A Corner Greeting

It’s the backpacks I notice first. Blue, bright, still crisp with the new-year creases of fresh bookbags. They’re not fancy, not embellished with superheroes or elaborate patterns. Rather, as I wait at the red light, second car in from the bustling intersection, my eyes are drawn to the vibrant backpacks, simple yet sophisticated where they rest, strapped tight to their owners.

The boys, a pair of them, arrive at the crosswalk just seconds before I roll slowly to a stop, mere yards from where they wait for the white walk sign. Standing there at the corner, fidgeting slightly with the sway of boys who must move, they seem out of place, their presence unexpected and oddly unexplainable. Chicago Public schools have not yet begun, but their pressed khaki pants, matching navy sweaters, white collars peaking out around freshly scrubbed necks can only mean one thing: school, at least for these two, is back in session.

I watch as the bigger boy, his freshly hair cut into the neat lines and waves that I’ve come to love, reaches a hand still little-boy soft up to his shoulder, adjusting his bookbag nonchalantly, even as he turns to talk to the one beside him. The smaller one, mere inches shorter than his companion, listens with eyes serious, his face reserved compared to the open movement of the one speaking.

Painfully aware of the impending light change, the glowing green of GO, I watch out the window still, my eyes and heart somehow- inexplicably- drawn to the young pair on the corner. There are more than 2.7 million people, stories, lives in this city, and I’m watching the afternoon chapter of the lives of two young ones unfold right here at the intersection of Western and Milwaukee and I can’t look away.

The taller boy is moving around now, his eyes roving over the cracked concrete under him as his feet slowly rotate, spinning him on his axis. But then, suddenly, he’s looked up, something down the street, behind my line of vision has caught his eye. I watch the boy’s face light, watch his smile spread wide, eager yet faintly restrained, across his round face.

Mere seconds later, a man my age- maybe older- arrives at the corner. He’s neatly dressed, the sleeves of his button-up rolled to his elbows, his own bookbag hanging just below the waistband of dark denim jeans. He has a short beard and mustache, and his own dark hair is styled and gelled similarly to that of the boys, just as his dark, creamy skin parallels their own.

The taller boy, still grinning, has straightened, his head carried higher, his shoulders resting more relaxed, in the presence of this new companion. Greetings I cannot hear are exchanged, and the pair grasp hands, hug each other in the half handshake/half back-slapping hug way that men sometimes do. Then, his smile still unwavering, his gaze still directed admiringly at the man, the taller boy turns to the smaller one. Introductions are made, the man extends a hand, shakes the boy’s small one-

And the light changes. I’m to move on.

So I do, accelerating into the intersection and leaving the three behind. My last glimpse of the two boys, their older friend, has them stepping, one foot outstretched, into the newly-paved street. Onto the next block, the next activity, the next corner greeting, the next chapter. Just as I drove east, north, to my own next chapter.



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