On Tuesday I had the day off work and I had a ton of housework to do but I blew it off and took myself to lunch. I went to the produce market and picked up some stuff for the rest of the week and weekend and then I stopped at a chain restaurant to get myself a club sandwich and an iced tea.
As I sat down I noticed a family sitting about three tables away. There was a mom in a wheelchair, a dad, a little boy who is going to be five on August 2 (I know this because he told the hostess and he was very excited) and a little girl probably eight. The father was heavy set and had a deeply timbered voice. He had his arm slung across the back of his son’s chair leaning his head in and listening attentively to the important things his son wanted him to know. The mom was quiet and shy as was the daughter and they only spoke when necessary.
The family was very popular among the staff at the restaurant. Everyone from the manager to the bussers took a moment to stop by to speak to them and their children. When the server came to take their order she greeted them effusively and by name remembering what they ordered for drinks and asking them about their week. Mom smiled sweetly and filled her in on how everyone is doing and it was all very picturesque and lovely. I got such a good vibe from these people. I think even if every single employee of that restaurant hadn’t come by to say hello, I would have somehow known that these were good, kind people. For the purposes of this story only I will now tell you that they were black.
With them at the table was another little boy and he definitely was not their child biologically. I would venture to guess that he had very recently met them. He was white and about seven or eight years old with yellow blonde hair, light blue eyes and a pale blue veined complexion. He was slight but I got the impression that he was athletic. He was sporting a cast on his left arm that ran from right below his armpit, down his arm and over his hand. It was bright orange and glowed in its newness. There was no soiling around the hand where the fingers protruded and no scuffing on the surface or around the elbow. He held it gingerly as he perched in the chair the furthest he could get away from the family. His backside was half on and half off the chair and his weight was mostly distributed on his left foot as he leaned off the chair as if to run off at any moment. His shoulders were slouched in and he had his back partially turned so the family was blocked. Classic body language for “I do not want to be here” but even with that he still had this vulnerability that could not be missed. He caught my attention right away because of the cast and because of the way he was sitting.
I watched all of them as I ate my sandwich but I couldn’t take my eyes off this little boy. Even when he was spoken to he never looked up from his paper. His head was down and he was coloring with his right hand on the back of the children’s menu. Once in while he would look up and around him cautiously with the saddest eyes I had ever seen in my life. It quite took my breath away to see that in someone so young.
When the family ordered lunch he opted not to eat. The server did talk him into getting some apple juice and he seemed content with that. When she spoke to him he never looked up from his drawing. She tried to cajole him into ordering food but he just kept quietly saying “I don’t want anything” while avoiding her attempts to draw his attention away from the paper. Don’t misunderstand, this boy was not being rude, he just seemed so sad and lost. She stopped trying after a quiet word with Mom who just said “its okay, let him go.”
The family received their food and before they ate, not surprisingly, bowed their heads and said a quiet prayer. They didn’t ask the little boy at the end of the table to participate, they didn’t force him to look up from his paper and interact with them or anyone else and they did not make him eat. At first glance that bothered me but as the meal progressed I started to see the looks the parents were exchanging as they gazed down the table at the little boy with the sad eyes.
Once everyone had dug into their meals the hostess stopped by and tried to coax the little boy into eating something. He wasn’t interested and said so and she eventually gave up and walked away. At that point the little boy put down his crayon and looked forlornly around the restaurant. For the first time the mother addressed him with a gentle voice, “Do you like ice cream?” she asked. He replied immediately “Well, yes I do. Do you think they have pistachio ice cream?” Well, I don’t think so Honey” Mom said in a tone that clearly communicated that she shared his disappointment in this turn of events. “Well then I don’t want anything” the little boy said dejectedly.
I watched as Mom then visually tagged Dad without a word being spoken and he immediately picked up the signal suggesting that maybe he’d like to order some vanilla ice cream with strawberry sauce on it. “No, that’s okay I only like pistachio” the little boy said as he picked up his crayon and went back to work. Mom stepped back in and in a firm but kind voice said “When she comes back you should ask her if they have pistachio ice cream, okay?” For the first time I saw him look up and directly at her, “Can’t you ask for me?” he pleaded. “No, I think you should” she said with a smile.
Shortly after that the server came back to see if everything was okay. The little boy waited for his opportunity to speak to her as the parents asked after the welfare of her teenage children. After a minute or two, Mom looked down the table at the little boy and nodded encouragingly. “Do you have pistachio ice cream?” he immediately asked the words jumping out of him as though they could not wait another moment. As he asked the question he shifted and centered himself onto the chair and let both feet dangle. “Oh no I’m so sorry we don’t but we do have chocolate!” the server said with more enthusiasm than the question required, but I understood completely because I wanted nothing more in life at that moment than for that little boy to get some ice cream. “Well okay” he said decisively lifting his cast onto the table and placing his hands on each side of the menu he had been drawing upon, “Okay chocolate is good IF you don’t have pistachio”.
She’ll never know this, but I shared a moment with Mom right then as we both surreptitiously picked up our napkins and dabbed tears from our eyes.
I don’t know his story and I don’t know why he had that cast or why he was lucky enough to be with that lovely family. My feeling is that he was placed with them, possibly because of the injury sustained? If they aren’t a foster family or a respite providers, they certainly should be. I only hope that they can do something to chase away the sadness I saw in that little boy’s beautiful blue eyes. I have a feeling if anyone can it will be them.
As I paid my bill, I smiled contentedly as I observed him eating every last bite of that chocolate ice cream. And as I walked across the dining room I heard him ask the server if he could please have more juice.