Originally posted in 2012.
When I was a child, one of my greatest fears was being lost and separated from home and from my parents. For that reason, this real-life vignette got to me.
Years ago, my friend, Terrance, and I were out running errands and we stopped by a gas station to fuel up. As Terrance pulled up to the pump, he narrowly missed a rail-thin man who had walked right in front of his truck.
“Watch out, crack-head,” I said.
“No,” Terrance countered. “That man is retarded. Down Syndrome, maybe.”
I gave the man a closer look and so it was. He had malformed ears and a slightly misshapen head. He was of either Korean or Chinese descent -- something which made him stand out in the area where the gas station is located.
His complexion and eyes were clear; he had an innocent smile on his face and a barely-healed gash on his right arm. He was no more than thirty years old. I watched as he headed toward the entrance to the gas station’s store, and then forgot about him for a minute.
As Terrance went to pay for the gas, I sat in the truck and, like nearly everyone else in the First World, I picked up my phone to read my email and surf the Internet. But something told me to put the phone down.
I did and glanced toward the store entrance right at the moment when the store’s manager/owner - either Middle-Eastern or Indian - was pushing the young man out of the door. The smile was gone and the young man was resisting.
I could see Terrance standing in line while watching the commotion. I steeled myself because I know that my friend has great empathy for beings weaker than himself, and that he isn’t shy about intervening to help said beings when they are being hurt. I got out of the truck.
As I headed toward the entrance, I could hear some of the other patrons saying things like, “Leave him alone,” “Stop fighting him; he doesn’t know any better,” “He’s retarded.”
Then a couple of patrons - an older black man and a young Hispanic woman - lead the man away from the store. They talked to him and comforted him as they kept him among the pumps and out of the way of approaching cars. He didn’t talk to them, nor did he speak during the whole encounter, but the smile was back.
Terrance came back and began to pump his gas.
“Idiots in the store were saying things like ‘the hell with him; he’s not part of our community’ just because he’s Asian.”
“Fuck that stupid shit,” I exclaimed. “He’s a human being.” I looked at Terrance.
“Please can we stay and help keep him out of trouble?” I said. “I won’t be able to rest if I don’t know what happens to him.”
Terrance made a few phone calls and we stayed. I turned to the young woman.
“Has anyone called the police?”
“Yes, but they’re taking their time getting here,” she said.
“You want to go home, don’t you?” I asked the young man. The older man and the woman talked to him gently and tried to hold his hands to keep him from entering the store. He reacted as if they were playing with him and kept smiling at his new friends.
“I can’t stay here much longer,” said the older man, to whom the young man had taken a liking. “I have to take my sister to the doctor.”
“I’ll take care of him,” said Terrance and we said our goodbyes.
So we waited for the police to arrive. The young man tried to get back into the store, but Terrance found gentle ways of stopping him. He and the young woman managed to corral the man right outside of the store.
“I’m having trouble keeping him out of there,” said Terrance, laughing as the two played the hand-holding game. “I could do it easily but I don’t want to hurt him.”
The sweet smile remained. A minute later, one of the workers from the store - a tall black man - brought the young man an ice cream sandwich. Neapolitan. It stopped the struggle.
“I’m going to call the police again,” I said. I went to the truck to get my phone. Just when I connected with the emergency operator, a lone police car rolled up. I quickly told the operator what the situation was and disconnected.
One of the officers, a young woman, was going to lead the man away, but just as that was about to happen, an employee of the group home where the man lived came up to claim him and I found out why the young man liked the original older man so much: he was a dead ringer for the group home employee. Our new friend was going home.
The woman and I smiled, hugged each other, introduced ourselves, and praised God. Then Terrance and I were off.
“He was just a child, a lost child,” said Terrance later.
“And all he wanted was some ice cream.”
I rested well that night.
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Nothing like having your eyes be all leaky before you've even had your morning coffee. I know I've read this one before, but had totally forgotten about it. Thanks for sharing it.