About A Boy

There's a boy at the bus stop. Cute kid, deep dark eyes, bright charismatic grin-probably in kindergarten. He's also a holy terror. He will rip things he wants out of other kids' hands. He tears around the entry drive, darting in front of moving cars without regard. When the drivers blow their horns, all the adults turn and look at him, wondering where his parents are. Usually, he's the last one on the bus because he has to find where he left his backpack. You can see the annoyance on the bus driver's face as she holds the door over, waiting for him to locate it.

Allie and Avery say he's even more of a pill once he gets on because the driver often yells at him. One afternoon, I noticed Avery's eyes were red from crying. When I asked her what happened she told me that she had gotten in trouble on the bus for taking a sharp pencil and poking holes in the green upholstered seats. Then she pointed at the boy. "He told me to do it. He was doing it too, but then he told the driver it was just me."

I had to ground Avery, the lesson being not to listen when other kids tell her to do stuff that's wrong, but really I was peeved at that boy. The next morning I intended on asking the bus driver to move my stepdaughter to another seat, but instead I held off after the boy came up to Avery and handed her a stack of Pokemon cards that he told her she could keep. Avery smiled and the two of them talked about their favorite characters until the bus arrived. Maybe he felt guilty, or maybe he was truly sorry, but regardless of his motivations, in that moment I saw a sweetness in his eyes that negated the outward hellion I had watched morning after morning.

One day at the bus stop, he showed up with a toy that he kept tossing into the air for him to catch. Sometimes he missed and the plastic would clatter against the concrete. After being dropped three or four times, the toy could take no more, and it exploded into several pieces. The boy looked down at scattered parts, shocked over the possibility that this could happen.

Allie and Avery told him that maybe I could fix it, and they brought him over to me. I'm always fixing the girls' stuff; so to them, I'm some sort of miracle worker. Fortunately, I was able to maintain this reputation as the toy pieces snapped back into place, good as new. He never said thank you, when I it handed it back to him. Yet, I didn't mind because his eyes reflected something better than gratitude. There was a genuine wonderment in them, as if he had just witnessed Jesus healing a blind man. Then he ran off and resumed his game of catch.

A few weeks ago, the girls and I were walking home from the bus stop. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the boy running. The fifth-graders were racing each other, and he wanted to join in. About the time he hit full stride, one of the older kids--the largest of the bunch--swung his leg to the side, intentionally tripping the boy and launching him into the sidewalk. The violence in this would've earned the guilty party an automatic red card in an English soccer league, but there were no referees around to blow any whistles, and the older kid took off as if nothing happened.

The boy, however, was still on the ground, holding his leg. Through heavy sobs, he kept repeating, "He kicked me. He kicked me." His words were not an accusation, they were a plea--a plea for someone to comfort him, to make the pain go away, to be there for him. The sight of him there, crying and alone, evoked a feeling that surpassed pity, and his tears washed away all of his previous moments of recklessness.

I bent down and checked out his shin. There would be a nasty bruise, but otherwise, he would be fine. His crying had begun to taper off, and I helped him to his feet while cracking a few jokes. He didn't laugh, though; nor did he respond to Allie and Avery attempts to console him with understanding voices that he would be okay. I'm not even sure he was listening to any us. He just limped along beside us without saying a word.

When we had to head in separate directions, I stood and watched for a few minutes as he hobbled away, his cadence occasionally interrupted by those deep sniffles that linger after crying uncontrollably. It was a sad vision of utter loneliness.

Even though it was unfair of me to do so, I couldn't help but speculate about his life at home. Maybe his circumstances were just tough, I thought. Maybe he has a single mother who loves him all she can, but has to work a job that dictates she leave early and stay late in order to make ends meet. Or maybe it wasn't that way at all; maybe it was better. Maybe it was worse.

When he was gone, I turned in the other direction and wondered where he would go.

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