He was tanned, dark-haired and hungry, the boy who got stuck in the vending machine. He had an adorable little smile that warmed you like the wittiest kind of greeting cards. Judging by the events that transpired in the train station that day, he was starving and under no adult supervision. If he was, his guardians were guilty of negligence.
He paced for five minutes, for fifteen minutes, for hours in front of the glowing, humming vending machine, a golden display of all the things his tongue and stomach desired. He gazed through its window. Everything seemed by some optical illusion of transparency, so attainable. He was without a wallet. Not even the duct tape kind.
He pointed his toes, rose to the tips of his scuffed up sneakers so that his body angled and he leaned forward as if he could phase through the glass. He rested there at a perfect forty-five degree angle, still as a yogi. His nose pressed like a pig’s snout on the shiny surface. His lips puckered and spread like those of a blowfish inching up the side of an aquarium. His stomach cried out and he broke his pose for the cramps were so overpowering and he understood then that he must do what he must. He smacked the glass with a big high five palm and pressed the buttons that dictated which chocolates, which gummies, which chips came forward, thinking, that maybe if he hit them in a certain order he would get something free. Maybe there was a kind of jackpot, a lottery, a prize of snacks that would be awarded to a poor kid like him if he got the secret code. He’d heard of children who had such luck before.
But not him. Fat chance. He jammed his fingers against the buttons until he was so mad he was trying to spell swear words with the letters and numbers available to him. F3CK. B11CH. He bit his mouth from the inside. He thought of the gum on the bottom of his shoe, and salivated. He rubbed his knuckles over his t-shirt and against his rib cage. Those thin bones protruded from his torso like a guiro.
Maybe he could tip it. Throw his body at the machine and watch all the shiny snacks tumble down for him and his hungry belly.
He tried that.
It didn’t work.
At the bottom of the vending machine, beneath the sour gummies and the caramel chocolates and the light and fluffy chocolates and the nutty chocolates and the chips and and all those things the boy had never tasted, was a flap of metal that read: Push.
The boy pushed it. He pushed it and realized he could get an arm into it and so he did just that. He stuck one arm in and he stuck another arm in and he stuck his head in like a rodent. And he got stuck. The blood dripped down to his brain and the metal opening held him just so, so that at the waist his legs could not slacken but stuck out like a plank of wood. And this was what he looked like to those who passed by: a human paper jam, a boy who had thrown himself down a waterslide headfirst, a boy who dove right into the vending machine.
His legs were getting numb but he could not bend them. They stuck out like those of an exercise instructor showing how to work the abdominals.
When the men and women came by he had found his way inside. Found his way inside and to his feet but with no other room, he stood, not facing the snacks, but with his palms spread open on the glass. Don’t ask how. He was turned to everyone at the train station, unable to bend, twist, or even grab at the candies behind him.
G3, a backpacker pressed and a Snickers bar fell to the boy’s feet.
J8, a nurse pressed and bought a packet of sugar free gum.
Please, the boy said. But his cries were muffled and his voice indiscernible. PLEASE he wrote on the glass with his finger in the fog of his own breath.
A sympathetic schoolteacher on her way to the bathroom nodded so much so that it seemed her head might just rollick right off. I’ll help you, she told the kid. But the glass muted everything. She might as well have been speaking a different language, been on a different continent. A2, she pressed and a chocolate bar fell on his shoulder. The boy rejoiced. He gradually angled his head to the side so that his ear was pressed to the glass. And with his teeth, he opened the wrapper. The act took him time but once the wrapper was off he ate the chocolate as ravenously as he could in his situation. He ushered the chocolately rectangle along with his tongue as if it were a train and his mouth a tunnel.
Thanks he said, and threw the schoolteacher a thumbs up.
She couldn’t hear him, but she could read his lips.
Then a busker came and a grandma and a construction worker and a conductor and he convinced all of them to feed him from the food that was accessible from the top left corner which his head was angled toward. A little girl crying so strongly her eyes looked damaged from a chlorine pool didn’t pay the boy any attention and laughed like she’d never seen anything funny at all when the metal ring that escorted the food out at E4 poked the boy in the cheek.
He was, by this time, stuffed. Stuffed from sugar and chocolate, gummies and sweets, all the wrong things. What a sickly kid. He felt nauseous, and so, heeled over as much as he could in his confined, cubic home. The vomit was torrential. The upchuck fell to the boys shoes and splattered across the candies and plastered the glass.
Let’s break him out!, a policeman said as he rushed to the scene.
The glass will get in his eyes, a professor said.
It’s plastic, a construction worker said.
Well the whatever, the professor said.
I’ll stay with him, a pastor said.
Let’s break him out!, the policeman said, brandishing his nightstick.
You can’t go in like that, the professor said.
You’d leave him? the pastor said.
Just feed the kid, a lawyer said.
I’ll buy him a chocolate, a businessman said, If he shines my shoes when he’s out.
I got a train to catch, a salesman said.
Let’s break him out!, the policeman said.
Wait! a little girl cried.
She looked at me. I tried to look away.
And she said, What are you going to do about him?
Geoffrey Line recently spent two years teaching high school aboard a ninety-year-old Norwegian tall ship turned boarding school at sea during its first world circumnavigation, and facilitated its first integration program, partnering Norwegian youth with Syrian and Eritrean refugees to foster cross-cultural relations during the 2017 Tall Ships Races. You can read more of his surreal fiction featuring contemporary childhood at geoffline.com.