I went to the local grocery today. I wandered the produce section, selecting apricots and peaches, turning them over in my hands, inhaling their scent, inspecting their surfaces and then replacing them with their bretheren. I was waiting.
The small boy was counting the steps from the potatoes to the tomatoes. "Uno... dos... tres... quattro.. cinco... sieta..."
"Ses. Quattro, cinco, ses."
"Oh! Muchas gracias!"
He skipped the number six, even in his own language. So he couldn't have been more than five. Everyone knows where their age falls in the hierarchy of years. I looked around for his mother, but saw no one.
"Donde esta tu mama?"
I searched my memory. I had one year of Spanish... eighth grade. Which was, I am sorry to say, quite a long time ago. Ido.
The translation suddenly hit me. Gone.
"Tu mama... ido?"
"Si, si." He dismissed me with a wave of his hand, perfectly manicured nails flashing under the florescent lights. Manicured? I looked harder and saw remnants of an old, old man in the boy's face.
"What is your name?"
He looked at me blankly. "Uno... dos... tres... quattro... cinco... sieta..."
Another blank stare.
"You skipped six. Again. Ses."
"Oh! Ses! Muchas gracias!" He resumed his pacing.
"Is your mother in the store?" I was rewarded with another blank stare. His demeanor had changed. He seemed to be growing impatient. "Your mother. Is she here?"
Another wave and more counting. I decided to go wait in the frozen foods section. It was a little too chilly there and my t-shirt was thin, but I could cross my arms and hide my nipples. I needed to get away from the boy.
"Don't leave me," a voice behind me rasped. I turned, looking for the commentator, but saw only the boy.
"What did you say?"
Another blank stare. Fine. I would leave. I could wait at the pharmacy across the boulevard. I reached for my bag, the brown Chanel one with the buckles I never really liked, and found it was gone. I'd lost it and with it my pocketbook, cell phone, and iPod. A photograph of the last girl I fantisized about and a break-up letter from the last one I fucked. All the things that make life, life.
"Real loss only occurs when you lose something that you love more than yourself.”
I whirled about and found him sitting on the pile of crates next to the apples. His eyes were level with mine. They were the color of old leather, a deep, rich tone. He looked at me as though he had some sort of ancient wisdom to impart. I leaned close. Our eyes met.
"Give me my purse back, you little bastard!" I hissed. He cocked an eyebrow at me and grinned. He clicked his heels together and I realized he was wearing bright pink patent leather shoes with little purple bows.
"I want my fucking purse back!" My yelling had caught the attention of another shopper, an edging on middle-aged faggot with a sweater-vest and a younger boyfriend who was wearing eyeliner.
"Hey! Leave him alone, he's just a little kid!"
"No, he's not! He's a 35 year old midget put on this earth to DRIVE ME CRAZY!" The midget was doing a good job of pretending to be a terrified four year old, but I was not going to be fooled.
"Bitch, he doesn't even understand English!" The faggot's arm candy piped up.
"Okay, Boy George, this is between me and the little circus freak. So butt out."
Even if I couldn't find where he'd stashed my purse, I was at least going to turn him upside down and shake him until coins fell out. I advanced on him, ready to fuck up his manicure with a catfight to end the ages.
Well, of course Boy George used to wrestle in college. He had me subdued in seconds... and my aggravating little person slipped out the back, carrying my Chanel. I felt my cheek press against the cold tile, an errant onion skin embossing my cheek with its veiny texture.
I saw a scrap of paper near the crates where the phantom had been. I reached out, stretching my arm as far as it would reach. My fingers caught the edge and I drew it toward me.
He'd left me the photograph. The girl was smiling like a bandit, all teeth. Her eyes were full of the sun.
I elbowed Boy George in the stomach, got up, dusted myself off, kissed the faggot on the cheek in farewell and headed out into the sunshine. I stood on the street in front of the grocery, tucking the photograph into the back pocket of my denim skirt.
"Does missing someone mean that you need them?" He spoke behind me. I turned. His eyes were green now, green interrupted by pinpoints of light that seemed to come from within. Full of the sun.
"Yes. I think so."
"Do you miss me?"
"Every day." This answer seemed to please him.
"Who else do you miss?"
"Everyone who couldn't come with me."
He giggled, all four year old again. The evil troll was nowhere to be found... of course, neither was my purse.
"Thank you," I said softly.
"For leaving me with something."
"Senorita... even if I had taken the photograph, you would still have the world."
"I know. Gracias."
He shoved his hands in his pockets, trying to be an older soul. "You never know what events are going to transpire to get you home." A pause. He was super serious. "I keep clicking these damn shoes but nothing happens."
"I'm sorry. Maybe you need new shoes?"
He laughed like I'd just suggested I created the sun and the moon. He ran off down the street and I set off in the opposite direction. I can't say now which one of us was headed home.