January 12, something like an hour before midnight, Aim walks down the street of Los Angeles, alone, with hands holding the groceries. Silence. Though a thick sound from the tapping of the heels seems to balance the mood of not being too quiet. No doubt that utter silence is less superior to the sound of an engine running, where one becomes wary of disorder rather than feeling unsure of a silent enemy. As for a woman with nothing to lose like Aim, security and fear of danger are the least of her worries.
Half an hour before midnight Aim is still walking, not coming across a life in the silent street, on the road, inside some aircraft riding airborne in the sky. No children. No outlaws. No aliens. Aim wonders the abnormality of this state, though only a moment later she comes to a halt, eyes fully absorbed by what’s sitting in a corner, halfway engulfed by shadow, at a distance on the other side of the street.
Aim wonders. Could it be a boy?
The middle-aged woman hastens her steps while crossing the street without paying attention to incoming cars, since it’s dead quiet and no sign of an automobile in sight.
Aim, after crossing the street to her left, walks slowly along the sidewalk, stops when the light turns green, and waits.
Could it be a boy? The woman mutters.
At red light she starts off again and examines the figure before getting closer. Certainly a boy, her mind agrees. Though something distinct about the boy makes her feel at ease, and also perhaps afraid.
She finally stands before him, letting her wary eyes wide open enough to illuminate his hidden complexion by the shadow. He looks at her. Her heart begins racing by his countenance. Her hair flies in all directions due to the persistent wind, and once pulling her hair backward as to look down upon him, she finally speaks.
“Young man, this isn’t the safest place to stay, especially at this hour.”
The boy says nothing. She continues.
“You know what time it is, young man?” Silence. Her heart races violently.
“You got some change, lady?” he finally speaks. Aim feels her pulse subsiding.
“Why, yes I do, young man. You need a ride home?”
The boy, although still under the influence of shadow, remains silent. Aim realizes boy’s stillness as to remain his distance from a stranger, though she could not fathom why he’s outside, in the street only suited for damaged supernatural.
Aim quickly unzips the latch of her leather purse, delves into the deep pocket. But before she could hand him a fresh twenty-dollar bill, the boy abruptly shakes his head.
“I don’t want your money,” he says.
“Young man, you asked me for some change. Why this?” Her hand still outstretched with the money in hand.
“I asked for some change, not a whole twenty-dollar bill.”
“What’s the difference? A ‘change’ may be too little or too much.”
The boy looks away shyly, and asks to be let alone. Aim feels hurt somehow by him turning away from her help. She starts off again, this time slowly. She would turn to where he was every few seconds, and realizes he’s watching her walking away. Aim stands in the middle of the road. No incoming cars. The image of her only child emerges in her mind. He had died in his early 20s from crossfire in LA’s toughest neighborhood. Although he had no affiliation with any gang, it turned out to be coincidental for him to be a victim of such horror. Aim still grieves over her son passing away. She feels responsible for his death even if her deceased husband had proven her otherwise for many years. Now abandoning this boy sitting in the dark until death approaches, she feels responsible for what will happen to him in the next hour, day, month, or even years.
The cool breeze begins to pick up intensity, and Aim scurried back to where the boy is. He looks at her, surprised but mostly relieved.
“Young man, have you eaten anything?” she asks him.
“I’m not hungry,” he says stubbornly.
“Have you eaten anything?” Aim repeats. This time her tone is different, as if more contagious that causes someone to be under her spell and replies without a moment’s pause.
“Only cashews. Salted cashews,” he says. Aim fully buttons her trench coat, as the breeze gets colder. She notices the boy not having anything but a light, color-beige cardigan.
“What’s your name, young man?” She begins.
He does not answer.
“You have any favorite food?”
“I ain’t got no favorite,” he says. He stares at Aim’s groceries.
“You got to have a favorite,” she presses on. No response. She finally says, “Are you lost?”
It took a while before he could answer. “Yes.” Silence became the only barrier between Aim and the boy.
She walks closer to him and smiles. “Come with me.” The boy responds with eyebrows raised.
Aim begins forwarding a step at a time, to the direction leading to her house, but the boy remains in place. “Come on, now.”
The boy finally rises and begins walking. Although Aim couldn’t get a better profile of him, she feels disconcerted by how shorter he is than her.
“Come on, now,” she goes on.
The boy was lagging behind, bringing the two about ten feet apart. Aim constantly looks over her shoulder, smiling as to encourage him to keep up. The boy remains silent.
Eventually, past midnight, the boy walks alongside her.
“What’s your name, young man?” Aim breaks the silence, yet only it resurfaces following the inquiry.
After twenty minutes of walk, finally in some suburb-like area, Aim opens her house’s front door and enters, but the boy stands in the doorway.
“Come in,” she says, smiling. He does so reluctantly. Aim turns the light switch on. There she gets a better look of him from head to toe. He’s petite, tired and frail, and eyes entirely blank and emotionless, as if nothing is left of him. Skinny in overall physique, several spots of dirt here and there on his face and cardigan, brunette, curly hair mingled like meshwork, as if needed to be fixed by a hair stylist, and a skin tone between light and bronze.
Aim hangs her scarf and trench coat on a coat rack. She beckons him to the kitchen. The boy sits on a stool, elbows rested on the marble counter.
“What’s your favorite food?” Aim says while removing the groceries from the bags.
The boy looks away, cheeks turn red, and speaks in low tone. “Yogurt. Strawberry yogurt.”
“I have vanilla.”
“Of course I do mind, young man. Vanilla isn’t bad.”
Aim opens the fridge and pulls out a small carton of vanilla yogurt. She hands it to him with a spoon. He removes the plastic lid, smells it as if inspecting a possible deadly poison, and scoops it and swallows.
Aim turns on the stove and boils hot water for a cup of coffee. She sits across from him, eyeing him until he finishes the yogurt.
“Want more?” she asks, smiling. He says nothing. “How did you get lost?”
He looks at her, then his dirty palms, and back at her. “I’m not lost. I’m homeless and have nobody.” Aim feels deep sadness for him, though her mind never ceases to think of him as her own son. She wants to have him, be responsible for him.
“Parents?” she asks.
“Nobody,” he reassures.
“You can stay here as much as you like,” she finally says. Aim couldn’t understand why she rushes things, even if this boy didn’t ask for help. He remains silent.
“I have a guest bedroom. A blanket and some clothes.” The boy smiles at last, though to a lesser degree. “Be right back.”
Aim enters another room and later returns with a cover blanket held by one arm and some folded clothes by the other. The boy stands before a six-feet-tall glassy armoire, through which one can see photos of people. The boy’s attention is fixated on a young boy almost his age.
The boy turns to Aim. “Is this your son?”
“Was, in fact,” she says. She places the blanket and clothes on the living room sofa. “These were my son’s. You may have them. It’s yours now. You can sleep in the bedroom.”
The boy stares at the stuff she just put on the sofa and gives a grimace of bewilderment.
“What’s this?” he asks.
“They’re yours, for now. And the guest room,” she smiles. He doesn’t respond. “What’s wrong, young man?”
“Um—uh,” he clenches his small fist. “I like vanilla yogurt.” Aim smiles lightly.
“Would you like another one?”
“Y—yes! Yes, ma’am!”
“Call me Aim.”
The woman walks past him and into the kitchen, pulls out two rather than one cartons of vanilla yogurt, and places them on the kitchen table. She grabs a coffee mug and fills it halfway with black coffee, and two cubes of sugar. The two sits across from one another. Aim looks at the boy starting the first yogurt.
“Where’s your son?” he says without looking.
“He passed away,” Aim says.
The boy abruptly pauses, spoon still in his mouth. “Oh.”
Silence resurfaces between the two. Before getting to his second yogurt, he looks her in the eye, as if something major is about to be a turning point for the two. Aim sips her coffee.
“Was he a good son?”
Aim becomes startled at first. “Of course he was a good son, young man. You would have liked him had you two meet.”
“Aim?” he begins.
“Yes, young man?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Call you what?”
“But you are.”
“No, I’m not. I’m—” he remains silent.
“Then what are you?”
“Is that your real name?”
“It stands for Patrick Kalden.”
“Is that your real name?”
Pakal nods slightly.
“Charming,” Aim proclaims.
“No it ain’t,” he opposes.
“Pakal is a nice name.”
Silence. It is past two in the morning. Aim thinks about sleeping, but Pakal is holding her captive, for the sake of her being.
“Did your son have good parents?” he starts. Such a silly question makes Aim uncomfortable, though she reminds herself that silliness is a necessity and something an adult must accept from a child, or someone the likes of Pakal.
“Of course, Pakal,” she clears her throat. “My husband and I loved him. We were a small, happy family.”
Aim realizes how dirty he looks. She wants to bathe him, like she used to bathe her own son. She stands up and begins with dishwashing. Moments later she turns to where Pakal sits. He’s asleep, she thinks. She wipes her hand with a hand towel and grabs the small boy. He is light. Perhaps too light, she thinks. And skinny.
She carries him to the bedroom while his head on her womanly shoulder. She lays him flat on the mattress, pulls the blanket up to his neck, and looks at him closely. She feels something’s missing. A goodnight kiss on the forehead, she thinks. Then Aim thinks about not rushing things. So she turns the light switch off and leaves the door almost shut on her way out.
January 13, two hours before afternoon, Aim finds herself having overslept for the first time. She finds Pakal sitting at the kitchen table, holding a piece of paper in front of him. He immediately puts it inside his pocket when feeling her presence.
“Good morning, Pakal,” she says, still in her nightgown.
“Good morning,” he smiles.
Aim fixes coffee. “Would you like yogurt?”
Aim notices he has on his cardigan and pair of sneakers after she took them off before sleeping.
“Um, may I ask you something, Aim?”
“Of course, Pakal,” she hands him a glass of water. She sits beside him this time.
“What is love?”
Aim places her hand on his small shoulder. She wants to hug him, but feels she doesn’t have the privilege, at least not yet.
“Love is unconditional. It is everywhere. You don’t have to know somebody too well to feel the love. It’s like you hold a piece of me and I hold a piece of you.”
“So if I give you something, from me, that is love?” he drinks his water.
“What is parental love, then?”
“Well, it’s the love that a parent has for a child. The love is unbreakable, and the child is surrounded by the parent’s love without realizing it.”
“So if a child is mistreated, or disliked by the parents, is that love?”
Aim gives a time to ponder over this. “Well, Pakal, all I can tell you is a parent always love a child no matter what. That’s just something a part of us being human.”
Pakal is perplexed, stares through the glass containing water, and looks at her. “What does it mean to be human?”
“My answer is only one of a million, but God has the perfect answer.”
“Yes, Pakal, God.”
“God is the one who loves us, even before we were able to feel love.”
Pakal rises from his chair, walks closer to Aim, and says, “I’m bored.”
“You feel like watching a movie about love?”
He nods. “What movie is that?”
“It’s about a teenager who thought her family hates her, especially her parents. She later realizes that they love her so deeply after giving herself a second chance to understand from her family.”
Aim and Pakal sit on the sofa, watching an old film dating in the 1800s. She would feel sleepy from time to time, while staring down on Pakal, and eventually dozes off before the movie could be halfway to the ending.
Aim raises her eyebrows and notices Pakal standing in front of her. How long has he been standing and watching me sleeping, she thinks.
“I’m leaving.” The words from Pakal cause a violent chain reaction that makes her body to tremble, as if every cellular life loses hope by his prophetic testimony. Aim jolts from the sofa.
“Wait a minute,” she says, but her words come out broken, as if sadness proves potent over loneliness. “Where are you going, Pakal?”
“Home? Where home?”
“Where I belong. I have a home. And parents.”
“Home and parents?” Aim feels her body trembling, perspiring, and about to succumb to a major loss. The only loss she fears would close the final chapter of her life.
“But you have nobody, that’s what you said.”
“I lied,” he declares as if simple.
“Why did you lie?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why did you lie?” Aim could not restrain herself. The pain is unbearable.
“I ran away from home. From my parents,” he finally says. Aim feels like sitting, but she wants to stand up against what’s before her, to understand the reason for the pain already inflicted on her.
“Why you ran away?”
“I just ran away. I had the chance to do it. I thought I needed to do it.”
Aim never lets her eyes away but upon him. He continues.
“I felt alone. No hope. I didn’t know what love mean, until now. I want to return home, to my parents and learn the love they have for me.”
“They are worried about you. You should go,” Aim says without hesitation. She feels the boy’s unfortunate circumstance, though such rightful expression does not precede the thought of keeping him around by being motherly overprotective.
Pakal pulls out the piece of paper from his pocket and hands it to her. “This is from me, to you.”
She grabs the paper but did not read what’s written on it. Pakal walks to the door.
Aim goes after him. “Patrick!” she reaches the door and grabs her trench coat from the coatrack. “I’m not your parent, but let me be your guardian and take you back home.”
The boy nods in agreement and waited outside. “Be right back.”
Aim goes to the bedroom and grabs the car keys. Before reaching the door she unfolds the paper and smiles wide enough, a smile that she fears will never go away after reading the sloppy handwriting of Pakal reading, “I love you.”
She finds him leaning against the wall. She shuts the door of her suburban house, kisses his forehead, and holds his small hand firmly while walking down toward her Jeep.