Boomerang

Lanre Akinsiku

The man and his son took a trip to the park, the man holding a boomerang under his arm. He wanted to play Frisbee, but the boy had seen the boomerang in the store, and he knew how the boy got when he didn’t get what he wanted. The boy was still young and growing so fast that the man was often irritated when buying the boy new clothes. His jacket and pants were new. His shirt was new. Before they’d left home the boy’s mother had dressed him and insisted he wear a hat. It was breezy out, and the leaves twisted in the air above their heads, and sometimes the boy’s hat blew off. The boy’s hat was new.

At the park the man would throw the boomerang, but it wouldn’t come back. Sometimes the boomerang came halfway back or two-thirds of the way back. So the boy would run out and get it while the man stood under the shade of a large oak. He yelled to the boy not to throw the boomerang but to bring it all the way to him. He didn’t want the boy to throw the boomerang and then be disappointed when it didn’t come back. He didn’t want the boy experiencing disappointment that young. Something like that could make him afraid to try things.

The man tried different approaches. At first he’d tried throwing it like a Frisbee (he was good at Frisbee) but that failed. He changed the angle of his release so that he looked like a pitcher as he threw it, and then changed again so that he looked like a bowler. He’d never actually seen anyone make the boomerang return, so the idea that he could be the first one motivated him. He tried to time the breeze so that there was minimal wind upon release. No dice. Each time the boy ran out to get the boomerang and ran it back to his father.

The boy was having fun, but the man was bored, and his arm was tired, and now when the boomerang went up the man sometimes lost track of it because he was studying the clouds. The sky was strange-looking. Sometimes the sun would be hidden behind a silver bank of clouds, and then the clouds would pass and it would be perfectly clear again. There were shadows and then there weren’t. The man was at a loss to describe it. The best he could do was say that it reminded him of the way his mind worked, how sometimes he’d have a crystal clear idea and the next second he couldn’t remember what he was thinking. And while he was thinking about this, he was also thinking about how weird it was that people didn’t look up at the sky any more. The older people got, the less they looked. When he was a boy, that was all he would do: look up at the clouds and pretend he could move them with his fingers.

The man had been thinking for a few weeks now about leaving the family. The drama of whether or not to do it was over; he was mostly thinking about how. There was no big reason for his leaving. It was just that for a long time he had had this feeling that he was missing something out in the world, and he felt that if he didn’t find out soon something bad would happen. He felt this deep down.

The first idea he had was that he could leave when his wife went to her mom’s for Thanksgiving. He could say he was sick and do it then. He would pack the small bag she’d bought him for his birthday a few months ago. It was a surprise gift, and she’d bought it because he’d complained about how the strap on his other bag hurt his back. She’d remembered. The smile on her face when she handed him the package and he unwrapped it: he could still see it.

He wouldn’t take the bag. It would be a slap in the face to take the bag. He had a gym bag he could take.

And he wouldn’t go on Thanksgiving either. That would ruin Thanksgiving for her. She’d never be able to eat a piece of turkey, or some stuffing, her favorite, without thinking about what he’d done. She deserved better than that. In fact, she deserved a lot of things, and one of the things that secretly bothered him and made him feel worthless was that he had not pushed himself more, and she was still so forgiving of his mediocrity.

It was a tough decision. The man had always been indecisive, even his father said so. He had read books and tried to work it out of his system, but he still struggled. He’d discovered that his indecision was due to a perfectionist impulse, his need to get everything right on the first try. Now, when he was trying something new and failing, he’d tell himself, No, no, this is the first try. That had helped a little, like with the boomerang. Another thing that had helped was a piece of advice his father had given him, which was that real men made decisions; only boys didn’t know how to choose.

The boy. The man didn’t know if the job he was doing with the boy was good or great or just adequate. They’d been at the store the other day, the man had turned around for two seconds, and when he turned back the boy’s arm was stuck in the gum-ball machine; it took forty-five minutes to get it out. Sometimes he imagined his son as a man of twenty or thirty, and in one scenario the boy was a failed, overweight, jaundiced pseudo-Magellan like his father, but in another scenario the boy was in a business suit in a bustling city that the man assumed was Hong Kong, the boy eating Chinese food with chopsticks.

Enjoy some of this siu mai, the boy-man had said.

The man looked down at a kind of meat pouch. This place looks a little pricey, he said.

Oh, don’t worry. I own it.

The man didn’t know what to say, so he filled his mouth with a handful of what he hoped were peanuts.

The boy-man said, I can also help you lose weight, or get you a shape-up, or teach you how to tell somebody off politely, or tell your aging mother she can’t live with you, or boost your memory retention, or show you how to go left, or start a movement, or haggle for the locals’ price, or drive with your knees, or brew your own beer, or humbly accept a compliment, or decide on the right shoes for winter. Whatever you need.

And the man nodded.

• •

He was amazed at how fast the boy was growing. One time the boy threw the boomerang, and it came right back to him, made a small wobbling circle and landed right on the boy’s shoes. In another couple of weeks he would need a new pair.

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