It’s not that unusual to see youths of indeterminate age loitering about in public, cadging smokes, change, exchanging a little conversation. At this particular spot, a small, rather old and run-down bit of strip mall in a gentrificated neighborhood, there is hardly enough bourgeois pedestrian traffic to support two beggars — it gets busy in the middle of the day, when people are eating, visiting the local insurance agency or having their VCR tapes converted to DVD, and then again later in the day when the tavern (used to be a Latino food place) cranks up — but most of the time you see only a few people sitting at outdoor tables.
This kid appeared, Judy said, out of nowhere, sitting at the table outside the Subway, between Cool Beans Coffee Emporium and the shop run by Sikhs. He was not conspicuous at first. Nobody paid much attention. Some people gave him cigarettes, probably, but he said nothing to anyone about anything.
This began to bother Judy, and the others.
There are many reasons for such a silence, was her feeling. All of us have speechless days, composed of how many unspeaking perhaps tightlipped hours strung together. People ask What’s wrong? and you say, Nothing, I just like being quiet.
By the second or third day, the kid was becoming a subject of worry. He just sat there, a sort of 108-yard-stare to his gaze. The only thing she got out of him was a vague statement about his father dropping him off there at the strip mall. Judy was wondering whether she should let him sleep for the night on the old couch in the back. She believed in compassion.
–He’s shown no sign of violence, she said.
Harinam, the Sikh patriarch, used to wear his turban but they stopped that practice in recent years, so now he looks like any other middle-aged hippie slumped in a metal chair sipping chai, as the business-people hereabouts did in the mornings before things start picking up.
–It’s hard to tell about someone who never speaks, you know?
–Do you think he’s, like, simple?
–I saw him get very alert the other afternoon when he heard someone use that word, though they were using it in another sense and it had nothing to do with him.
–So what do you think, Hari, should I let him sleep in the back on that old couch?
–I wouldn’t let a dog sleep back there in the condition it’s in, but — he shrugged.
–Maybe just for one night. Then we’ll try to get something out of him and find who he belongs to.
–Like a lost dog.
–Like a lost dog.
© 2007 Thomas N. Dennis