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Entertaining Angels Unawares

Like a water bug on a lake, he zipped past me, twirling around the display case, flailing his skinny arms, talking to himself, entertaining himself at the T-Mobile store. He was my favorite kind of child. A frenetic, voluble young boy of five or six, the type of child who might puzzle his classmates and drive his parents to distraction.

A child who, in fact, was driving his parents to distraction as they tried to talk to the clerk about business plans and Tax IDs. Every once in a while his mother—stepping around the baby sleeping in its carrier at her feet—would scoot away from the counter to tell the boy to quit, or stop, or sit. His dad divided his attention, too, between his business dealings and cutting his eyes to see what his older child was up to.

The boy dashed, the parents juggled, and I wanted to do what Bigmama had done years ago in the train station when she noticed a young mother’s growing frustration over a fussy baby. She approached the mother and offered to hold the child to see if that might help. It did. The child quieted down, and the young mother was so grateful. But that was then, in my grandmother’s different times, not like now when a stranger making an offer to entertain a child would be met with appropriate wariness.

So I sat, writing my novel while the rain poured and my husband ordered a new phone and the young boy trotted to the other end of the store . . . and returned, laying his book on my bench.

“I wanted to know if it was okay to sit here,” he said, surreptitiously sliding onto the bench. A band-aid covered his left eyebrow. His eyes shone bright beneath cut off bangs. He asked what I was doing.

“Writing a story,” I told him.

“Will you tell me a story?” he asked immediately of me, a writer who loves to make up stories.

“Do you want me to read your story book?” I responded, because telling a story is an intimate thing full of adventures tackled and morals learned, and I didn’t want to overstep.

Nope, he wanted a story and he wanted me to do the story-telling, so we talked a bit, getting to know each other, then together we made up the story of a little boy who woke on a rainy Saturday morning sooooo disappointed because he had wanted to go outside and play, and now what would he do?

“I know!” he crowed. “He could go in his room and play with his toys and his Ninja Turtles. Now, tell another story.”

“You have to end a story,” I objected, and very quickly added, “So he went in his room and played with his toys and had a good time. The end.”

Then we went on to the story of the grownup woman who woke up on a rainy Saturday sooooo disappointed because she had wanted to go to the beach.

“I know!” he said. “She could put on her rain boots and play in the puddles.” He stared, awaiting my assessment.

His dad walked up.

He put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “She’s trying to work, son.”

But I assured him it was perfectly okay, I was enjoying his son’s company. And I introduced myself to the dad. So I wouldn’t be a stranger. And the dad went back to his business.

Later, my husband came to check on us.

And the mother glanced our way once or twice.

But we were telling stories. About slobbering dogs. And how scars stay with you forever if you cut yourself. And how his baby brother sleeps all the time.

For almost thirty minutes we talked. Until the parent’s business was done.

On her way out the door, the mother smiled and said, “Thank you for entertaining him.”

Me entertaining him, him entertaining me. All of us unaware of the joy life can bring until it just happens.

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