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Michael Xia

"Bbbzzzzzz!!!! ", goes my clock/radio every single morning, every single day, at the same time every morning. The pounding sound is almost so predictable that a person can almost wake up exactly five minutes before 6:30 and just lie in bed and wait another five minutes to press that snooze button. Like days before, I just lie staring at the white ceiling and spend that precious five minutes and reflect on the past days. The day was Saturday so I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of bed in order to catch the bus at the precise minute. But still, I remember that I have my weekly piano practice session to attend. So now, I was racing the clock to get my morning routine done before the hour hand of my clock struck seven.

My morning routine is not complicated and just like that of a child that needs to get out of the house two hours before his parents even wake up. I brushed my teeth and washed my face even though I was too weak to even open my eyes to stare at myself in the process.

Eventually my parents woke up, which signaled that I didn’t have much time before the bus came. It was too early in the morning for one last practice before I confronted my teacher so I just grabbed my songs and manuscript paper and rushed out of the door hoping that my keys were on me.

The music school is located right in midtown Manhattan and my house is perfectly located on the top of Staten Island. Meaning that my daily trip included a bus ride, and then a half hour long trip on the ferry, and once in Manhattan, a lovely ride in the New York subway system.

Now everybody who has lived in Staten Island for more than two years knows what to expect on the ferry every single day. Every Sunday, a black Christian preacher comes onto the ferry with his younger attendants and screams verses from the bible that he carries along. On the weekdays, an old lady takes his place and screams out how Jesus Christ has saved her soul and how he would do the same thing for you.

Every Staten Island Ferry rider knows or had heard of the Shoeshine Guy. This nickname was given to him because he was always on his never ending quest to find a person who would pay for an indecent shoeshine. No one ever asks for his real name or even look at his face when they’re getting their shoes polished by him and maybe he prefers it that way.

That day, he just happened to be on the same ferry as the days before. As the boat left the station, the Shoeshine Guy quietly stood up from his usual seat and starts his walk around the ferry in hopes for a customer. I never actually looked at him before, but that day I couldn’t help but watch him on his search. Eventually I got tired and stared down and try to get some overdue rest.

"Shine! Shine! Hey! You wanna shine?" he asked me with his Italian accent. He was wearing his usual outfit telling that he probably slept in the same clothes every night. He had on of those old man hats covering the gray hair that he had gained from age. He wore a semi clean blue striped shirt and sweat pants even on a day on a freezing day like today. His face was wrinkled probably due to years of stress.

"Sure. Why not?" I replied.

He took out his instruments like a musician. He carefully laid out his utensils like a baker with a pan of fresh bread. As he shined my shoes, I watched and observed the actions. Time passed and I developed this boredom.

"Hey. What’s you name?" I asked him.

He then stopped his work and lifted his head so that his tired eyes met mine.

"Robert Johnson. You know that you’re the first person to ask me dat in ten years?" he replied.

"Aaahh, no. Well nice to meet you Robert," I said even though I saw him every single day, but I was just trying to be polite.

"Same to you."

"Michael," I said quickly to finish his sentence.

He then continued on with his shoe shining. I began to think that he was getting annoyed with me. I decided I better leave him alone and go back to my nap. I gave a sigh as I thought of all the work that faced me on Monday in school.

"Michael huh? Very original name. I can see dat you have a lotta stress. You wanna talk about it?" he asked. That’s when I looked at him in confusion. Why was this guy suddenly interested in my troubles?

"Well, I was thinking of all the reports and test that awaits me next week in school ."

"Well coping with stress was never one of your strong areas. You can even say its one of your demons."

"What the hell?"

"Yep. You have serious demons you have to face before you reach what you are looking for."

What was this man talking about? That was the moment I began to realize that this man was more than one of your common ferry workers. Either that or he must have taken too many blows to the head.

"Come with me. You’ve got a lot to do before this day is over."

"Wait a minute. I’ve got piano practice to go to?" I said.

"Don’t be afraid. Manhattan is only level one of the demons that you must face."


The ferry suddenly hit the piers like it ordinarily did. I thought to myself, that didn’t take the usual half hour. I looked at my watch and all of the hands were frozen at 12. I quickly rushed off the ferry in order to catch the train. Maybe I was just wanted to get away from Robert.

However, I made the train on time, which might have been the highlight of my day. I guess all ups must have their downs. The train had to make an emergency stop at Times Square and all passengers had to leave the station for the workers to immediately start repairs. I got out with the crowd and stepped into the craziness known as Times Square. Then out of nowhere, I heard a voice call my name.

"Hey Michael. Hey I didn’t forget you’re name. Well welcome to Level one. I like to call it Stress."

I turned to put a face on that voice and to my surprise it was indeed Robert.

"What are you doing here? And why are you following me?" I asked him.

"Well I’m doing this for a higher power. As you probably know you’re in the must stressful part of New York. The people talking on their cell phones, the cabs honking at each other just to find their next customer, the pounding music of the next street life, they all contribute to the stress of the people in the buildings up there." I lifted y head and stared at the colossal towers.

"So? What about the people in the buildings?"

"Well just like the people on the street, they also have to do their job in order to support themselves. And they also have to cope with the stress even if they don’t contribute to it. Those people must suffer day after day form the stress so don’t always complain when your dad is speaking loudly on the phone while you’re doing your homework."

"All right. You seem to know so much about my demons, tell me what else I fear."

"Sure. Why not? I have nothing better to do. We’ll gonna have to take the 7 train to Flushing though."

Since Times Square is the central heart of the city, there was a 7-train station right under where we were standing. The ride wasn’t so harsh. I’ve been to Flushing many times in my life. I thought this would have given me a good chance to catch up with my old friends. I didn’t know then how wrong I was.

"Last stop! Last stop! Main Street, Flushing Queens! Last stop on the 7 express train!" the speaker shouted. We got off and headed up the stairs. Main Street is usually a crowded area filled with Asian gangs and cheap shoppers. As we walked out of the station, I noticed that silence filled the streets. The people on the streets were frozen like the parked cars.

"What happened to these people? They’re like frozen zombies from an arcade game."

"But they’re not all frozen." He said as he pointed to a group of teenagers. I didn’t recognize them at first but I eventually realized that they were my old friends that turned into my enemies. I froze like the people around me from fear of what they might do to me. All of them had broken through the cold darkness that enslaved the other people. They had skins of fire and hair of ice.

"Why have you betrayed us? Weren’t we friends from the beginning?" one asked. His jaw soon began to crack and finally fell onto the pavement to be smashed into thousands of pieces.

Robert turned to me and said with a smirk.

"See what you have done in your past? Your betrayal of you friends left them frozen for life. Well, we can’t stay here for long. Lets go."

"Where are we gong now? I’m pretty tired." I mumbled.

"Where your troubles builds from simple pieces of paper."

With a snap of his fingers, we were transported to a different area. I recognized the area as the Bronx from the looks of the buildings. The buildings then suddenly melted as if the island was baked in a microwave. The bricks soon morphed into dollar bills. I quickly ran to try to pocket some of it. I looked at awe as I furiously grabbed piles and piles of hundreds and thousands. Then the bills melted again and formed a giant figure before me. The figure seemed to be a creature and was almost ten times my size. The eyes were mad of dollar bills with two quarters for pupils. His wings spread out like an angel’s, but were made up of checks and money orders.

"Wait! Wait! Does this mean my worst demon is greed?" I shouted at the figure. The creature opened his mouth to speak and revealed rolled of half-dollars replacing teeth.

"No! Your worst demon is that you can seem to hold onto money. Every time you get money, you quickly spend it and then ask for more! Your parents work long and hard even under extreme stress and the lack of a social life just so they can support you!" he screamed.

"What can I do? I can’t seem to save money. Is it that bad?" I begged.

"Silence! And to answer you question, yes, it is bad. You eventually go and ask your friends for money without thinking of paying them back. They eventually lose trust in you!" His breath smashed me like a typhoon and knocked me to the floor.

"Quick! We have to leave this plane and go back to Staten Island," Robert shouted as he grabbed my hand. He pulled us back onto the ferry. When we arrived at the Ferry terminal on Staten Island I thanked Robert for all his help.

"How much do I owe you for the shine?" I asked.

"Forget about it. Anyways, you have a lot of people to pay back."

That night, I returned home so late, my mom was already watching the ten o’clock news. She heard the scratching of my keys on the lock and quickly rushed to the door. I was surprised when the door suddenly opened and my mom was waiting there with her arms crossed. I got the idea that she was mad maybe from the frown on the face.

"Where the hell were you? You better have a good reason why you’re home so late" she asked.

I paused to think of an excuse cause I knew she wouldn’t have believed my story.

"The commute was hell today. It was one of those day." I replied.

- End -

About the author: Micheal Xia is a freshman at Stuyvesant High School of New York City.

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