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Fiction, © Copyright 2001, Jim Loy
Darius Ride was nothing, a loser. That is not my opinion, that was his. "Loser. Loser, loser, loser. Nobody cares. Loser." As evidence of his loserosity, he had just bashed his head on an open cupboard door, after picking up a popcorn kernel from the floor. And in his obscene mutterings, he lost the popcorn kernel. "Loser."
"People even mispronounce my first name, Darius. They make it rhyme with 'various.' Wrong. It's 'Duh-RYE-us.' The original Darius was a Persian king, three of them for gods sake. One of 'em was the son of Artaxerxes I. At least Mom didn't name me Artaxerxes."
"Loser. I gotta become a winner. How do I do that? Learn to play golf? And lose? I'd probably lose at jogging. I need a better self image. I gotta quit calling myself a loser, even though I am. Let's try this: I'm a winner, winner, winner. I always win. Nobody can stop me. Winner. Watch out Olympics, here I come. Whatever the pentathlon is, running, swimming, bicycling, rowing, and hang gliding, whatever. Yeah right."
"Gotta start small. Win a little bit. Work my way up to winning a lot. How do I win a little bit? How about getting a vanity license plate? Yeah, that might improve my self-image. Not "Uff da" or something stupid like that. How about my name, Darius? Then people would mispronounce my license plate. How about my last name, Ride? Yeah, people don't mispronounce that. RIDE. Winner. Worth a try." Later that day, he went down to the county courthouse, and ordered a vanity license plate. RIDE.
He got his plates in the mail, and put them on his car. "Yes. Winner." He drove to work. Work was more satisfying, for a change. He was sure that he was doing a better job. Much better. That afternoon, the boss called him into his office. Darius thought, "Ah, earned a promotion already."
"Come in, Darius."
"It's 'Duh-RYE-us, sir."
"Hm? Whatever. I'm afraid I'm going to have to let you go."
"Let me go? You mean I'm fired?"
"Yeah, yeah. Sorry, the business isn't doing too good, you know."
"I didn't know. I thought I was doing good work. Why me?"
"Must be something, let's see, it says here, 'not a team player.' I guess you're not a team player."
"Not a team player? What does that mean? I'll become a team player."
The boss smiled a sickly smile, and shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry. We would appreciate it if you would leave today."
"Today?" Darius left in a confused state. His co-workers watched as he cleaned out his desk and left. As he walked out to the parking lot, he thought, "Wow, I try to be a winner, and I lose my job. Somebody up there is trying to tell me something. I just get this new license plate, and ..." He was staring at his license plate. It didn't say RIDE. It said AIDS. His license plate said AIDS.
He rushed back inside. "I don't have AIDS." He cornered the boss. "I don't have AIDS."
The boss was scared out of his wits. He was backed up against a wall, cringing. "Get out of here. Someone call security."
"I don't have AIDS. You'll hear from my lawyer." Darius left.
He went straight to the courthouse. "Sorry, nothing we can do. You can call Motor Vehicles in the capital. Or you can order new plates."
He went down the street to a pay phone, and called the capital. "Sorry sir, it's not our mistake. I have your application right here. It does look like AIDS. I can see how it could be RIDE. But it looks like AIDS to me."
He walked back to the courthouse. But they were closed for the weekend. "Ahhhhhhhhh." He nearly threw a rock through their window. "Where did I put my old plates?" He had donated them, for recycling. "Ahhhhhhhh."
He drove to his favorite bar. "Drunk, gotta get drunk. Thought I was a loser before. This is like Job in the Bible. Hit me with lightning, God. Easy pickin's." He looked up at the sky.
He sat at a table and ordered a drink. The waitress went to get his drink. She came back, "We need you to leave, please." She tried to smile. Darius look around, and saw that several people were looking at him.
"Look, I don't have AIDS. And it's not contagious, if I did have it."
The waitress added, "We'll have to call the cops if you don't leave."
Darius left. "Goll, word sure gets around. Is this what it's really like to have AIDS?"
He went to the county library, and read everything he could find about AIDS, until they closed the library at eleven PM.
On Saturday, he went to see a lawyer. "I wanted a vanity license plate. And I wrote down RIDE. But they misread it as AIDS. Now I got plates that say AIDS. And I lost my job, and people are shunning me. They are shunning me. You're shunning me, for gods sake."
"Sir, I don't want any trouble, sir. I don't think I can help you. I mean, maybe you had better leave."
"What? I don't have AIDS." The man was scooting his chair into a corner of the room. Darius would have found it funny, had he been in a non-homicidal mood. "Do you know of any lawyer who will listen to someone who DOES NOT HAVE AIDS, damm-it?" He left.
"Goll, I gotta hide my car. And rent a car, or take taxis. And everyone in town will still think I have AIDS. The word's probably spreading all over town."
He got into his car. A man walked up and knocked lightly on his window. "Gods, what now?" Darius rolled down the window.
"Sir, I'd like to tell you that you are the bravest man I have ever met. To openly admit that you have AIDS, like this... Well, you're an inspiration and yes a hero, a real hero. Sir, may I shake your hand." Darius was speechless, as the man shook his hand through the car window.
Darius had heavy thoughts as he drove home. "A hero? Hardly. A loser is more like it. A bigger loser than ever before. But he called me a hero, a real hero. I'm getting a small glimpse of what it's like to have AIDS, aren't I? If I did have AIDS, my friends would shun me. I didn't know what shunning looked like. I can see people shunning me. They're fools, they should know better. AIDS is not contagious. It's contagious when blood is shared, but not otherwise. They should be educated. They should all sit down in that library and read all that stuff about AIDS. Hm. I gotta tell them. It's not right. They gotta know."
The neighbor boys threw rocks at him, as he raced into his house. Later, they broke several windows in the house and car. The cops said that they couldn't do anything. The next day, a lady at the supermarket called him a queer, and fingered the cross on her necklace as if she thought he were a vampire. Darius stood there shaking his head in disbelief. "How do you resign from the human race, without killing yourself?"
Monday dragged around, and Darius considered ordering new license plates. He chuckled to himself, "Plates saying RIDE would look so silly on my car. What was I thinking? Numbers would be better. AIDS would be better. I'll keep AIDS for now."
He called the local newspaper. "I got a great story for you. How about a man who caught AIDS due to a typographical error?" Nearly everyone in town read the story. He appeared on local TV. He became a spokesperson for AIDS education. Over the years, he was given awards.
He was offered his old job back. He considered telling them that they could shove it. But he went back to work. He was promoted twice in the next year.
And he noticed that nearly everyone knew how to pronounce Darius.
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