I saw him as I drove toward the store, sitting on a folding chair at the end of his drive, watching cars pass. Thirteen, maybe older, maybe younger but big. Dark skin, curls, dusty complexion. Just staring at the cars.
He was still there when I returned, and I couldn’t help it. I pulled over, got out, glanced his way. A cel was in his hand, just dangling.
“Hot out,” I said, wondering what I was doing.
“Yeah,” he said with a nod, then looked down the road.
“Waiting for someone?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“You’ve got your phone. Waiting for that someone to call?”
He looked at the phone with a bit of disgust. “Nah. Turns out I talk better with my mouth than my fingers. Best with my eyes and mouth both, but who does that?”
I understood exactly. Leaning on the open car door, I nodded. “Nobody around to play today? Sisters or brothers?”
“No. Mom’s working, and Dad goes in later. He’s on the computer.”
Again I nodded understanding. “My husband works evenings, too, and he’s around during the day. He spends most of it on the computer, too. Uses it to unwind.”
He snorted. “Make you mad?”
“No,” I said, looking at a car that passed. “It’s my fault. I think once I was more. I was what he needed. I’m not as much fun now, I think. Too old or something. I just know that if I had something to offer, something more exciting or interesting or adventurous than the stuff on the screens, he’d notice. But I don’t think I try like I should. My fault.”
He shook his head. “Makes me mad. Whole world’s on the screen. Nobody can compete with that. I tried it, but it’s not for me. And my friends are all at sports camp. Gotta prepare for school sports. And college. Gotta marry, have kids, and go watch them do school sports. How the world turns, round and round.”
I heard the bitterness. My soul clenched in a strange way; I understood so well I wanted to jump up and down and scream.
“Yeah,” I said.
“I like it out here,” he said, gesturing around him. “But wishin’ it was…emptier. More trees, maybe. Frogs and water. They don’t understand that, think it’s a waste, but it’s my time to waste.”
I nodded, breathing in the forest air from his imagination, hearing the birds and squirrels we both wished were here on this street instead of crowded little homes and tiny fenced yards.
“Got kids?” he asked after a pause. What did he think of this conversation? Surprised he hadn’t gotten on his phone and called the police.
“Yeah. Older. They work, go to school, you know.”
“You miss them?”
“Sure. Some of them still live at home.”
“Sometimes people at home you miss the most,” he said.
“True.” I glanced at my car. “Hey, I bought ice cream, and it’s melting. Wanna share some?”
“Not supposed to eat with strangers.”
“Yeah. But if I just set it in the driveway and you got a spoon from your house, it’s not quite the same.”
He laughed. It was lovely. “Right. Dad won’t notice. Nobody notices. I’ll get spoons.”
He came back with two spoons, another folding chair, and a tiny folding table. We set the ice cream between us and started to eat, watching the road. Cars passed, and I wondered what they thought of us, eating our ice cream.
“So,” he said with a sly smile. “You waitin’ for something?”
“Yes,” I said. He raised his eyebrow in surprise.
“Really. What is it?”
“Not sure. I think I’ll know it when I see it.”
He grinned, again a lovely sight. “Hoping so. Let me know when you do.”
I laughed. The ice cream chilled my throat, and a hot summer breeze ruffled my hair, and I wondered if I’d already found it.