It was one of those days when all I could see in front of me was what I had to do: Buy a brown pair of pumps to go with the hounds-tooth suit I just bought for a business trip the next day. Drive the half hour home, change my clothes, and make dinner--sloppy joe's maybe? Arrive at the school by 6:45 to help set up the Round-ball concession stand. Cheer loud for the girls as they play their biggest rival. Go home and pack my suitcase.
I wasn't ready for the barrage of coarse language that exploded as I swung the car door wide. My eyes were drawn to a small boy, sloppily dressed in a faded red t-shirt, two sizes too big, and a pair of worn jeans, knees touching dirt as he inspected treasure found in the landscaping of the Plaza parking lot. Dirty, dishwater-blond hair flung across wide eyes as he looked to his grandmother scowling, angrily ordering him to get his butt moving, now!
He took off in a blink, barely stopping to look for traffic, passed his grandmother, rifling in her purse with one hand and putting a cigarette to her lips with the other. His shoes slapped across the pavement a path toward the Payless store. I followed right behind.
I cringed and jumped back as she belted out a manic scream, this time sounding alarm as well as anger and disgust, "Stop running! My glasses!"
I watched, as if in slow motion, wishing, hoping, knowing--his momentum was too much. Twin lenses flashed in the sun. Bound together with cheap plastic, they dropped to the ground, sliding directly into the trek of a pair of worn-out running shoes. Crunch. It was all over.
But he tried--really--to come to a halt in the middle of the street as his grandmother cursed him. My heart dropped to my stomach as I watched a frightened little boy turn and cower at the angry slap, not yet realizing what he had done. The scattered pieces under his feet rendered him guilty in his grandmother's eyes.
"Damn you, Brandon! I told you to stop! Now look what you've done!" With rage, she dropped her cigarette and reached stained fingers--harsh with yellowed nails and tarnished silver rings--around a skinny arm, squeezing hard and jerking his body roughly toward the door.
I saw red, and not just the t-shirt being yanked around in front of me. We entered the store one after the other, and she made a scene there in front of the sales associate, yelling and yanking and making it clear that he would not be getting school shoes now. He could "just wear his old ones."
She walked him over to the children's aisle and showed him all the shiny new shoes, and told him loud he wouldn't get any. I heard her over the racks, berating him for her failure to hold the glasses. Anger made my cheeks flush. "Who does she think she is? She is unfit to be around this child!"
I bit my tongue and found the woman's section, felt myself getting sick inside. "I will buy him shoes," I thought. "I will go over there and ask her what size he wears and how much she needs, and I will shove the cash into her hand and tell her what a horrible woman she is."
But instead, I looked at boxes, sandwiched close, side to side and stacked up high, of heels and slings and boots, and I found in the second row down a pair of browns size 9 wide. I slipped them on and was surprised they fit. My mind raced as I listened to the badly-bleached cigarette smoker three aisles over continuing to rant. I argued with myself. "If I get involved, I could make things worse! What if she takes him home and beats him because I buy him shoes?"
On my way to the counter, way up in the front of the store where passers-bye looked through the glass, I ran into them again. She continued to beat him low with words that wouldn't stop. "I can't believe this woman! I will take him home with me. I will call Children Services. I will report her. She is abusing this beautiful little boy!"
The sales associate and I stared at each other, uncomfortable, wondering. I looked to his feet, worn dirty and frayed with one big toe tucked under the other. He needed shoes. I saw how he pulled the fingers of his left hand with ones from the right, nervously, and I saw his bottom lip quivering, and eyes pressed down hard into the floor with shame. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please let me get shoes," he sobbed.
"I will buy him shoes." I reached into my wallet. "Oh, God!" My heart was breaking. "What should I do?"
I passed him by. I shot her a dirty look. I prayed, "God, help him!" I gave the sales associate my debit card, and walked out the door, not turning back, carrying new shoes. "Oh, God! I am such a coward." I sat in my clean car and wept.
Two years later, I see my nephew walking around in a new pair of Vans, so rocking. And I think about the glasses and the little boy and the horrid woman and my cowardly heart--all broken things, all needing a Savior. And I weep again. I want to buy them shoes, but right now it seems this all I am able to do.
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Photo Credit: flickr - emilyonasunday