An ongoing series of patterned squares on the mall floor seemed to perfectly match my six-year-old steps. One, two, three, four … then tippy toes through the little squares … one, two, three, four. Both hands held treasures: my mother’s hand in my right and a bag with new school shoes in my left.
The mall seemed relatively quiet. I didn’t have to swerve even once to avoid an oncoming shopper, but could concentrate on my steps without interruption.
I was so preoccupied with the squares that I didn’t notice as my mother stiffened in response to a figure lurking in a dark shadow. As we passed the aisle leading to an exit, a very large man dressed in a black leather jacket and matching cap seemed to study us from behind black sunglasses. A cigarette smoldered from his hand as he slouched against the wall.
All of a sudden mother’s steps quickened. “C’mon, Anna, we need to hurry now,” she hissed.
“But Mommy, the squares … !”
“No time for squares, honey. We’ll do squares another time.”
Then I heard his voice. It sounded gruff, and pressed down on us with a fierce quality like what I would have expected from the dragon in my favorite storybook. “Hey you, woman, you with that little girl. Come over here.”
Mother almost lifted me off the ground as she trotted along, forcing me to keep up with her pace. “Didn’t you hear me?” he half-shouted through a growl. I glanced quickly over my shoulder – he was following us! What did he want?
“Why is that man walking toward us, Mommy?”
“Hush child, just keep moving and don’t look at him!”
I did as she said but banged my sack with the box full of shoes on the floor as I half-ran and half-skipped to keep up with her. The squares flew by, unnoticed.
“You! Woman! Stop right now and come back here! I need to talk to you!”
I felt a jolt of electricity, or maybe it was fear, jump through my mother’s now sweaty hand as she suddenly stopped us and turned to face the man in black. “What do you want? Why are you badgering us? Leave us alone!” She turned from side to side looking for help, but there were no witnesses in close range.
“Ah then, you don’t recognize me?” he laughed. How strange, I thought, for his voice to take on a friendly tone so quickly. Could we trust him?
“Recognize you? Of course not! I don’t know you!” Mother tossed her head and threw her curls from side to side indignantly. “Now what do you want?”
He reached up and pulled the sunglasses from his face with one hand and tipped his billed cap back with the other. Mother gasped and then shook with staccato laughter while I danced to her beat on the squares underfoot.
“Pastor! Oh my, now this is too funny! What in the world are you doing in that get-up?! Why, you scared me half to death!”
He squatted down beside me. “C’mere, Anna honey.” I sidled up to him, looked directly into his clear blue eyes and asked, “But where is that collar you always wear? Why are you dressed like this, Pastor Ken?”
Ken smiled up at mother who nodded her agreement. “Yes Ken, why ARE you incognito at the mall, anyway?”
“Well ladies, I come to the mall at least once a week anymore to do a little shopping … but not the kind of shopping you think. You see, if I dress like this … sort of pretend I’m someone else with a different lifestyle … you’d be surprised the conversations I can get into. Certain people are very comfortable with me dressed like this – people who wouldn’t begin to talk to a pastor wearing a clerical collar. But dressed my black leather they’re willing to talk to me about lots of things. It’s not hard to guide a conversation and maybe end up talking about spiritual things.”
A huge smile spread over mother’s face. “So you’re out here shopping for people to evangelize – clever!”
Meanwhile, I hugged my sack of shoes to my chest. “Wanna see my new school shoes, Pastor Ken?”
“Sure, honey, I’d like to see what you got today. Then I’d better get back to MY version of shopping … shopping for souls, that is.”
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