September 4th, 2009

One of the first So It Goes columns I submitted:

In the end, there was nothing to say

By Greg Holden

I usually go to work hoping that the day will pass peacefully, without problems, and that I can simply go home and not have to think about it until the next day. But that seldom happens. Just when things seem to be quiet—too quiet—and you begin to relax, then trouble sneaks up behind you and jumps on your back.

It had been one of those quiet days until I came back from a delivery. The cashier hurried up to me, wringing her hands. “I just caught a boy shoplifting,” she said. “Frank’s really been yelling at him.”

Before I could think or speak, there was my boss Frank pulling a limp tousle-haired boy by an elbow. “Drive this boy back to his home,” he commanded. “Tell his parents he was caught shoplifting and I don’t want to see him in here again.” That was all. He pushed the boy at me and stalked off.

The boy stood there sniffling and wiping his nose. He was so thin his clothes seemed about to fall off. “Where do you live?” I asked. He did not answer. He stared at the floor, a picture of humiliation. I had received some of Frank’s tongue whippings myself and knew how he felt. I led him gently out the door.

When he sat next to me in the car I saw that he was Spanish and that there was a ring of dirt around his neck. “Tell me where you live now, and I’ll take you home.” He mumbled an address and I hurried off, anxious to be rid of him. He was making me nervous.

The drive over was agonizingly silent. I longed to speak to him, to cheer him up, but could not find the words. Suddenly he looked up at me with perfectly round eyes. “Are you going to tell my Mom and Dad?” All at once I wanted to let him go and avoid a scene with his parents. Nobody would be the wiser. But I kept driving.

We pulled up before a large, rickety frame house, with peeling paint, scraggly vines, and bicycles and naked dolls scattered on the lawn. The boy ran ahead and I followed him to the backyard. A fat woman holding a dishrag leaned out of an upper window, yelling to the boy in Spanish and gesturing with her arms. Then the father came out and walked toward me, looking angry.

I told him the story and his anger faded. “I apologize for my son,” he said. He turned and began yelling at the boy. Then he began hitting him behind the ear. He picked him up by the neck and dragged him over to me. “You take us to the store. We apologize.”

All the way over he hit the boy and screamed at him in Spanish. The boy wailed “No, no.” I tried to tell him to stop. But I didn’t know what to do. Was I on the side of the store or the boy?

In the end there was nothing to say. There are times when you feel outraged, but there’s nothing yo can do. I didn’t talk to anyone for the rest of the day. When it was time to go I hurried home and tried to forget about the boy or of what kind of future lay in store for him. I’m still trying.

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