Friday night, in a trash-filled alley, I watched as he wiped his runny nose across his sleeve, again. His arms cradled his aching guts as he rocked back and forth. All I could do was sit and watch, equal in my despair, praying for an angel to come.
While staring at the ground, with a grimaced whisper he asked my question before I could. “How did it come to this?” Through sunken eyes, swelled red with tears, he looked to me for his answer.
He went on, “I had it all, you know. A mansion up in the hills. Many rooms there are in my father’s house. He’s a rich man. I had friends... nice clothes. But, my father wanted me to work for my first car.” He stared past me. “It sounds so stupid now. Why is it so hard?”
“Why is what so hard?” I asked.
“Admitting you were wrong.”
“Oh. That,” I pondered. “Yeah, that’s a tough one.”
His stomach growled again and the pangs shot through him, rocking him worse than before. He looked gaunt and worn, but seemed to be in his late teens; still just a boy.
“He came to see me last spring, you know,” he said. “He apologized and wanted to take me home, but being brilliant, like I am, I told him to go ruin someone else’s life. Real smart, huh?”
“Why’d you leave?” I asked.
His eyes searched the alley walls and weakly chuckled, “I wanted to escape.” Shaking his head, he added in dismay, “Wow. I’m such an idiot.”
“Escape from what?”
“Why? What did he do to you?”
“He... umm. He crowded me. He wouldn’t let me go to Rave parties, or get my nose pierced. It was hell. And when he wanted me to work for my car, I just blew up and left. I took off with some cash, but that didn’t last.”
“Why don’t you go home? It can't be worse than this.”
“No, no. It’s better than this. Way better.”
“So, why don’t you go home?”
“I just can’t. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh, no? Try me.”
Saying nothing, his eyes again wandered the walls but returned to the littered ground with nothing.
“You don’t have a good reason, do you?” I asked.
“I have my reasons! I just can’t think of one. But, there's something keeping me from going back. Just give me a minute.”
Suddenly, the pile of trash near us rustled. An old man with a greasy face and snarled beard raised his head above the pizza boxes, newspapers, and plastic bags. Sounding annoyed, he started in on the boy, “You snot-nosed, little, punk!! Don’t you see your sin? Your father loves you, and was probably trying to build some strength in you by making you work for the car. And your weak, spineless pride would rather destroy both your lives than follow his ways! Are you against goodness, or something?”
He was a frightening sight, but what he said was beautiful. Someone needed to set this boy straight, and this dirty homeless man was doing it.
“Sons need to learn to swallow their pride and follow their fathers," he continued. "Your dad is probably rich because he works hard and does things the right way. Your stupid pride stole you away from the greatest teacher you could have had.”
Looking the frightened boy dead in the eye and jabbing his filthy, boney finger at him, he added, “You know what? Know what you should do? You should never go home. You should hold on to that pride and starve for food, love and wisdom. Yeah, that’s what you should do.” Shaking his head, he rose to his feet, and mumbled, “What a fool. Such a stupid fool.”
The boy was shook. He was off balance; teetering on the edge of letting go of his forgotten reasons. The old man picked up his things, put them in a shopping cart already stuffed with junk and headed off down the alley, grumbling.
Slowly, the boy’s face went from vacant to bright. He stood up and reached a hand down to me, helping me to my feet. “I appreciate you coming down here, with your prayers and your bible, listening and everything, but... instead of this blanket, could I have a quarter to call my dad?” Tears welled in his eyes again. “I want to go home.”
As I reached in my pocket, I looked down the alley. The angel was gone.
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