17 January 2011
He is 17: Dominican, earnest; his caffe au lait skin has a slight greenish tinge. He is sitting on a wooden subway bench and is hanging on to the string of a laundry bag. He is watching the trains.
He is sitting next to a tall blonde in a faux leopard coat and a coffee colored beret; she is resolutely reading her book.
He cranes his neck slightly to look at the book's title: it's called "Radical Forgiveness." The cover is orange with a garish green title. She seems utterly absorbed: theatrically so. He looks at her anyway, not looking away.
"I like your book", he offers.
She looks up, momentarily irritated by the expected distraction. But something in his face catches her- a quality of pleading, maybe a need to be seen--and she lowers the book a bit. In front of them both, an Orthodox woman with gleaming dark fake hair leans over her carriage'd baby and croons in Yiddish.
"Miss? Miss? Are you Saved?" The boy's face is suddenly terribly concerned. He thrusts a pamphlet at her.
"Am I ...oh. Hmm." She peruses the pamphlet with interested attention for a moment. She looks up. "Are you? It seems important to you."
"Though a man may be born, he is not born until he accepts Jesus and thus is born again" he quotes importantly. Or maybe it isn't a quote. She doesn't know.
"I'm glad you've found a path that makes you happy." She smiles gently and raises her book again. He grimaces with imptience.
"It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven". He seems to her reproachful. Or just hurt.
Sighing, she lowers her book again, but this time turns towards him slightly. She looks rich to him, she just realized. The coat was 50 dollars, her cowboy boots are from a thrift store in Bellingham, WA, but her hair is expensive and her accent is clipped, and her purse is obviously good, though slightly battered.
"You are born again, right? How did this happen." She settles back slightly on the hard wooden bench, her youngish face turned towrds the young man's now gleaming enthusiasm.
"Well, Miss..oh, what's your name? I'm Alberto." He offers a hand with grave sweetness. She shakes it.
"Peri. Tell me what happened, Alberto. It seems to have changed your life."
Alberto stares off to the right for a moment, remembering. The flat bluish light of the Underground gives his face shadows it might not have. For a moment he looks old as he looks at his past.
"I met, I met these Christians. I'm from Staten Island. and I....where are you from?" he asks, as though suddenly remembering a duty.
"I'm from here." The woman smiles slightly, her smile looping up to the right in suppressed amusement.
"You don't SOUND it", said a now child again Alberto, politely challenging, his street kid self always checking for a scam.
"I know, but go on. Really. I'm from here. Go on."
He preenes himself unconscioulys, hands rising to smooth his crew cut curls, then returning to lay face down on top of his upper thighs, like a good boy getting ready to recite a lesson.
"There was this cop, I mean there was a police who seed me all the time on account of I was sleeping at the Ferry terminal. He assed me if I wanna go to church."
"So you were homeless? That's an awful feeling." Her face was impassive.
"Yeah, right? I wan'ed to be a medical assistant, but it was hard cuz I didn't got the clothes. You know for the school." Looking away again, towards the shadows to their right.
He comes back from the reverie. His face gets young again.
"And I went to church wit them and I got saved. Jesus changed my heart." His face glows with pride.
The greenish tinge gets slightly more apparent. He says abruptly: "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid...for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
He turns his face, now shining with schoolboy pride, towards her. "That's from Psalms."
"Wow, that was a nice quote. You must love words."
He's nodding hard. "I love Jesus. You should too, he loves you so much. Just confess your sins and ask his forgiveness. We are all sinners." His young/old face looks scared.
The leopard clad woman starts gathering her packages. Her face is careful with thought. She straightens up.
"Hmm. I don't know. I don't think He gets angry with us if we're trying to be good. I think--maybe?--a sin is just something you do, when you don't really know what you're doing. Maybe He only seems mad. I think He probably just gets frustrated with us. Maybe a sin is just something that blocks us from our best selves. Maybe he wants us not to, you know, block His light. But here's the Q train."
Alberto says stubbornly, "Ask, and you will receive. Knock and the door shall be opened to you."
The woman puts on gold glasses. She leans over and picks up her bags. "I will. Did you get a place to live? Are you okay?" She loops the purse strap around her shoulder. Now she is standing.
He is suddenly standing. "Yes! It is a blessing of the Lord! I live across from Port Authority! For free!"
A passing train played light and dark across his eyes.
"That's great. I'm really glad. I have to..."
"Yes. The policeman pays my rent. So it's free." He frowns slightly at the tracks in front of the now oncoming train. The leopard lady looks up from her bag arrangement suddenly. Looks at him. His eyes are suddenly an opaque brown, the color of a wet dark stone.
She put a hand on his upper arm, a gesture of comfort. A moment and shadows pass.
"Alberto, my train's coming." she said gently. He looks up again, and she is smiling, this without the upward hitch of bemusement.
She says: "hey, give me one of those." She gestures towards the pamphlet with her chin, her hands now filled with bags.
"Oh, yeah! You can read it. If you have any questions-"-here importance swells his chest and makes his voice go baritone--"you just call me. See? Here's where my number is. Alberto. That's me. I can.."
She has wiggled a hand free to grab the garish paper. "Gotta go. Good luck. Really." she looks at him steadily for moment. She looks away, stepping onto the train.
"Miss, you gotta be saved!" He is now concernedly waving a pamphlet at her, his arm reaching up to be seen above the heads of the passengers pushing into the train. "Miss!"
The doors closes. Shehas reflexively looked down to check that her purse was safe. When she looks up, again, he is a small figure on the a platform that is vanishing into the past.
She looks down at the seated middle aged German tourist seated before her. He is lean, and fit looking, with that resolute "I'm not lost!" expression people get in unfamiliar subways. He sees her and gets up to give her his seat. She smiles. Tries not to drop her possessions as she's sitting, arranging the bags so they didn't look too out of control to strangers.
The subway goes into a tunnel. She looks at her reflection the darkened window across from her. It smoothes out the lines from her youngish face, and she smiles.
pl 1/16/11 nyc