Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another Happy Ending?

I keep trying to get to Part 2 of my previous post but I felt compelled to blog this little incident today.

I took Son out to get some things for his scrapbook. (Aside: I'm amazed by how many times I have gone to a craft store only to not find what I wanted and I either had to settle for something else or improvise. I'll be improvising a lot for Son's scrapbook. Thank God there's the Internet. But on a good note, I was reminded of my childhood when I saw some latchhook kits in the store. I used to love those. Think I'll teach it to Son.) The craft store was a let down and Daughter needed wipes, so we went to Wal-Mart. Thankfully, it was in the direction of home. With gas prices being what they are now ($3.09 is the lowest I've seen in my area and it's at my corner station, thank God. $3.15 is the regular price.), I plan and think and replan my every driving move. I mean, I sit in my car and devise a plan before I turn the ignition and I won't go somewhere if it's not on my route that day. Take that, gas gougers!

So we went to Wal-Mart and I was on the phone with my mother talking to her about using her graphic design capability to help us with our latest puzzle job which needs to go to press this week. I tend to park kind of far down the lot for the sake of getting some sort of exercise and also to not have to squeeze into spots. In addition, I am hopefully avoiding the lunatic parkers because lunatics will be too lazy to walk, I reason to myself. As I hung up with her and got Son out the car, I noticed a little black boy saying something inaudible to no one in particular. I was hanging up with my mother at that very moment, so as her voice went silent in my ear, his voice got clearer. "Mommy! Mommy!" My heart sank as I realized there were no people around me yet this boy kept walking to I don't know where. I scanned the lot looking for worried faces and saw none. Only his. Long lines of tears running down his dark cheeks.

"Hey! Baby, what's wrong? Where's your mother?"
"She drove away," he wailed. Not what I expected to hear. My heart sank further. No way. I can't believe that.
"Wait. What do you mean? You saw her?"
"Yes," he replies. He says he saw her car and I suppose that's where he was walking. There was no where else he could go but past a line of bushes and into a busy intersection. I needed clarification.
"You mean you saw your mother driving away and she left you here?"
Again the affirmative. What is this? A Lifetime movie gone awry? I just can't beleieve some mother would take the time to raise the boy to this age, whatever that may be, and then ditch him at a Wal-mart one day. My mind raced with whys. How problematic is her life? What kind of trouble could this boy get into to deserve this? He was calling for mommy, after all. The sign of a true child, as far as I'm concerned.
"What store were you in?"
"That one." He gestures ahead toward Wal-Mart.
"You come with me. It's going to be OK."

Now at this point I am getting angry. Not at the mom, because I still choose to believe she is looking for him at this very moment and we simply need to get him to the people who can reunite them. No. My anger is at how far this crying child walked in the parking lot. I was near the end of the lot! Out the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly white man watching us. I surmised he noticed the child too but he was 5 cars ahead of me he saw him first. What's up with that? As we walked past him, I made sure my voice was audible and I said something to the effect of, "Don't worry. Your mommy must be looking for you." Got that, dear neighbor? Yes, that was a lost child you let walk past you crying.

I think there was someone to my left, but my arm was around the boy to my right while I gripped my own precious cargo in my left hand. We passed the black woman loading bags into her car. How long had she been there, I wondered? Why did this boy have to come as far as me to get any attention? There was no one after my car.

"What's your name, honey?" He tells me.
"How old are you?"
"Seven."
Geeze Louise. He's only a year older than mine and might not even be a whole year. He's a baby!
"It's going to be alright," I try to reassure him.

All I can think is, what will happen to this child if she really did leave him? I asked him about his father but his response was something like either he was gone or he left with his mom. Couldn't determine. Not important. I wonder, what will they do if she's not in the store? I can't hand him off and walk away in good conscience. "Son," I say in my mind, "we may be here awhile."

As we walk decidely back into that store, I ask for the store manager. The greeter points me to the registers and tells me to talk to the people in the red smocks. As we walk over, the boy tells me, "That's her."
"Who? Your mom?"
"Yeah."
And as we approach, I hear the clerk say his name over the intercom. I look for the expected worry on the mom's face as we get closer. The walk seems to take forever. I just want to end her stress and get her child back to her. She's remarkably calm. I can't judge. Everyone handles stress differently.
"Excuse me? Excuse me? Are you looking for this boy?"
In the buzz of busy shoppers, they finally hear me. (One friend in particular is always joking to me about my "little" voice.) She turns and has a look of ah ha! She goes to say something to him then notices me for a moment.
"Thank you." And it is done. She turns back to him and I suspect she said something to the tune of, "See? I TOLD you to stay with me. Blah Blah Blah."

In all this time I had never let go of Son's hand. I glue myself to him and pull him along with me as we continue on our hunt for scrapbook fodder. My mind can't help but think of all that could have happened. I thought stores were supposed to shut down for lost children. I guess that's only if an abduction is claimed. How did he get out in the lot and she's in the store? He must have caught sight of someone in a similar color and/or car and followed them. Was he not crying until the moment I saw him? I doubt it. So why did no one else ask what was wrong? I was so afraid of him becoming another statistic - a missing child, a black boy put into the system because of family problems, so many things.

My heart ached for him and all my people simultaneously for the 5 minutes or so when we had no idea where his mother had gone. We have enough issues in our black families without one of us deserting our offspring in the streets. I even went so far as to imagine the anger he'd grow up with and who he'd take it out on when he grew up. That's how deep the angst of African-Americans run, my friend. The wrongdoing of one makes us all tsk-tsk, shake our head and sigh in shame because no matter how much we try to act like we are lone wolves, we are undeniably, irreversibly connected. And that's how it should be.

That man should have helped that boy without hesitating. What could have caused him to hesitate is a discussion you don't want me to launch tonight. But I thank God nothing happened to that boy and my son got his own lesson in the importance of sticking close to mommy. He was silent the whole while and throughout the store trip, he voluntarily never let go of my hand. He responded with a quick yes when I asked him if he could see now why it's important to know where each other is at all times. I re-ran my rules in the car of what to do if he ever gets separated from one of us and it took him a minute but he recalled what I've tried to drill into him since he was 2: First, go to someone who works in the store, if you're in a store, and tell them you are lost. Second, find another mommy WITH children. Third, find a policeman - in that order. Good. Lesson reinforced as well as my own sense of community.

Now if only I could go back to that man in the lot. I just hope the world hasn't gotten so bad that you can watch a crying child wander the streets and say nothing. All you have to do is ask, "What if it were MY child?"

1 comment:

theresa said...

Hi. I've been on vacation. Read your post and am glad you did the right thing. And what a blessing that your son was with you to experience it too. I bet he never wanders off.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.