You know Pajo? Course you know Pajo. Everybody know Pajo. Everybody. Pajo always gleaming on the silver screen. Pajo don't know everybody though. Pajo don't know his roots, don't know his family. If he do, why don't he talk about it? You see him all bright, all glowing pretty, he never say, back when I in Luca's crew. Back when Luca looked out for me like we family. Back when Luca made me out of nobody. You know Luca? Course not. He nobody. Just some dirty world dead nobody. But know what? There no Luca, there no Pajo, there just some skinny kid dying in a corner.

Pajo used to run for me, him and his skinny knob legs. "Chicken legs! Chicken legs! Chicken legs lay me some eggs." We gave him a time. He was paper thin, like skinny to a stick, always falling, bumping, nudging, knocking over everything there ever was. He could run though, oh, what a thing, his legs flying, hands flat cutting right through air. When he ran, he ran super smooth, grease cowboy.

He just a street kid when I found him. He snicked a apple. Snatched it right up. He don't talk about that either. No snicking for Pajo now. Now he eat from off a platter. Now he take a little bite then he say next platter. But that day, he snicked a apple, took a big honking bite out of it as he run all silky fast as fast, while this red faced titan elephant forward at him. I swear you hear the street shake this guy step. BOOM. BOOM. And Pajo trying to get away, he fast like lightning, but this guy, I dunno, he like a roaring train on those tree trunk legs and Pajo can't get away. I up the street, just strolling and they come vrooming toward me, the cheetah and the whale.

And I don't believe it, but the whale winning. Slow, barely, step by enormous step, but the whale winning. People leaping out of the way, falling in the street, hats flying off, total chaos, stampeding big angry macho man and a skinny nothing kid. And I watching this up the street and I see the cheetah's face and there hunger in it. Not belly hunger, but deep soul hunger. I seen that face before - I seen plenty of belly hunger too - but I seen soul hunger and that cheetah, he got soul hungry all over his face. He want to be someone else, he want to be somebody at all.

They almost at me now, cheetah and whale, so I back against a cold brick wall, press flat, like I the wall too. The cheetah go past and right behind come the tree trunk roaring train whale. His face bright red, white shirt just a sweaty mass and there more sweat trailing behind, a salty river battlecruiser wake. The whale run by me, the earth shake, and I stick out my right leg. Tumble tumble BOOM. Topple. The tree fall down, skid down the sidewalk, demon scream wailing out. He finally stop. Stand up. Sweat steaming off his big round head. "WHO DID THAT?" He roar! "I do it," I say soft. But he don't hear me. I down a far alley. I gone.

Next day, a birdie come tell me there a skinny kid looking for me. Not just thin, skinny to a stick. I smile. I knew soul hungry got to come. He got to know why. Why I do it? Why I help him? Tiger got to swim, bird got to fly, man got to sit and ask why why why? Who ever help him before? Maybe I somebody worth knowing. So I say to the birdie, bring this skinny boy by.

On pretty days we go lie outside. The sun on your skin, the grass on your feet. Beautiful thing. It one of those days and soon enough, he come. He come ratty and dirty. His face thin, eyes tired, don't know what to do with his arms. I say, "Welcome and well come and well come. My name is Luca. Who are you, skinny boy?"

"I is Pajo." He bow and flourish, arms wave awkward.

"Pajo, Pajo, I'm disappointed. It's I am, not I is."

"I am Pajo."

"Now don't ever talk like that again! Why you here Pajo? Come to impress me by talking?"

"I came to thank you. I hear you save my ass yesterday."

"I already say you welcome, but I say it again: You welcome. That it? You gonna go now?" He look at me all confused uncomfortable, then his face square up.

"I looking for a crew."

"Oh yeah? Why I take you? You a skinny thing. All legs. Bet you eat a lot."

"I fast. You saw. Nobody faster than me."

"Ha! You so fast? That big whale gonna catch you... If not for me." He smile wide.

"You think that my fastest? Ahhh. I just playing with that whale."

"Then why you come thank me?"

He breathe deep. "Looking for a crew. Gotta say something."

"Oh he speak the truth. That so nice." I laugh. "Pajo, I want you to do two things for me. First, see that tower over there?" I point at a building in the distance, a big glass skyscraper thrusing into the sky. He nod. "In the lobby, there an old man. Security guard. Big bushy eyebrows, sitting in a corner next to a bush in a pot. I want you to go over there, fast as you can and I want you to ask him what message he got for Luca."

"Second, never lie to me, never think you gotta say something to make me happy. I take care of you, you gotta help me. Lying never help. You got that clear?"

"Like through a glass."

"Good. Now go Pajo. Run." He take off like lightning. No. Like thunder, when he move it just the sign of some bigger thing, some thing inside.

That how he come to do the antibotics run for me. Other crews they send three four big monsters, tough guys with steel arms, steel hearts. We just send skinny ol' Pajo. Nobody fast enough to catch him!

Oh you want to hear more? Well, I want another drink. Maybe we make a little trade, you and I. Oh you want to hear that story? Everybody know that story. Pajo tell it every chance he got. Every interview, every show he do. He tell that story. You don't want to hear about how we brought down the Yellow Peppers or the first time we got him a girl? His face turned a strawberry. The rest of him too!

But you want to hear my version. His version all black and white, clean and easy, shaving cream. Mine so gray you can't even see it, invisible behind a white lace parasol. I tell you what he told me, before the camera swoop in and the pretty lady say: My hero!

It just a day, like any other I guess, but totally completely different. Pajo like to say, ohh, I knew that day trouble all over. I smelled it, felt it. That why I ready. Course he knew it bad! Everyone knew it bad! The air all thick and scratchy! Eyes burn! Skin itch! Mouth dry, taste like a awful metal tang! It a bad bad day and everybody who everybody knew it. But nobody remember. They just remember what Pajo say: That day felt like trouble. Like he the wisest.

Pajo, I told him, today trouble. Too true, he say. See, everybody knew. Sunset gonna come around and someone eyes gonna go up and they arms gonna go down. Then someone else gonna start feeling just not so good, you know. And someone voice gonna get all cold. We got a stash, but today, today a bad day. Crippling.

I got you, he say. Today my day.

For a long time, back when I was young, back when there was youth, whenever I woke from sleep, I would remember lavender, rich hued sweet smelling lavender, a sniff of bouquet, my hands running along a cool narrow stem and into a soft purple pocket of tiny flowers. Getting out of bed was dreary. All I wanted was to linger in that lavender haze. I didn't dream of flying or sex, no weird anxieties or cracked teeth, just lavender. Always lavender.

It's hard for me to believe I was ever that kid, so shy, so scared, so clumsy, so hungry. It's like that all happened to someone else and I read about it once. I couldn't tell you about my thought processes, why I made the choices I did. Probably it was all malnurishment and hyperactive hormones. Still, my body long ago decayed, I remember perfectly how it felt to run in those days. I remember how everything, all my awkwardness, all my fear melted away into the feel of my feet light across the ground, rolling off my tiptoes and into the cool relief of sweat streaming off my face. It's hard to imagine the weight, but I remember what it was like as the weight slid off and I was lost to my pounding heart and forward momentum.

It seems funny to say this, but who we were then hadn't lost the last war. That is to say, who we are now hadn't won it. We thought this was a good thing, to keep a war going when we could let it end. How ridiculous we must seem to those who came after. I don't know what to say. We were stuck on this idea of what it is to be human. If you cut it, does it not bleed?

Once, I was at a party and watched a man's brain die. He was young, twenty-four, twenty-five, with sharp brown eyes and a big garish tattoo of a coiled rattlesnake right in the middle of one of his cheeks. It had the pink flesh bevel of fresh ink.

"Why the snake?" I asked as I sat down next to him on the couch.

"Y'know how snakes shed their skin."


"Isn't that cool, to suddenly be a fresh thing and just leave behind an old layer of you. When I get rid of this tat, I want to be confused whenever I see my reflection. I want to remember to be someone else."

We chatted for a while and as we talked, he pulled out a little clear vial from his pocket. It had a yellow-orange powder in it, some designer drug too new to even have a name.

"Want a sniff?" He offered. "Fresh stuff. Hot off the presses." I declined. I could tell he was just being polite, besides I had different vices.

He pulled out a folded note card and flattened it out on the frosted glass coffee table in front of us, proceeding to open the vial and pour the stuff out in neat lines. The mounds reminded me of corn fields in that time before spring hits and they sprout up, when they're just a sign post that someday life might grow.

When it was all arranged he finished his sentence, held up a finger, and said "Excuse me a moment." Then he leaned over on the table and took a mighty whiff. After the snort, he sat up slowly and lay back against the couch, arms out, hands up behind his head. I watched his face. I like to see people smile, to see them feel joy, artificial though it may be. His lips broadened. His eyes grew bright. I imagined a tiny dry creek in his mind suddenly filling, overflowing. Briefly, his joy was my joy. But his smile kept getting wider, his pupils grew huge, like they wanted to burst out of his eyes all over face. In one moment it all went. His jaw fell, his face slackened. I will never forget that long moment when a tremor ran through his skin and the snake on his cheek wriggled. And at the end of that moment his face was totally empty. He could have been a carrot.

My father's face always looked like that. Oh, he had enough functioning gray matter left to make sure I was fed. I think I had my shots. But in most of my memories of our brief time together, he is lying back on our little overgrown lawn staring up at the sky. I sometimes wonder what he saw up there, hiding in the shapes of clouds.

I would like to say that I ran away, but that's not quite right. It seems that if you're running away, there's something you're running from or to. That's not how it was for me. There was no real reason I left. It just didn't seem very different from staying. One day, when I was still a young kid, I packed my stuff up, threw some food in a backpack, and just walked away.

I spent some time in a shelter and some time on the street. Sometimes when I was too tired or hungry to stand it, I'd go back to my father's. He never seemed to notice I'd been gone. I never stayed very long though. It wasn't the sort of place you could put down roots.

I fell in with a gang. Truth be told it wasn't really much of a gang, just a bunch of ratty kids who played at stealing stereos. The older kid who ran it was real serious about it though. Maybe he'd seen The Godfather too many times.

"You guys my family." Luca'd say in the gutter pidgin we all used. His formal grammar was perfect, but he never used it. He was like a spurned lover showing he was better off without.

"Family look out for each other." He'd continue. Poor Luca. He's probably out there somewhere broken and confused. I can't imagine he took well to paradise. Who would he look out for? Who would need him? But back then we needed him. If he hadn't been there, believing in our cohesion, believing that there was a "we," the gang would have fallen apart in a day.

I promise a song for you Luca, a panegyric, a lamentation.

Of course the minute I could escape him, I did. I wanted to get out of there, I would have jumped on a jet taking off. Luckily, I didn't have to. It was luck too, all luck. That sort of luck where you're in the right person in the right place at the right time and if it weren't you, it wouldn't have been anyone, but it was you and so there's nothing else that could have happened.

In those days, there was a constant threat from nites in the air. They were runaway bugs with an appetite for flesh, vestiges from some dumb war. And so the government distributed antibotics. If you were legit, you had a prescription and once every three months you went down to a drug store for a big bottle of fat teal pills. They were mostly one a day, but sometimes the air got thick with nites, like a high pollen day only if you didn't have your pills, the iron would get sucked out of your bones and your cells would start bursting.

But we weren't legit, we barely existed, so once a week, someone had to go down to a clinic and stock up for everyone. Sounds like a nice afternoon stroll. Alas, that's not how it was. Some asshole, and I want to make it clear that while I don't use profanity lightly, this guy was a world class shit for brains asshole. This asshole, in some two-bit asshole gang, had an idea. His crew was in the middle of a scuffle with some other gang, some mostly cold war, we beat up one of your guys, you beat up one of ours, but mostly we just glare when we go by each on the street, rap our knuckles.

This asshole's brilliant idea was to hijack their nemeses' antibotic supply.

"If they scared of getting nited, they do what we want." It was poetry to their bitless minds.

It doesn't take much to make people desperate. I'd always heard that a man is about two days of missed meals from cannibalism. Think about that. Two days. That's a very short trip in time for a great moral fall. Imagine how irredemably bad it would have been if the Tree of Knowledge were made of human flesh, if Adam takes a big bite of Eve and says, "What do you want from me? I wanted my rib back."

The message is: Never be surprised by what humans do when stressed. This poor crew whose pills had been taken, who had suddenly been put under a sentence of death, who needed those little teal panaceas to live through the next day, those unfortunates went completely out of the box gonzo. In the span of about three hours they went on a massive spree of raids. They grabbed the antibotic supply of just about every crew in town and barricaded themselves in, armed to the teeth, grenade clip in mouth, ready for a throwdown.

The powderkeg did not explode. Blood did not run through the streets. Cooler heads prevailed. It was one of those moments that made you think that maybe we really could all work out our differences. But when the moment's over, when the wounds have healed, scars remain. After that you couldn't just go down to a clinic and fill up on antibotics. You had to send thugs, enforcers, big burly guys with faces and arms that had don't mess with me written in barbed tattoos. Or you could send someone too fast and smooth enough to get caught, a man with winged feet, a modern Pheidippides running across the plains of Marathon, legs streaking forward with serious import, knowing that if he doesn't make it his people will end. That is to say, you could send a skinny waifish kid with freakishly longs who wants to feel important.

I can't complain though. I owe my world to Luca.

Pajo swimming down the Morrison, dashing-darting zigging-zagging, floating down a vein, blood cell to the heart. But he not really there. His heart pump, his feet pound, but his head all lost in Pajo land. As he go, he only his body, mind just along for the ride.

Fate a tricky lady. She brand you, but on the inside. You get marked, you can't know, until that day come she mark you for. And you don't see then either, while it happening, you don't say, Fate, she got me RIGHT NOW. No, it always later, you looking back, telling your friends, your children and suddenly you say what a strange world, must have been fate, and you feel that sore spot swell where she brand you. Yeah, must have been fate.

Pajo don't see the girl on the ground. He don't see her pale face, her bruised arms. He don't see her flowery high class dress, torn and dirty. If it been up to Pajo, he just go right on by, blissful and blind. But it don't work like that. He marked by fate. And as he take a long legged stride right over the girl, like she just another piece of crud on the road, fate grab her and she push the girl onto her side.

Pajo's foot catch her side and he pivot down like a clock hand, straight flat into the hard concrete, twelve to three. Hands scratched up, knees scraped through jeans, Pajo, bruised but not beaten, slowly right himself and wipe the ground from his hands. He turn to look at what he trip over. He see a dirty round face and too big front teeth. He see her dress up to her thighs and it make him feel good. He see just another street rat, just some beat up whore. And he gotta go on, gotta get antibotics for his boys. They need him more than this one girl. Suddenly he taste the tang in the air, strong on his tongue and that decide him. He do a quick stretch, he plant his pivot foot, he about to be pure speed, all body no mind, when fate strike again, when fate open the girl's eye open and fate pump the girl's lungs and fate help the girl croak out, "Help, please. I have no one."

Well that strike Pajo deep inside. He can't be cold, can't just let her go. She someone now, a real true three-d person, not just a girl lying flat on the street. He turn around. He sigh. Then he pick her up and throw her over his knobby shoulder.

"You got somebody now," he say, not even sure she can hear. "You got Pajo." Of course, it all garbage. She don't really got no one. She got a rich family. She got a doctor for her body and a doctor for her head and even a doctor just to polish her nails. She got a cavernous house, a mansion, outside the city, with a pretty maid and a big shaggy dog she throw a ball to with a name like Skip and she got someone just to pick up his shit. So when princess, all better now, come back to the dirty crowded beautiful corner of the city we proudly say home, come back to rescue the hero since she miss his shy face, can't stop seeing it when she close her eyes, she bring a whole crew of her own.

And when Pajo tell the reporter, he saw her lying on the ground and right away his heart tore, I freeze my lips solid, I don't say, that not what you told me. I don't say, Pajo, you lying pile of rotting fruit. I stay quiet and let them take my boy Pajo away. I let them take him and put a cape on his shoulders. I let him be the hero. But remember, next time you see that smug face hocking body soap and making small talk with movie stars, remember that when the hero saw the princess, he almost run.

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