He crossed the street with the school on it and was suddenly captured by the sight of a skinny teen – probably sixteen or so – approaching the same intersection. He slowed down as he and the teen drew closer. He was struck initially by how displaced the boy seemed. This kid looked like a classic Polk Street boy, not one he often saw this far East in the Tenderloin – and certainly not this time of the morning. The boy was nervously groping at the insides of his elbows and appeared extremely fidgety.
Heroine addict, looking for a buy, thought Charlie. Have I seen him before?
Charlie studied the boy a moment – dressed in taut black pants and grey t-shirt with a Dickies logo; his bleachy face was slightly sunken over pronounced cheekbones, hair dyed some combination of red and orange, and his eyes –
Those eyes! I would remember if I’d seen him before…
His eyes were about the most stunning blue he’d ever seen on a person. For a moment he presumed the boy was wearing contacts, for the vividness of his eye color almost appeared illusory against his emaciated features, but then he knew a kid in his situation wouldn’t likely bother with something as high maintenance as contact lenses. It was almost as though the drugs – and whatever else he was into – were ebbing away every appearance of health in his body, but sparing his eyes. They were alive – piercing, moving, aching – looking straight at Charlie.
“Hi officer.” said the teen with a tremor in his throat.
His words, though common to Charlie’s ears, caught him off guard. He felt a bit foolish, realized he’d been staring at the boy, and immediately continued slowly across the street while seeing him out of the corner of his eye, crossing the other direction. He felt his heartbeat quicken, and there was that familiar tug.
What is it about that kid?
Without even realizing it, he stopped in the middle of the intersection and stared again at the teen – now half a block down, looking at a newspaper dispenser.
He’s waiting for me to leave.
There was an overwhelming sense welling up from his deepest recesses, rising up to convey the undeniable fact that Charlie needed to go talk to the boy. His natural reluctance – his inborn penchant for inaction – was keeping him halted in the street, but he knew quite clearly that this was a situation he was unlikely to avoid. Rationally, he thought this was the worst possible time to approach the boy. The kid was searching for a fix big time, and there was no way Charlie could imagine accomplishing anything meaningful by trying to talk to him in this place and time. He rehearsed every reason in the world for why he should just walk, pray for the boy – pray for another time, a more appropriate place to meet. But that tug was not letting him go; it was holding his feet to the pavement, and he sensed that this was a moment – one of those significant moments in life, where a seemingly small decision could have life-changing, even eternity changing consequences, like when you work up the nerve to ask someone out for a simple cup of coffee, and then you end up marrying that person, or when you choose to tune out the world for a few moments in order to speak with God, and He says something to you that moves you deeply, that you carry around in your heart like a torch, and you never forget those words He said to you when you did something as simple as stop and listen for a moment.
I have to do this, he said to himself.
Even as he started to turn, just as he was about to lift a foot from the ground to begin walking toward the boy, he was startled by the blare of a car horn not more than four feet beside him. He gasped and nearly jumped, turning to his right and seeing a beat up looking Volvo containing a very exasperated driver. The car had obviously been waiting at the intersection for some time while Charlie had been dawdling, conflicted. Charlie’s eyes narrowed at the ugly car. He was immediately frustrated, not with the car, or even the driver, but at the prospect that some force had sent this hunk of junk to rattle his nerve. And it was working.
Maybe it’s a sign, he thought. Maybe this isn’t the time.
So why is my heart still beating so fast?
He watched the driver of the Volvo throw his hands up with a very rankled expression on his face.
It must not be time.
He finished crossing the street, left the boy behind.
Damn, he thought.