It’s been a year since I wrote this short fictional story. I wrote it after meeting the boy in the story. It was a cold October night in 2015. I was helping a charity collect clothing and sleeping bags to distribute to youth shelters.
As I sat on the bumper of big old Ford pickup at the corner of Pike and Broadway in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, feeling as out of place as the truck, a boy approached. He couldn’t have been older than twelve or thirteen—I’m short and he was smaller than me. He was looking for a sleeping bag. The shelter where he normally stayed—PSKS, which has been open seven nights a week only since December—was closed for the weekend.
Here’s the story:
The young teen stopped and peered through the large glass window at the people eating inside. It looked warm in there. As two people left, a waft of air followed them, bringing the smells of the food out to the empty sidewalk. His stomach growled.
Tonight was the first night he was really cold, and he wasn’t sure where he would sleep. The shelter where he stayed most nights was closed on Fridays and Saturdays—not enough funding to keep it open every night. The boy moved on, stuffing his hands deeper into his pockets and holding the jacket together at the bottom where the zipper had broken.
Coming around a corner at Pike and Broadway, he saw a big Ford pickup truck with a couple of people sitting on the open tailgate. Banners hanging from the truck said something about clothing for youth shelters. The boy went closer, looking in the back where there were garbage bags bursting with clothing, hoping someone would offer him a hat or maybe even a blanket.
“What are you doing?” he asked the older, grey-haired woman. She seemed nice, smiling and looking him right in the eye.
“Collecting clothing for youth shelters.”
After she listed several, he responded, “Oh, PSKS! That’s where I stay. But it’s closed tonight. Do you know if Value Village is still open? I want to try to get a sleeping bag.”
“I don’t think so,” she replied, “It’s pretty late.”
“I’m not sure where I’m staying tonight,” the boy continued, rapid-fire, “The place where my friends and I usually stay—the guy is out of town this weekend. And tonight we might stay with another guy, but he doesn’t get off work until ten or eleven. If we stay there, I’ll be sleeping on a hardwood floor with no blanket.”
The woman looked at him with concern, but seemed at a loss for words.
Smiling, the boy turned and left her.
After crossing the street, he headed up to Cal Anderson Park to see if he could find Joe and Timmy. Maybe they’d had better luck finding blankets.
One of the crazy homeless men tried to stop him, “Hey, kid. You got any money? Give it to me!”
The boy ran across the street to where there were more people—normal people—on the sidewalk. No one paid attention to him, or even looked at him. He felt invisible as he wove his way through the crowd. Breaking through them at the end of the street, he waited for the light. Didn’t want the attention of a cop hassling him about jaywalking.
As soon as the light changed, he dashed into the street, zigzagging along the rainbow crosswalk. He remembered a song about ‘somewhere over the rainbow’, but he didn’t think this was the one it was about. This one just led him to more junkies and garbage and hustlers—more things to avoid.
Finally, he made it to the park. The bright lights in the courts, where older boys on bicycles were playing polo, lighted a lot of the rest of the park. He skirted the edge, near the trees and shrubs, going down a ways before peering around cautiously, then slipped through a small opening into the bushes. Timmy was there, but no Joe.
Crawling into the small, cleared area inside the shrubs, he sat close to Timmy on the cold ground. “Where’s Joe?”
The other boy looked away.
“Well, he won’t find us here.”
Photo credit: www.huffingtonpost.com
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