Magdaluyo prized the five-inch scar on his left hand. He liked that the kids around Garfield Street in the Ingleside district told everyone he had gotten stabbed during a street fight. His friends called him Mayo, a nickname made from the first two letters and the last two letters of “Magdaluyo.” He hated it when his name was mispronounced /May-yo/-- with a long ā as in /maybe/ and when this happened, it set off his hot temper. His eyes, dark and shiny like chocolate drops would get all dark and melty.
“Hey! Who’re you callin’ ‘Māy-yo’?” he yelled at Randy one day. Randy was the red-headed kid with the buzz cut who lived in the corner house. Mayo took two steps forward and shoved Randy, hard, sending him backward onto the curb. Me and my best girlfriend, Aisha, stepped out of the way.
“’MAH-yo’, then. What’s the big deal?” Randy asked, rubbing his arm.
“May-yo sounds like short for Mayonnaise. And what color is mayonnaise?” Mayo stood over Randy, leaning forward, hands on his hips. Randy just looked up at him, afraid to answer. “I said, what color is mayonnaise?”
“Look at my brown skin. It’s not right for other kids to call me a name that’s short for mayonnaise.” All the kids nodded, “Yup.” We accepted Magdaluyo’s authority without challenge. For one thing, he was the biggest kid on the block, with thick legs like tree trunks, and husky arms. His shiny black hair, parted down the middle, flew about freely, often covering his eyes when he moved around. And for another thing, he was big-hearted. That’s what his Lola (Grandma) had always said. I thought so too. One time, he got a bag of cat eye marbles from the doctor’s office for being brave when he got a shot. After he came home, he gave each one of us a marble.
Even though Mayo could be temperamental sometimes, he and I got along. Maybe it was because we both had tough fathers who had the same brand of temper. Man, at the slightest thing, even before we finished thinking about doing something, our dads gave us whippings with the belt.
“God-dem, don’t even think about it,” his Dad would say and then “whap!” with the belt.
Maybe it was because Mayo, nine, the youngest kid in his family, had someone he could look after-- a younger kid like me. Or maybe Mayo and me were close because one time, he made me swear on his Lola’s bible that I would never tell anyone how he had really gotten that scar on this hand. And for the whole time we were friends, I kept his secret safe.
“Soli, swear you won’t tell,” Mayo had said that day, a warning look in his dark brown eyes. Back then, I was at least a head shorter than him, so Mayo stood on his knees to get closer to my height and yanked at my two ponytails so hard it loosened the Goo that Mommy had combed through my hair.
“I swear,” I repeated, placing my brown hand, dry skin and all, on Lola’s Bible. Our ceremonial pact was made in Mayo’s living room. I remember we stood face-to-face next to the low bookshelf where the Bible was kept. Afterward, he scrubbed my head with his knuckles, signaling his approval.
The thing is, Mayo had been out at the municipal pier, fishing for bass with his dad one morning. Their plan was to bring home enough fish for meals to last the whole weekend. But then, a leopard shark got snagged on Mayo’s hook. When he brought the twelve-inch shark up out of the water, his dad went to cut the fishing line to release it. Just then the shark jerked sideways. The knife missed cutting the line, catching the backside of Mayo’s left hand and part of his arm instead.
He and his dad ended up not bringing home any fish that night. I knew this because, after they got back from the emergency room, Mayo’s mother called to invite my family over for empanadas. Mommy loved the delicious meat-filled pastries with the flaky crust. When we got across the street to their house, I could tell that Mayo’s dad was mad, ranting about Mayo. “God-dem kid can’t fish like his brother, Tony,” he said with a heavy Ilocano accent. His dad showed my dad where his lucky bowling league shirt had gotten dirty in the struggle with the leopard shark. Later he mellowed out they had a couple of shots of Wild Turkey.
It was that night, while Mayo’s sixteen-year-old brother Tony was in the other room watching TV with his girlfriend, that Mayo showed me his stitched up and bandaged hand and made me swear never to tell the other kids how it happened.
So, Magdaluyo, his toughness kept safe from my promise to keep that secret safe, held his rank as a leader among the neighborhood kids. In return, I guess you could say he watched over me like a junkyard dog- a big-hearted, junkyard dog.
One time, I was outside on the sidewalk making bubbles by dipping a bubble hoop into an old pie tin filled with soapy water. Two men pulled up slowly in a two-door, gray Buick. It was plush! Cigar smoke odor floated, gray and stinky, through the open passenger window. A ceramic smiling hula girl stood cemented to the dashboard with a glob of soft putty, her grass-skirted hips gyrating to the pulsing vibration of the Buick’s noisy engine.
“Want some candy?” the blonde-bearded, bald guy in the passenger seat asked me. His calloused hand dangled outside the open car window. A crusty, oversized palm--extended toward me-- filled with colorful sugar-coated candies.
I answered, “No, that’s okay.” I looked quickly to my right and left. I could hear my dad’s words in the back of my head warning me, “Soledad, never take anything from strangers, understand?” But the man’s voice was friendly and he coaxed me over to him, with outstretched arm.
“Here It’s okay. Take ‘em. Plenty more where that came from.”
I looked upward to my forehead as if my dad’s previous warning were written there, right next to the other rules, like, “Answer when grown-ups talk to you.” These conflicting lessons threw me off balance.
“C’mon! Here!” the man insisted, before I could speak my refusal.
I stood up and looked down at my legs which had begun moving, one foot in front of the other. Toward the car. Toward the candies in the man’s hand. His other hand reached into his lap for something more, his arm moving in a pumping motion unfamiliar to me. My eyes darted to the unexpected movement as I got within three feet of the car door, but I was too afraid to move my gaze away from the man’s face for very long. He leered and nodded reassuringly. I knew I shouldn’t be taking this candy, but could not stop myself from obeying him. Without thinking, I stepped forward quickly –more from the fear of being seen by my dad than from any threat from this stranger. I grabbed the candy, one or two pieces falling to the ground in my haste to backpedal away from the car. My eyes locked in to the man’s blue-eyed gaze.
Just then, Mayo’s voice rang out, penetrating the moment. “Hey, Soli! What’re you holding in your hand?” he shouted. I looked across the street and beheld Mayo hanging out of his upstairs dining room window. I waved tentatively up at Mayo while his dad was grabbing him by the ear and yanking him in from the window. “Mind your business, boy!” I heard him yell.
Alarmed that Mayo’s loud voice brought attention to their presence, the men in the two-door gray Buick sped away, vanishing as quickly as they had appeared.
I hurried back to my house, brought those candies upstairs and put them on the kitchen table for my dad and mom to see while I told how I got them. The consequence of me having accepted them was swift. Daddy’s leather belt came zinging out of his belt loops right then and there. His strong arms dealt the whippings to my bare behind, in the middle of the kitchen where my mom stood next to the stove, her back turned, frying up spam and leftover rice for our lunch. She did not look around, but she rubbed her pregnant tummy as if to comfort the baby inside. I wondered if the baby could hear me crying from the spanking I had gotten. I was going to be a big sister pretty soon and I didn’t want the baby to be afraid.
“Go wash up your face and come to eat your lunch,” said my mom. She turned her head sideways to say that to me and I couldn’t see her face or hear any sympathy in her voice, so that made it feel like I had been extra bad.
While we were still eating, the doorbell rang. Mommy pushed away from the table, walked into the living room and cranked open the window.
“Who is it?” she called down, waiting for the person to step back from the gate so she could see who was there.
“Is Soledad okay? Can she come out to play?” It was Mayo.
“Later, Magdaluyo. She is eating lunch and then needs to do some chores.”
After lunch, my dad called me over to the recliner in the living room where he was sitting. “There’s a huge difference between getting candy from Mr. Morrison, our neighbor, and accepting candy from complete strangers. Do you understand?” I felt like crying again, but held my breath for three seconds until the feeling went away. My dad gestured for me to come closer. “Another spanking?” I thought as he took hold of my wrist. But instead, he hugged me close and didn’t let go. It seemed like a long time but finally he let go and looked into my eyes. “You may go outside and join Magdaluyo and the other kids now. Be careful,” he reminded, as he zipped up my jacket and kissed me on my forehead.
Outside, the kids were huddled together at the corner lying on their stomachs playing with a beetle crawling along a crack in the sidewalk. “Hey, Soledad’s back!” yelled Aisha. Mayo and Randy stood up and brushed off their hands.
“Good! Let’s go visit the Candyman!” declared Mayo.
Candyman was an elderly, African-American gentleman who lived around the corner in a one-story house covered in gray, weather-stained shingles. was fondly known by everyone in the Ingleside. He was reclusive and rarely seen, except when, rain or shine, he took his bus ride to Stonestown Shopping Center at eleven a.m. every day of the week. His real name was Mr. Morrison. In his younger days, he had been a volunteer at the Jose Ortega Home School where I went to Kindergarten, and many families remembered his soft-spoken and kind presence in the classrooms of their children over the years. It wasn’t clear whether there was a “Mrs. Candyman”.
Randy, Aisha, Mayo, and me tumbled up to Candyman’s doorstep like a sweaty clump of weeds , and stopped short, always a little hesitant when it came to ringing the doorbell since rarely seeing him made Candyman a bit mysterious to us.
Mayo stepped forward first. “Here, I’ll push the buzzer.” Cobwebs hung from the white, paint-chipped molding around the door and side windows. The four of us peered through the white lace curtains that covered them, our flattened out hands becoming salute-like visors over our eyebrows. Candyman shuffled slowly toward the front door, pin-striped pleated wool slacks hanging off his skeletal frame like a waterfall, and worn-out elastic suspenders slipping off the clean white T-shirt he wore. Even though he could probably see who we were, it was his routine to pull back the dusty curtains to peek out at us. Then he turned and shuffled away again, fur-lined suede slippers scratching along his bare hardwood floor. We waited a little. Candyman reappeared. When he opened the door, the smell coming from the foyer, like the inside cover of a church hymnal, invited us to his doorstep with familiar simplicity. In his veiny, slender hand he cradled the special candy of the day: sometimes it was Hershey bars with almonds, or packs of caramel Rolos, or sometimes even butterscotch Life Savers. He barely spoke a word as he handed out the candy, but as we held out their palms and thanked him in turn, he would nod his head, smile, and wave from the doorway as we ran off.
The following Sunday, after the scary spanking encounter with the strangers in the Buick, the parents arranged for Mayo and me to walk together to catechism classes at St. Emedius Parish. On the way home we discovered a construction site where a burned-down house was being rebuilt.
We had been told to return straight home, but here was an adventure too irresistible to pass up. Mayo led the way over the yellow caution tape so we could look at the thick bundles of different-colored electrician’s wire, collect the long white plastic bands that held the plywood, and have a contest on who could find the most kinds of different-sized nails. Picking up a big chunk of tar, he said, “I know how to make fireball candies out of these.”
“Whoa. Really?” I answered. He directed me to pick up only the shiny tar pieces and to put them in the big front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt.
“The shiny and hard tar pieces—not the dull and soft ones—make the very finest fireball jawbreaker candies,” he instructed.
Once back home, he went into the garage to get his father’s old bowling ball. We wedged it between two bricks in the gutter so it wouldn’t roll away down the hill. With the three finger holes facing up, he filled each hole with water from the hose.
“Gimme one of those tar pieces,” he ordered. I dug into my pocket and pulled out the shiniest one. Handing me a popsicle stick he added, “Now drop the tar piece into the biggest hole and stir it in the water.” I stirred and stirred while he ran back into his house. He yelled down from the living room window on the second floor. “Is it turning into a fireball yet?”
“No, not yet,” I yelled back, watching the tar piece floating in the tiny pool of water. “But I think it’s getting rounder,” I added, not wanting to disappoint.
“Good! Keep stirring, Soli. You should be able to see the red color pretty soon,” he shouted down from the window.
In a minute Mayo was back, squatting beside me. I was positive I could see the tar piece turning red as he had promised.
“Now, you have to close your eyes and count to three, but make sure you keep on stirring!” he ordered. “And keep your eyes closed!”
“One…Two…Three...” I opened my eyes and sure enough, the tar piece had turned into a red fireball jawbreaker candy.
Mayo’s face looked amazed too. “Here, Soli girl, you can have it,” he said, plucking it out of the tiny pool of water and pressing it into my hand.
“Let’s make some more!” I shouted.
“No. That tar piece will only make one fireball candy,” he answered. “And you get the only one.” Mayo bent down to pick up the bowling ball.
“’Cause you always kept our secret about where I got this,” he answered, pointing to the scar on his hand.