By Arya-Francesca Jenkins
He is a small boy, maybe eight, perhaps ten, so thin and slight, he could fit anywhere. You imagine him sitting inside a large man’s hand.
His eyes are large and bright, although perhaps they are not. Hunger might make them so. Or fear. His pink t-shirt with a design of Dora the Explorer belongs on a girl. His jeans are stained, ripped at the knee. His sneakers, ragged, as if he has run across miles of stones. His hands, filthy. He scratches his neck often.
You think of an addict. A boy so young, so dirty, what does it mean? Sitting alone on a bench, waiting for what? But soon a man comes, wearing sunglasses, a checked sports jacket that is too tight, white sneakers that are brand new. His hands are dirty too. He nudges the boy as if in greeting and the boy gets up and goes.
Who is the man staring at with his mirrored sunglasses? It is hard to tell. You are one of three girls sitting, from smallest to tallest, youngest to eldest, on a bench opposite, also waiting for a train after the long weekend. When the boy comes back and perches next to the man and nods at him, you want to smile at the boy, to have him see your smile as if that would somehow help him. But he doesn’t look your way. Only the man looks your way.
You look down at your fingernails with the blue chipped nail polish, then mention something inconsequential to your sister beside you, like it is almost time.
“I know,” she says without looking up. She is reading for school, “Jane Eyre.” Your other sister is texting your father. You can see her smiley emojis alternate with his short replies.
Love you too.
Text when you get home.
Pancakes next time you come.
Then it is time. Your train arrives. You all get up. All in a line as you always do, the backpack of one vaguely brushing the face of the one behind, looking straight ahead as you always do, possibly envisioning the homemade cookies that await you—oatmeal or peanut butter--or your mother’s forlorn expression and wiry embrace when she sees you.
Two days is a year without my girls, she says every time you visit your dad.
You climb onboard, taking the first place to the right near the entrance, tossing your backpack to the end of the seat as if to claim it. Then your sister with her book slides in opposite, leaving room for your other sister.
But where is Aimee? No one else is getting on. Outside the window of the train as wheezing steam signals the closing door, you catch sight of her, the lavender backpack, auburn ponytail, the sneakers that light up, absurdly moving in the opposite direction behind a limping boy who is heading toward the man in the checked jacket.