Monday, November 7, 2011

Head Scratchies

I scratch his head. He keeps his hair in a short, clean buzz-cut and my fingers brush straight to the smooth scalp.

"Mm, head-scratchies," he mumbles, "Makes me lazy."

"You mean tired."

"Whatever boy..."

He sleepily throws his head on my chest.

We're sitting on a towel on the beach, waiting for the sun to set, because this is Florida, and isn't this what one is supposed to do while in Florida? Sit, relax, enjoy the breeze, hold someone comfortable, wait for the beautiful end.

His name is Antonio, not one of my employer's three Antonios, the pool guy, the gardener, the contractor, but an Antonio just for me. He's a coworker of my friend Valerie. Working construction by day has left him with a meaty but tightly-bound physique and waiting tables by night has instilled in him an overly polite nature.

"Everything okay?" he always asks. With concerned brown eyes he'll say, "You comfortable?"

And I always answer, "I'm good. You not at work, boy. Relax."

He's short, much shorter than me, but his head rests right on my chest. It fits. He's originally from Cuba, spent his teens in Washington D.C. and moved to Southwest Florida in his early twenties.

"D.C. was too loud. Too dirty. It's nice here," he'll tell me. He speaks in short phrases and simple words based on his still-developing grasp of the English language. At first I had difficulty making conversations flow, but it grew on me.

Say what you mean, say it quickly, understand that quiet doesn't mean uncomfortable.

"Thump, thump, thump," he says, his ear pressed against the thin fabric of the shirt covering my chest, "Heart always thumping, never relaxed."

I scratch his head again, try to slow my heart, put it in rhythm with the crush of the waves and the gentle motions of my fingers.

"I'm leaving in a few weeks," I say, "I meant to say something earlier." He pauses for a moment, mulls it over in his head. Then he smiles reassuringly, flashes that waiter's grin I've grown accustomed to during my short time with him.

"It's fine. People always leaving. It's how it is here," he says,"We have fun until you leave." He smiles again, leaves a kiss on my chin and says, "It's no problem." He adds, "You okay, right?"

I tell him I'll miss him.

"I won't miss you," he says, flashing that sly waiter's grin. I put him in a playful headlock, just for a moment, just until he admits that he'll miss me.

We fall into a comfortable quiet and watch as the sun slowly rests over the horizon, no need for what he calls the "talk, talk, talk, always talking" of others.

This island, the wealthy retirees and the seasonal tourists, they'll pay you just to exist and be young. On paper you may be a cashier or a landscaper, but to them you're that sweet girl at the office supply store or the nice boy that always stops to chat over a glass of lemonade. They want the talk, talk, talk. It'd be easy enough for a young person to move here, find a good-enough job, reside in a nice place and live a comfortable life in a palm-lined paradise.

That's all Antonio wants. Somewhere quiet, nice, safe. Someone to give him head scratchies.

I'm envious of him, his succinct way of speaking, his uncomplicated work, how something as simple as head scratchies makes him so content with existence.

I want to take him where I'm going, force him to teach me the secret to satisfaction with simplicity, but where I'm going is loud, cruel, dangerous. It isn't for him, but I'm comfortable there. I thrive in the absurd. It's why I'm on an island working for an elderly self-made music mogul and holding a Cuban boy who I admittedly have difficulty understanding. Did he just say "next week" or "what street?" Probably "next week," I don't think he'd answer a question with a question, unless he didn't understand what I said... fuck it, I'm just going to scratch his head and smile, talking is stupid...

Unlike Antonio, I'm not capable of being content living a comfortable, good-enough life, even if it is in paradise. The cynicism creeps in. Oh, the beach again? How about you do something interesting with your life, asshole.

I'll go to the loud, cruel, dangerous place, and anytime I start to let the cynical take over, I can at least take comfort in knowing that head scratchies will find a way to tame the bitterness.

Scratch, scratch, scratch...

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