Five to three. Simon clung daringly to the green blinds, edging his way along the window sill of the little house in Pimento Hill. He saw the leaves above his head flutter and felt the light breeze against the back of his neck. He peeped through the scratches in the smoked glass, straining to see into the dark room. The reflection in the glass made him examine his face for a moment. It reminded him that a haircut was long overdue as he stroked the heavy crop of bushy hair that crowned his head. His two large front teeth gave him that bugs bunny rabbit appearance, and his thick cherry red lips emphasized his unique features.
“Simon,” his mother’s voice still rang in his ears. “Remember - thieves never prosper !”
Only the broken pane near his elbow could tell the tale. He was in double trouble now. Firstly, the Julie mango he had been picking had slipped through the blinds, and had fallen into the room. Secondly, his elbow had broken a pane of glass. Faintly, he made out the dark oval shape of the mango on the floor in the middle of the room.
I’m going to get that mango, if it’s the last thing I do, he thought. If only he could reach his hand through the broken glass, then he would pull the latch and push up the window. Only one thing caused his heart to race. The McDonalds usually came home on a Friday at three. Any minute now, they could come tramp, tramp, tramp around the corner.
Simon stretched his long arm through the hole between jagged broken glass as far as he could. Ugh ! The latch seemed to just escape his fingers. He pushed harder. Suddenly, the glass fell splintering to the red-planked floor below. His fingers grasped the latch. His breathing quickened. Now, if he yanked, in a few moments he would make it. Click! Ah! His heart thumped wildly. But he could not push the window at that angle. He would have to get more under it. If only he had a box on which to stand. He held on to a branch and slid his slender form down the large brown trunk of the Julie mango tree to the ground.
Quickly, his eyes darted here and there searching the backyard. An old Pepsi-Cola crate lay a few feet away under a pile of dirty bottles. Carefully, he removed each bottle until he had freed the crate, lifted it, and hurriedly placed the crate on the ground beneath the window. He leaned the crate longside up against the wall, then stepped up on it. Would he reach? No! He would need another box.
For a moment, he stood scratching his head. He noticed that the dark rain clouds, that hid the afternoon sun, were casting their shadows everywhere. He could hear the creak of the front gate as it opened. His heart skipped a beat. The McDonalds! A familiar sound reached his ears - the chattering of old Mrs. McDonald.
“And he scratched me...right here!” she was saying in that high-pitched voice of hers.
Simon peeped from behind the large breadfruit tree at the corner of the house just in time to see the plump figure of the bespectacled old lady standing at the gate, and pointing at her left arm. She was talking with a woman, her next door neighbor, who was standing on the other side of the fence. Her large warted face, hawk-like nose, and almost toothless mouth had always reminded him of a picture he had seen of the wicked queen in “Snow White.” Recently, he had heard how she had become terribly afraid of cats, since she had been scratched by one.
Simon watched as Mr. McDonald, tall and lanky, lifted his hat ceremoniously, and with a grim face, nodded at their next door neighbor.
The old man mumbled something to himself as he made his way up the steps to an old rocking chair on their own front porch.
Good, thought Simon. Everyone knew that once those two women started chatting, anyone could go about their business and still find them at it later.
So, he hurried into the backyard once more, and searched everywhere for anything that could lift the box higher. He found old tiles, some broken board, three large stones, and carefully set them in place under the box. Ah! It worked! He stood on the box and pushed and pushed. The window was stiff. But it went slowly up - and up - then, it stuck firm. He pushed some more. It would not even budge another fraction of an inch! He breathed nervously. He stopped. He listened to the laughing and chatting of the women.
There was just enough space for him to squeeze his slim body through the window. One - two - three. Up! He made it! An antique dresser with a large mirror stood against the wall at the far end of the room. A small single bed was near to the window and a red couch stood against the other wall. His bright eyes gleamed at the sight of the mango on the floor in the middle of the room. He jumped down to the floor with a light thud and held his breath as the planks of the wooden floor creaked.
Then, gingerly, he walked in the half-darkness to the middle of the room and picked up the mango. He rubbed the soft, shiny skin of the Julie lovingly between his brown hands, smelt it and smiled to himself. Now to get out of this place in a hurry. He stopped for a moment by the window and listened. The sound of heavy feet tramping down the corridor made his heart beat faster against his chest once more. He would have to move like a flash to get out in time.
The tramping sounded almost at the door.
At the same time, the room was lit for a split second by a flash of lightning outside. As he pushed at the window once more to see if it would go any further up, a clap of thunder caused it to rattle, and the whole room shook. Suddenly, the window slammed down before him with a whump! More broken glass splintered to the floor. The knob of the door squeaked, and he dived under the bed as fast as he could and lay as still as his trembling would allow him.
The door creaked open. “What on earth!” exclaimed Mrs. McDonald. “Henry!”
The sound of heavy goulashes went thud, thud, thud down the corridor in answer to her call. Simon shuddered to think what might happen next. “You heard a noise?” came the old man’s voice at the door.
“Ummm Hmmm! Like the window - you know how it falls shut sometimes.”
Simon shrank even smaller under the bed. They entered.
“The window’s broken!” declared Mrs. McDonald. “The breeze must have rattled the glass so strong it...”
“P’raps,” mused Mr. McDonald. “There’s glass on the floor!” Simon saw his wrinkled hands carefully pick up pieces of glass. “That there mango tree’s too near the window - I don’t trust them boys down the road...they’re all thieves!”
“Don’t say that, Henry!”
“Little later,” Mr. McDonald promised, “I’ll fix it.”
Simon heard the door close, and listened as they tramped down the corridor to the front porch. He wondered how he was going to get out now. If he tried the window, it might slam shut on him again, bringing back the McDonalds. He wondered if he could slip through the corridor and pass them on the front porch? What if they untied the watchdog in the front yard ? There had to be another way.
Gingerly, he went to the door, turned the knob as slowly as he could and tip-toed down the corridor. A door leading into another room was open. He peeped in and saw an open window. Ah! he thought. Swiftly, he tip-toed across the room, passed the large mahogany double-bed, and went to the window. He peeped out. He could see Mrs. McDonald busily crocheting. On her arm he could faintly see a scar.
Simon put his head through the window and opening his mouth wide let out one gigantic, “Meow!”
“Help! Henry! It’s a cat!” shrieked Mrs. McDonald.
Mr. McDonald came to her rescue as crochet and needle fell to the floor. Mrs. McDonald’s arms were flying wildly and frantically above her head. Simon saw when Mr. McDonald grabbed her around her waist and heard him attempting to take her inside.
Lightning flashed and thunder clapped more dreadful then before! Simon jumped to the ground outside. He tip-toed and hid himself behind a clump of pink bougainvillea by the front porch. This time he let out an even wilder “MEOW!”
Poor Mrs. McDonald went into hysterics. Simon could hear the heavy thud, thud, thud as she scamped down the corridor with Mr. McDonald’s heavy galoshes tramping after her. Simon breathed a sigh of relief.
Suddenly from the corridor, loud and clear, the voice of Mr. McDonald bellowed: “Go, Tarzan! Get her!” and out rushed a mean-looking bulldog, eyes flashing, teeth snarling onto the front porch, and halted only a few feet away from where Simon was hiding.
Simon froze, terrified. He stared through the leaves, but the dog did not see him. He was much closer to the gate than the bulldog. Perhaps, he could make it. He could hear Mr. McDonald’s voice coming from the bedroom. “Alright, Hilda, take it easy! Tarzan will get rid of the cat!”
Simon saw his chance and made a dash for the gate. As he pulled the latch, the dog rushed after him, barking. Without bothering to put back the latch, he ran as fast as his skinny legs could carry him down the dirt road. But the dog gained on him, and jumped at him, its bare fangs catching the rump of his pants. “Yowtch!” screamed Simon, and tore himself away.
The mango fell from his hand to the ground. Down came the rain, and suddenly, he was drenched all over. The bulldog turned back but Simon never stopped running until he had reached his own gate.
He peeped in through the front door of the house and saw his mother busily sewing in the front room. Her hand was shaking as she tried to thread a needle. “You got wet!” she muttered without looking up.
“Ummm hmmm!” he replied, and dashed passed her, carefully making sure that she did not see the hole in the back of his pants. She would soon be asking questions. For now, he wanted to be alone. So he entered his room, closed the door quietly behind him, and gazed through the window down the road.
In the pelting rain amidst flashes of lightning, he could barely make out the McDonald’s home and the large Julie mango tree that shaded their window. His mother’s words kept ringing in his ears: “Simon, remember thieves don’t prosper!” and he prayed: “Lord, thank you!” His mother was right. Lying and stealing may look smart for a moment, but boy!
Only one thing still grieved him though ...the luscious Julie mango that had fallen from his hand outside the McDonald’s gate. His mouth watered.