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Bud, Not Buddy, Page 2

Christopher Paul Curtis


  If You Got to Tell a Lie, Make Sure

  It’s Simple and Easy to Remember.

  Todd had done that. But this wasn’t really a good test because Mrs. Amos had her ears set to believe anything Todd said. In her eyes Todd’s mouth was a prayer book.

  But I can’t blame Todd for lying like that, having someone who likes you so much that they think everything you say is the truth has got to be a liar’s paradise, that might feel so good it could make you want to quit lying. But maybe not, ’cause Todd hadn’t quit lying since the second I came to his house.

  What had really happened was that I woke up from a good sleep because it felt like a steam locomotive had jumped the tracks and chug-chug-chugged its way straight into my nose.

  When I’d jerked up in bed and opened my eyes Todd was standing next to me with a yellow pencil in his hand. He was looking at it like it was a thermometer and said, “Wow! You got all the way up to R!”

  He turned the pencil toward me, crunched up against the headboard. I saw TICONDEROGA printed on the yellow wood.

  The whole room smelled like the rubber from the eraser and I was winking and blinking my left eye because it felt like something had poked the back of my eyeball.

  Todd laughed. “I’ve never gotten it in as deep as the N on any of you other little street urchins. I just might enjoy your stay here. Who knows what other things you could be number one in, Buddy?”

  I’d already told him twice that my name was Bud, not Buddy.

  I didn’t care that Todd Amos was twelve years old, I didn’t care that he was twice as big as me, and I didn’t care that his mother was being paid to take care of me. I wasn’t about to let anybody call me Buddy and stick a pencil up my nose all the way to the R.

  I swung as hard as I could at Todd’s big balloon head.

  Somewhere between the time I threw my punch and the time it landed my fist came open and when my hand landed it made a pop like a .22 rifle going off. Todd fell on the floor like he’d been coldcocked.

  He sputtered and muttered and felt the spot where I’d slapped him. Then a big smile came on his face and he stood up and started walking real slow toward where I was on the bed. He untied his robe and dropped it on the floor like he was getting ready to do some hard work.

  I jumped to the floor and got my fists up. Todd might’ve been a lot bigger than me but he’d better be ready, this wasn’t going to be a bird’s nest sitting on the ground for him. He could kiss my wrist if he thought I was going to let him whip me up without a good fight.

  Being this brave was kind of stupid. Even though Todd was a puffy, rich old mama’s boy who wore a robe and slippers he could hit like a mule and it wasn’t too long before I’d decided enough was enough.

  But the story that Mrs. Amos was hearing from her lying son was only that Todd had tried to wake me up so I could go to the bathroom.

  Mrs. Amos hated bed wetters more than anything in the world and my bed had a sticky, hot, smelly rubber baby sheet on it. She’d said it wasn’t anything personal and after I had proved myself for two or three months I could get a proper cloth sheet, but until then she had to protect her mattress.

  She pulled Todd to his feet and led him to the door. She looked over at me. “You are a beastly little brute and I will not tolerate even one night with you under my roof. Who knows what you would be capable of while we slept?”

  The door shut behind them and I heard a key jiggle in the lock.

  I plugged the right side of my nose and tried real hard to blow the smell of rubber out of the left side.

  The key jiggled in the lock again. This time when the door opened Mr. Amos was standing with Mrs. Amos. He was carrying my suitcase. Uh-oh, they’d looked inside. I could tell because the twine that held it together was tied in a kind of knot that I didn’t know.

  This was wrong. They’d promised they’d keep it safe and not look in it. They’d laughed at me when I made them promise, but they did promise.

  “Boy,” Mrs. Amos said, “I am not the least bit surprised at your show of ingratitude. Lord knows I have been stung by my own people before. But take a good look at me because I am one person who is totally fed up with you and your ilk. I do not have time to put up with the foolishness of those members of our race who do not want to be uplifted. In the morning I’ll be getting in touch with the Home and, much as a bad penny, you shall be returning to them. I am a woman of my word, though, and you shall not spend one night in my house.”

  She looked at her husband. “Mr. Amos will show you to the shed tonight and you can come back in tomorrow for breakfast before you go. I do hope your conscience plagues you because you may have ruined things for many others. I do not know if I shall ever be able to help another child in need. I do know I shall not allow vermin to attack my poor baby in his own house.”

  She talked like this and she wasn’t even a preacher or a teacher. Shucks, she talked strange like this and she wasn’t even a librarian.

  I only halfway listened to what Mrs. Amos was saying, I was too busy keeping my eye on my suitcase wondering if they’d stolen anything from it. And thinking about getting even.

  When I thought she was done talking I reached my hand out for my suitcase but she told Mr. Amos, “Oh, no, we shall hold on to his beloved valuables.” She laughed. “This shall be our assurance that nothing comes up missing from the house and that this little animal is still here in the morning. He is far too attached to those treasures to go anywhere without them.”

  Mrs. Amos was one of those grown-ups who could always think of one more thing to say. “And that is not all. Before you retire to the shed you shall go to Todd and apologize or I shall be forced to give you the strapping of your life.”

  I’d been so worried about my suitcase that I didn’t even notice the thick black razor strap hanging out of Mrs. Amos’s hand.

  She didn’t have to worry, I’d apologize. One beating from these Amoses was enough for me.

  She grabbed my arm. Mr. Amos walked out of the room with my suitcase, and Mrs. Amos pulled me down the hall to Todd’s room. We stood outside the door listening to Todd groan. When Mr. Amos came back, my suitcase was gone. He’d been so quick that I knew my bag couldn’t be too far away.

  She tapped on Todd’s door and said, “Toddy, may we come in?”

  Todd’s groans got a lot louder. Finally he said, “Yes, Mother”—choke . . . cough—“come in.”

  We opened the door and as soon as he saw me Todd got a real terrified look on his face. He scooched up to the headboard and wrapped his arms around his head.

  Mrs. Amos gave me a shake and said, “Well?”

  I put my head down and started shooting apologies out like John Dillinger shoots out bullets. I aimed at Todd first. “I know it was wrong of me to hit you. I know you were only trying to help and I’m very sorry for what I did.”

  I looked at Mr. Amos. “And sir, I’m sorry that I got you out of your sleep.”

  He rolled his eyes like that was enough for him.

  Mrs. Amos was going to be the hardest because just like her ears were set to believe everything that came out of Todd’s lips they were set not to believe anything I said. And if I didn’t lie good enough she was going to use that strap on me. These Amoses might look like a bunch of cream puffs but if she was anything like Todd I bet she could pack a real wallop.

  “And Mrs. Amos, I’m so grateful for all of your help. And I’m really, really sorry.”

  I looked up and could see she needed more. “If you give me another chance I promise I’ll do a whole lot better. Please don’t call the Home, please don’t send me back.” Shucks, going back to the Home was just what I wanted to do, but I was being just like Brer Rabbit in one of the books Momma used to read to me at night when he yelled out, “Please, Brer Fox, don’t throw me into the pricker patch, please, please!”

  This was another one of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things to Have a Funner Life and Make a Better Liar
of Yourself.


  You Have to Give Adults Something That They Think They Can Use to Hurt You by Taking It Away. That Way They Might Not Take Something Away That You Really Do Want. Unless They’re Crazy or Real Stupid They Won’t Take Everything Because if They Did They Wouldn’t Have Anything to Hold Over Your Head to Hurt You with Later.

  I stopped talking and gave Mrs. Amos a chance to jump right in.

  She held her hand up in my face and said, “Enough. Mr. Amos, give him the blanket and pillow off the bed he was in and put him in the shed.”

  Todd said, “Yeah, Buddy, keep a sharp eye out for the vampire bats in the shed.” It was like a miracle, Todd’s asthma was gone and he turned into a real chatterbox. “Oh, and watch out for those spiders and centipedes, Buddy. The last kid who got put in there got stung so bad he was swole up as big as a whale when we got him out in the morning.”

  I guess I didn’t look scared enough ’cause Todd kept going. “The kid before that hasn’t been found to this day. All that’s left is that big puddle of his blood on the floor. Isn’t that right, Mother?”

  Mrs. Amos said, “Now, Toddy, hush up, you’ll just tire yourself out more.”

  I noticed that she never denied the things Todd had said about the vampires and centipedes and spiders and puddles of blood.

  As I followed Mr. Amos I kept a sharp eye out for my suitcase.

  When we got to the kitchen the first thing I saw was that there was a double-barreled shotgun leaning against the side of the icebox. I didn’t have time to wonder why they’d be so scared they’d keep a big gun like that out in the open because I spotted my suitcase slid way under the kitchen table! I didn’t let Mr. Amos know I’d seen it, but it did make me get a lot calmer.

  We went out of the back kitchen door and down the steps into the dark.

  We walked around to the back of the shed and he put a key in a padlock. A chain rattled, the lock came off and the door creaked open.

  Even though it was nighttime there was a whole different, scarier kind of dark in the shed. A colder dark with more grays and more shadows. A old smell leaked out and it seemed like it was the perfect smell that all this gray would have.

  Mr. Amos nudged me and I took a baby step into the shed. He could kiss my wrist if he thought I was going to beg him and say things like “I’ll do anything you folks ask me if you don’t lock me up in here all alone.” I squeezed my tongue between my teeth to hold it still ’cause I know a lot of times your brain might want to be brave but your mouth might let some real chicken-sounding stuff fall out of it.

  I stood a little bit inside and looked around. Right under the window was a pile of stacked wood. There were a bunch of dusty spiderwebs in front of the little window and someone had pasted old yellow newspapers over the glass so the kids who got locked in here couldn’t peek out.

  Mr. Amos handed me the blanket and pillow and gave me another nudge. I took two more baby steps in.

  I looked down at the floor. If I was like a normal kid I would’ve busted out crying, but I just stood there breathing hard. It was a good thing I’d bit my tongue, because I came real close to saying those stupid begging words to Mr. Amos. Right in the middle of the floor there was a big black stain in the dirt!

  They really were going to make me sleep in a shed with a patch of blood from that kid who had disappeared out of here a couple of weeks ago!

  The floor went completely black when Mr. Amos pulled the door shut. I couldn’t see it now, but I’d rememorized the exact shape the stain was in.

  The padlock snapped shut with the loudest click I’d ever heard.

  THE ONLY THING I could hear was my own breath. It was so loud that it sounded like there were six scared people locked up in the shed.

  I closed my eyes and thought real hard about making my breathing slow down. Pretty soon it sounded like the five other breathers in the shed had left. I was still scared but now it was that get-real-excited-and-want-to-move-around kind of scared.

  It didn’t take too long for my eyes to get used to the dark. There was a gray gas can in one corner next to a bunch of gray rakes and a pile of gray rags, and a gray tire next to some gray fishing poles. Maybe Mr. Amos had only pretended to lock the door.

  I reached my hand toward the gray doorknob and quick as that I went from kind of calm to being in that stand-in-one-place-with-spit-drooling-down-the-front-of-your-shirt kind of scared.

  Halfway up the door were three little flat monster heads guarding the doorknob. Each head had two little round eyes staring right at me. The eyes were the only thing in the shed that weren’t gray. They were a bright yellow with a big black spot right in the middle.

  I dropped my blanket and pillow and back-stepped until my legs hit the woodpile behind me. From all the fast breathing going on you’da thought the five other scared people had come back and brought a couple of scared friends with them.

  Each head had a wide-open mouth with a sharp set of pointy teeth and lips smiling back ready to bite. It felt like the shed was getting smaller and smaller and the little mouths were getting closer and closer.

  Then I knew what I was looking at. The doorknob guards were three dried-out fish heads that someone had nailed to the door.

  I ran over to the pile of rags and poked at one of them with my shoe to make sure there weren’t any rats or centipedes hiding under it, then I picked it up and hung it over the fish heads so I couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see me.

  I picked up my blanket and pillow and had to decide what was the best way to sleep. I knew the floor was no good, I’da bet all sorts of bugs and roaches were crawling around.

  I remember what happened to my best friend, Bugs, when a cockroach crawled in his ear one night at the Home. Four grown folks had held Bugs down whilst they tried to pull it out with a pair of tweezers but the only thing that that did was pull the roach’s back legs off. When they were digging around in Bugs’s ears with the tweezers you’d’ve thought they were pulling his legs off, not some cockroach’s, I’d never heard a kid scream that loud.

  After about fifteen minutes of Bugs screaming the joint down they said they were going to have to take him to the emergency room to get the roach out. It was almost morning when Bugs got back. Everyone was asleep except me.

  I waited until they put him in his bed and turned off the lights.

  I said, “Did they get it out?”

  He said, “Oh, hi, Bud. Yeah, they got him.”

  “Did it hurt a lot?”


  “Were you scared?”


  “Then how come you were screaming so doggone loud?”

  He said, “I didn’t know I was, I probably couldn’t hear me screaming ’cause that roach was so loud.”

  I’d seen lots of roaches but I’d never heard one of them make any sound. I said, “Loud how?”

  “Well, bugs ain’t so different from us as you’d think, soon as he saw those tweezers coming at him he was pretty terrified and commenced to screaming, screaming in English too, not some bug language like you’d expect from a roach.”

  “Yeah? What’d he say?”

  “All he kept yelling was, ‘My legs! My legs! Why have they done this to my legs?’”

  That’s the true story about how Bugs started getting called Bugs.

  I’d bet a thousand dollars that there were roaches on the floor of this shed, just waiting to crawl in someone’s ear. And I’d bet those Amoses wouldn’t’ve even tried to pull the roach out, and who knows how long I’d’ve had to listen to some terrified roach screaming his head off right up against my eardrum?

  I spread the blanket on top of the woodpile and climbed up on it. This put me so I was even with the window. I took a piece of bark and brushed all the spiderwebs from in front of the window, then I put my hand on the glass to see if the newspaper was pasted on from the inside or the outside. I touched paper. I spread my fingers and my hand looked like a
yellow-jacket bumblebee, bright yellow with black stripes. This was a great place to have shadow puppets so I made my hand be a wolf and a dog and a duck.

  After while that got to be pretty boring so I scraped at the paper with my fingernails so I could see outside, but I like to keep my nails bit down real low and the paper didn’t budge.

  I took out my jackknife and tried scraping the newspaper with it. The paper peeled away in little curly yellow strips like that stuff rich people throw on New Year’s Eve. I finally got a hole big enough to look out and mashed my eye up against the glass. I could see the back of the Amos house real clear.

  There was a light on. That had to be Mr. and Mrs. Amos’s bedroom. The little bit of light that came through the hole in the paper made me get calm enough that I could lay my head on my pillow and take a nap.

  WHEN I BLINKED my eyes open, the first thing I noticed was that the light from the Amoses’ bedroom was out. The next thing I noticed made me wish I’d stayed asleep.

  Up at the very top of the shed was the biggest vampire bat you’d ever see! He was hanging upside down asleep, but the smell of me rising up to him would probably wake him up at any minute!

  I reached over to the window and tried to slide it open. It budged a inch.

  I rolled off the woodpile and crawled toward the door with the fish head guards. I reached my hand up and the doorknob turned! Mr. Amos was trying to help me! But after the door opened a crack the padlock and chain on the outside held it tight.

  I looked back up into the rafters to see if the bat had woke up. He was still sound asleep.