He took with him: twenty-four dollars and seventy-five cents earned by selling his stash of candy to his classmates at school, plus all the money he had found on the ground over the past two years; his favourite book, a picture bible he had borrowed once and never returned; his toothbrush and a half-used roll of toothpaste; a bar of soap in a plastic bag; Kit Kat, his plush cat; his school backpack, carrying everything inside. He wore a fresh set of clothes, his runners, cap, and coat. Seeing there was nothing left for him to do, he went out the front door, locked it with the key he usually carried on a string around his neck. The key he dropped through the mail slot, carefully so it wouldn’t make a noise.
First he walked to school. It was still dark out. He sat on a swing and waited. Nothing happened, he eventually decided that nothing would happen, so he continued walking. He crossed the road, through the park, farther than he had ever walked before. He passed a neighbourhood that looked familiar, and a house that looked familiar. Matt lived there. He was probably asleep. He didn’t tell anyone that he was running away, even Matt, even though Matt was always nice to him and shared his chips with him. He almost told Ms. Takeda before lunch, when she asked him why he looked so sad, because he liked her very much, but he knew she would have told his parents and they would have stopped him. So he had left without telling anybody.
Then he had to cross another road, a few more. He wondered if anyone would stare at him, a boy wandering on the streets alone. Maybe, he thought, he looked like a homeless man. In any case, no one stopped. He wondered if his parents might have discovered he was gone, and his dad might have come out to look for him. He wondered if he might have brought the bag, and that scared him. He walked a little faster.
He reached the high school. There were no swings here, no playground. He didn’t stop this time. But he needed to cross the large field, the running track where he once fell and sprained his ankle. There were kids standing around him, staring blankly and stupidly. An older boy he didn’t know helped him hobble to the nurse’s office. He passed it now. Coach Dan had driven him home. The foot needed a brace. It would have healed completely in a month. His mother yelled at his father to pay for it, and his father yelled back at his mother. Because it wasn’t getting better, Coach Dan ended up paying for it, but Mom yelled at him, too, because she said that Johnny was only pretending to be hurt. He wasn’t, he said, but Mom wouldn’t listen to him.
Then, another road, then, the long stretch of highway. It was usually crammed with cars. Only a few passed him now. One or two planes passed him overhead, the reassuring sound of engines and the smell of jet fuel. He like airplanes, ever since he was young, and he walked a little lighter. The long stretch of highway, wider and flatter close as he was to it on foot than he had ever noticed while taking the bus to work. Had he ever learned to drive? One day he will, he thought.
He arrived at a park. It was a small one, clear of trees, with a few benches. There he sat. He was close to the runway, now. Here was a plane just taking off. Johnny had taken a bus out here before, alone, to watch the planes. He knew he would be on one of those planes one day. He checked again: his ticket was still in his breast pocket. And his passport, with the picture his mother had called ugly. He knew he wasn’t ugly. Lisa told him so, when he had followed her and Mark, and Sidney, to Sidney’s house. He drank too much and Lisa wouldn’t go out with him, but she told him he wasn’t ugly, and that was all that mattered.
He stayed on the road the rest of the way when the sidewalk ended, to keep the pants of his new suit from getting wet in the grass. It was a long walk to the airport, but he arrived not too late. It was easier than he had imagined, and the flight attendants treated him nicely. And while he waited for his plane to take off, he slept and dreamt: the sun burning over the horizon behind him, great giants rising lazily out of the waters of the sea to push him forward with their breath into the morning sky.