I was walking in a crowded mall with some friends. I looked through the glass walls of one shop and noticed the brightly colored books inside. The shop was full of youngsters, eagerly looking through all the new and colorful books. I remember the bright colors of the books. I remember that they were large. And that they were held by tiny hands of youngsters.
“Amazing! A bookstore just for children! I really love that idea!” My friends mocked me for expressing such silly enthusiasm over a bookstore. But as I continued to walk through the mall, they somehow drifted away into the aether, as people and places tend to do when I am fast asleep.
I felt a tug on my leg. I clutched my backpack tightly as Rosemary had taught me to do in crowded places. I looked down at a boy who had placed his arm around my leg. I looked up at a young woman with a baby who had emerged from out of the crowded blur of shoppers. They were Mexican. The boy’s skin was very brown. He looked like he could have been one of my boyhood friends from rural
New Mexico. His dirty face made him look like he was one
of my opponents in a mischievous schoolyard dirt clod war.
He sobbed as he clutched my leg. I somehow knew that the baby wrapped in rags was his baby sister, and that the young woman who held the baby was his mother. No words were said, but I sometimes know certain things about people when I am fast asleep. The young Mexican mother was fresh and clean, simply dressed and, of course, very beautiful. Of course she was.
I looked down at the boy. He sobbed as he clung to my leg. “I heard you talk about the books. The children’s books.” He looked up at me. His sobs revealed a large, misshapen tooth that could have been corrected with braces. “I have always wanted a dad who would give me books.”
I looked at his mother. She looked at me with pleading eyes. “Can I buy him a book?” I asked her. She gave me a look that told me she was touched by the gesture. “No. Please do not buy him a book.” Her thick, Mexican accent was quiet and humble.
I never think rationally when I am fast asleep. I knew they would be going back across the border soon, but I figured this boy might want to get a letter from me. Maybe I could even send him a gift now and then. I asked the mother if I could write the boy and at least be his pen-pal. She thought that was a great idea. Maybe he could even write me back - if only they could have my address. I never think rationally when I am fast asleep.
I put my backpack down by a bench and retrieved my notepad and pencil. I turned to write my address down, but the mother was disappointed that I gave her a post office box instead of a home address. She asked if I had a home address. Her voice had lost its quiet serenity, its humility, even its accent. I think she had even lost her simple beauty. It was hard to tell since she was becoming a blur.
“This is my mailing address. I do not use my home address. I use a PO box.” I looked at my backpack left under the bench. A blond boy had one hand in my pack and another clutched to the wallet he found inside. He never looked at me. He just took my wallet and ran away. I looked back at what was left of the mother, but she had evaporated back into the dream aether. I never felt the Mexican boy release his grip from my leg, but he was not there either. They had turned into mist and diluted themselves back into the crowd from where they came. It was as if they were never even there.