The Samurai

I could see Mr. Donatu behind the counter, arms coated with flour and powdered sugar, his gentle face smiling as he filled holes with sweet stuff, unaware of my approach. Craig the Avenger, boldest pirate west of Creek Road, would succeed where others had failed. While my snickering comrades waited around the corner, I alone was brave enough to sneak into the den of the samurai dragon. Singing a song in Japanese and little suspecting that an intruder was near, Donatu turned away. Slowly raising my hand as I stooped in front of the counter, my fingers searched until they found the cream sticks.

Minutes later, any Shadowers who happened to be abroad that summer morning could have watched a traveling drama, beginning at the Haiku Bakery on Kishwaukee Street, continuing through Sanderling Park, where I lost both the cutlass (butterknife) in my belt and the handkerchief around my head, and ending at the pirate’s lair in Marsuoin Park, where even the mad samurai dragon dared not tread. Folks said the sight of an aproned Asian baker yelling in Japanese as he chased four screaming boys and a barking dog across town was a great way to begin the day. As always happened, once we reached the park, Mr. Donatu let out a Japanese roar—our favorite part—slid his plastic sword under his belt, and laughed his way back to the bakery.

The drama concluded, we buccaneers rowed a boat to Swinfish Island and ate our plunder, washing it down with rum that tasted like orange juice, wiping our mouths on our shirts, acting as pirates are wont to act. Each Friday, despite objections from Mr. Donatu, my father paid for any pastries we had “seized” that week. Never did he part with money so joyfully; my father understood what we did not know.

Even in Sycamore Shadows, change must come, however slight. The three masked bandits who robbed the meat market yesterday morning were certainly not pirates. A laughing Homer Hundigger could not remember the other perpetrators, but he left this detailed description of their leader: hair, blond; age, about 10; weight, 65 pounds; name, Black Bart the Highwayman; missing, a package of hot dogs. Black Bart’s father has promised to pay for the plunder later this week.

Though pirates are seldom seen, young explorers, Indian fighters, soldiers, wizards, pioneers, knights, and now highwaymen, still tread the woods around Sycamore Shadows, still watch from the hilltops, still hide in dark hollows, and still wade streams in search of adventure, beyond the call of parents or the reach of wires and Wi-fi. Just yesterday, while carpet-dwelling automatons in other towns sat on cushioned seats and looked at screens in breezeless, sunless, painless, sheltered rooms, their eyes glazed, their imaginations in repose, I died.

“Bang, I got you!” the diminutive outlaw informed me from beneath a cowboy hat as he blew smoke from the muzzle of his wooden gun. I grabbed my chest, smiling as I collapsed on the grass.

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