Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Buckingham Fountain

Tony is giving me directions to Buffalo Wild Wings, when I see a brown and white shape approaching me from the corner of my eye. It's the Kid. Not more than 10 minutes ago he stopped me earlier, trying to sell me some M&Ms; I turned him down.

Kid keeps coming closer. I try to ignore him. I'm hoping he'll recognize me as the Asian guy who turned him down last time, so he doesn't waste his time and mine.

He stops in front of me. "Can I ha' so' food?"

"Excuse me?" Between my phone conversation and his street drawl, I can't make out what he's saying.

"Can I ha' some food?"

This time he points the paper bag by my side, filled with Garrett's Popcorn. That's when I notice his teeth (4mm diastoma between central incisors, large overbite, calculus all over) and for the first time I get a really good look at him. He can't be more than 14 years old, or a very stunted 15. He's dressed in jeans, some beat-up sneakers, a white long sleeved t-shirt, and a knit poncho. I can tell he hasn't washed in ages. He's just a skinny little black kid, selling M&Ms on the street, trying to make a buck so when he goes back to whatever he calls home, he doesn't have to huddle in a corner, trying to sleep while his stomach tells him again that he's hungry.

"I can't give you this, because I need to bring this back to my brother," I tell him, "but I do have something left over from lunch. Is Chinese okay?"

He nods. I dig into my messenger bag and pull out a generic take-out container containing the remnants of my Thai Basil Chicken experience at Big Bowl.

"Wha' is it?" he asks.

"It's... chicken fried rice with coconut sauce."

"Oh," he says. "Thank you."

I watch him walk away and I return to the phone. "Sorry Tony."

"You just give someone your leftovers?"

"Yeah, some little black kid. Looked like he needed it."

By the time I finish my phone call, the Kid is halfway across the park, walking directly in front of Buckingham Fountain. He waves the little box of food in the air -- and four younger children burst out of nowhere, running towards him in excitement. They're probably his brothers. All I can think about right now is one of these days, Big Brother might realize that M&Ms just aren't going to cut it, and how is he supposed to take care of the family now? When you're this poor, and all you have left is each other, what will happen if they can't even hold onto that? Who knows what their story is. I want to ask them, "Where's your mama?"

Five black children crowd a bench across from me, the mist from Buckingham Fountain forming a windblown veil between us. It's barely two cups of rice to split between them, but they don't care. They eat with their fingers.