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I somehow managed to focus on what was happening to me. I used my right thumb to press a button on the device. To my surprise, the little car sped away! I felt my eyes grow wide with excitement. The duration of my smile surpassed the short-lived ones I had flashed after scoring goals in soccer games. I was having a blast. I forgot about my toe. I could do this day and night, whether I was hungry or not, no matter the weather. I was never going to stop playing with this car! Bananas? Who cared?

Henry’s mom called out, “Joseph, please come here.” I wasn’t sure what she wanted. Why did I have to go back to my world?

I pretended not to hear her. I was driving the car, trying to follow Henry who was jumping from one side to the other, laughing loudly, and teasing me. “Knock me down…Crash into me!”

“Joseph, come here please,” I heard again.

“Yes, madam.”

I approached her, trying to avoid her eyes. The sun was higher in the sky, and the temperature had risen since my arrival. My thin shorts that were torn on the inseam and looked like a skirt were so wet with sweat that they stuck to my skin. As I walked toward her, her eyes took me in from head to toe. I reminded myself, “Boys are tough, and I am a boy!” I concealed the pain of my toe, and held my head up trying to prove that I was just fine. I did this for two reasons: I did not want her to interfere with my driving time, and I would lose my little boy’s dignity if I let my true emotions out.

I surely didn’t want to hear what she asked next.

“What happened to your foot?”

All I wanted was to find an acceptable answer. I wanted it over with so I could get back to my car. I just wanted to play, play, play, and be a boy with Henry. The joy of pure play had overtaken my craving for care and affection.

I decided to concoct a nice little story. I opened my mouth to speak, but surprisingly, my chapped lips wouldn’t allow a single word out. Maybe something inside me had wanted her to ask that question after all. Maybe the answer was as important as driving the car. It was the first time anyone had inquired about an injury of mine. My mom and my dad had not mentioned my limp, and neither had my teachers. I guessed that they had seen so many of my injuries before that they had grown accustomed to them.

As I struggled to speak, the lady continued looking at me. At home, a long stare usually meant big trouble. But the compassion I saw in the lady’s eyes was something new. It conquered the little tough boy act I portrayed everywhere, and my eyes welled up, tears ran down my cheeks. I could not respond to her question; I just wanted her to see my answer in my steamy tears. I wanted her to see the feelings floating in them, my years of pain. I wanted her to see my childhood drowning in this ocean, one hand slightly above the turbulent surface, ready to grasp onto anything— maybe onto her—to survive.

samplechapterquote2Without another word, she came to me and wrapped her hands around my wet and warm little body. Many long seconds went by, and I felt her squeezing me harder and harder. With my right ear to her chest, I could hear the rhythmic beating of her heart. I wished the moment would never end. I had dreamt about being rescued, and wished that what I heard in her soft chest was a reassurance of safety. I felt Henry snuggling in, also trying to squeeze me as hard as he could. Then suddenly, the lady started to softly rub our heads—both Henry’s and mine. I had no idea what to do. Keep squeezing her in the hug or reach up and rub her head too? Push back? She let go, kneeled, and we were face to face. Unbelievable! She was crying, and the sight of her tears cut me open. She put her lips to my sweaty forehead, gave me a reassuring kiss, and then left the yard and went into her house.

Henry and I looked at each other briefly, and our mutual understanding was that we should get back to business. This time I drove the little car with less enthusiasm and fascination. Not that I didn’t care about it, but I was very confused. Why was the lady crying? I couldn’t find one reason other than the possibility that she felt empathy for the dirty, scrawny little boy wearing ripped and soiled clothes. Henry caught my attention by handing me an even bigger car. This time, it was a red-and-silver fire truck with a large white ladder protruding from the top. Henry flipped a switch and flashing emergency lights went on, along with the very realistic sound of a siren. As I contemplated that treasure, I heard my name. I looked over and saw that Henry’s mom was now sitting on the porch.

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