Extra Large for the Lord | By Tomas Baiza
We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.
Joey, tragically White and clueless. Joey who’s in my English and P.E. classes, but thank God not Trigonometry or Health, well, homeboy yanks the half-burnt order ticket from under the sizzling pizza. He squints at it and twists up his face, pale fingers wrapped round the intercom mic. Beyond him, a packed dining room of Friday-night customers.
“Hurry up, dude,” I say, super-heated pizzas rotating past my face, each time around smokier than the last.
Joey’s frown sinks in deeper. “This name…”
Crowding the hulking gas oven are fifteen pizzas on dual rotating decks. I have zero doubt that Dante Alighieri’s editor made him remove the chapter where he declared the cramped kitchen of a strip mall pizza restaurant as one of the lowest levels of Hell. I sigh and slide the wood-handled peel under one particularly abused victim, its face deformed by angry welts of bubbled dough and curling anchovies. “Call it out, pendejo!” I heft the pizza on the peel and can’t decide whether to catapult it at Joey’s face or lay it on the cutting table next to the perfect pepperoni he has sliced and placed under the angry orange heat lamps.
Joey’s frown morphs into resistance. “But, I can’t—”
“The fuck can’t you do?” I say. “Call the name or I swear to God, man.” Dripping in the oven’s heat, I choke on the smoking essence of incinerated bell peppers and crumbled linguiça so close to combustion that it glows like charcoal. I think about how I could be washing dishes at Bangkok Garden across the street. It’s not as hot—and I’d get a bowl of tom kha kai and Thai iced tea on my break.
Joey shrugs. “If you say so, Luís.” From him, it always sounds like “Louise.”
“Keep it up, dickweed.”
He leans to the mic, flicks the button, and side-eyes me, like See what I’m ‘bout to do?
“JEEZ-us, your pizza’s ready! Extra-large pepperoni for JEEZ-us. JEEZ-us, come on up and get your pizza!”
Joey says JEEZ-us like one of those flabby-jowled t.v. preachers, the ones who convulse, white-knuckled, over the pulpit, armpits soaked from the faith and eyes wild with grace, amphetamines, and all the tax-deductible donations.
The crowded dining room falls silent, families frozen in wonder at the outside chance they’ll get to see the one and only Son of God collect his 3,000-calorie dinner on a busy Friday night.
“You ignorant-ass bolillo,” I say. My head spins from the smoke billowing from the oven, but I can’t bring myself to get back to work, to avert my stinging eyes, to miss the closest thing to an honest-to-God Advent I’ll ever witness. “Jesús,” I mumble, stepping up to the cutting counter with the burnt medium anchovy.
“Je-SÚS, bro. That’s how you pronounce it.”
Joey scratches his head. “Isn’t that just Mexican for JEEZ-us?”
At the back of the dining room, next to the massive flatscreen broadcasting the Angels tied-up with the Devil Rays in the ninth, a man stands. Two hundred eyes lock onto JEEZ-us—Jesús—as he edges past the woman he’s come with. I’d bet my entire week’s minimum-wage salary that her name is María. Except this Mary is no virgin because there’s an infant on her breast and a toddler on each side grinding cheap restaurant crayons into waxy crumbs that I’ll have to sweep up after closing.
Jesús scans the room, a hundred expectant faces turned towards him. He musses the hair of one of the toddlers and steps around the end of the long table into the aisle that leads to me and Joey. He is tall, barrel chested, with a clean white button-up stretched tight over his round belly and pushed into midnight blue jeans. The sloping brim of his camel suede cowboy hat obscures his eyes, and his mouth is hidden beneath a big broom bigote that would make my mother blush. Polished brown boots whisper over the dense commercial carpeting, tough enough to withstand beer, grease, cigarette ash, blood, vomit, and the mortal sin of boxed wine. His thumbs are locked into a leather belt embossed with eagles clutching serpents in talon and beak. And perched over his crotch, a curved pewter buckle that shouts ¡100% Sinaloense! under each fluorescent light that he passes.
Joey blinks wide-eyed at his approach. “What’s happening?” he whispers.
“Shut up,” I say. Behind us, a ruddy flicker that might be the blinking Orange Crush sign at the bar or the first tongues of flame from the oven. I catch a whiff of brimstone—or maybe it’s just ignited dough. I don’t care anymore.
“But—” Joey starts to say and is cowed into silence when the steel caps of Jesús’s boot heels click on the tiles in front of the pick-up counter. He flicks the brim of his hat and smiles at the extra-large pepperoni set out before him. His broad white teeth remind me of my own, teeth my welfare insurance orthodontist once called “Indian teeth” before complaining to his assistant that he should charge my mother more for the extra hardware it would take to wrestle them half-way straight.
“Esto es para usted,” I croak and nudge the platter towards him.
“Muchas gracias, jovenazo,” he says. Strong, calloused hands lift the aluminum platter. Laborer’s hands. The hands of a carpintero.
“¿S-Señor?” I stutter. It occurs to me, with the suddenness of the ring of a bell, that Señor also means Lord.
Jesús pauses, the steam rising from the pizza hazes his face like incense smoke. “¿Mande?” he says. His smile is peace, his voice love. Dark pools of millennia-old eyes pull me in. “¿En qué puedo servirle, mi hijo?”
About the Author:
Tomas Baiza was born and raised in San José, California, and now lives in Boise, Idaho, where he is currently studying creative writing at Boise State University. Tomas’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Parhelion, Writers In The Attic, Obelus, In Parentheses, Meniscus, [PANK], The Meadow, Peatsmoke, and elsewhere.