Monday, March 06, 2006

A stolen moment...

The other day I was getting a late lunch in an artsy hipster cafe when a young black boy, maybe eleven or twelve years old, walked in. He crossed the crowded room and waved shyly at the waitress as she took some guy’s order. She was a tall and pretty girl, kind of hippie-ish, with a bandanna wrapped around her head and weird dangly earrings. The kid stood by me, waiting to talk to her, and he caught my attention because he was shaking. When the customer went away the waitress smiled and called out his name. He stepped up to the counter and immediately started to cry. “What’s the matter?” the waitress asked, but he couldn’t stop bawling long enough to answer. Before long, another customer had come up with his check and his fistful of cash to hover around the cash register, so the waitress pointed him to an empty booth near mine and told him to go sit there.

I watched him when I could. He kept his head down and I could see the tears running down his face to land on his puffy grey coat. Sometimes he’d put his hands flat on the tabletop and let his fingers spread apart, but then he’d always jerk them away to wring them in his lap for awhile. It was a strange, awkward gesture and he did it several times right in a row, heaving and weeping the whole time. Soon, however, the customer paid his bill and pissed off so the waitress could come and slip into the seat across from him. She spoke so quietly I couldn’t hear her, but whatever she said calmed him down. As his hands darted onto and off of the table again and again, he told a story about kids at school stealing his books and how he’s afraid to tell the teacher because then they’ll know that it was him who told and how that’ll just make them do something worse next time. It took him awhile to get this all out. Sometimes he’d stammer and sometimes his words would be swallowed up by sobs. When he was done, he fell silent and sat there before her, all cried out at last. He put his hands on top of the table and then he put them in his lap He did this two or three times. The last time he put them on the table, the waitress laid her hand on his. She leaned forward and told him something. He nodded. He looked in her eyes, sniffled, and looked down at her white hand covering his black one. That’s when she got up and left him. Without her there, he seemed very small in that great big booth, gazing wide-eyed at his stilled hands.

A little later, she brought him a hot chocolate with so much whipped cream it was spilling down the sides. He drank it slowly, wiped his face clean, and rose up. “Are you okay?” the waitress asked him and he nodded. She smiled at him once more and he smiled for the first time and went out. It was something to witness. It’s good to be reminded of the beauty of kindness, the necessity of it, and what the world could become if we’d ever stop being so afraid of it.