face more purple than red. He’s heading for me. I feel the discomfit of the plastic chair all of a sudden, how it is cheap as fuck and disintegrating. But I don’t move.
When he gets to me, I understand my role.
The first punch lands clean on my nose. The next on the upper cheekbone. Strangely, I’m more calm and relaxed than ever. I feel what a punch bag must feel: empty of emotion. The tears stream down into my mouth. The blood drips down the back of my throat. I remember the cartoon then, how Hercules could leap from one monster head to the other without a problem, sword slicing through the neck meat effortlessly. I watch him beat me from high up. I’m actually peering over his shoulder. An observer.
I am not fucking Hercules.
I am not fucking Hercules.
When it is all done, I am sitting still in my chair. Simon is dust. The university students are dust, too. A couple of pigeons are nuzzling into Simon’s half-eaten bacon sandwich, right beside Hercules, who is hunched over on the grass. He is folded over somehow, small. All meat: no head or arms. Just a round ball.
What I say to him at this moment, I will not understand later. It is a strange thing to say, but my face is throbbing and hot, and it feels good. Like ice.
I tell him, Thank you.
And I mean it. For a minute, I am there.
Photo By: Allen