Trinity Avenue, School Bus
From the doors of the cafeteria, you can see him sitting with his class – and he's doing that thing, one hand on top of his head, his index finger hooked into his hair. His other hand is holding his yogurt squeezer too tightly and its pink contents are spilling out over his little sun-chapped fingers. He’s watching the two kids across the table from him – girls , who are talking to each other and not to him and though you can only see him from the side, those narrow shoulders and the round cheeked profile, still some baby fat left there, you sense by the way he’s holding himself that he’s anxious, though you can’t tell exactly about what? The girls? The yogurt drip he’s just noticed and is trying to wipe up with the Thanksgiving-themed napkin you've included in his lunch box?
It is five minutes to twelve, five minutes to the end of lunch, and he’s taken only one bite of his sandwich. Untouched are the apple slices, the round tin of goldfish crackers, the carefully cut squares of cheddar cheese. He’s turning the napkin in furious circles now, looking over his shoulder at his teacher, as if he’s afraid he’ll be in trouble for having spilled and you're still standing in the doorway holding his sweater, which you forgot to send this morning, when the bell rings and an older child – ten or eleven maybe, shoulders past you. "That’s the bell!” he says, meaning, get out of the way lady, it’s recess.
You watch your child pack up the rest of his lunch, watch him think about opening his goldfish tin but then deciding against it, instead stuffing it into his backpack which he swings on to his back without zipping it. Then he’s trailing behind the marching single file line towards the playground, away from you, and you're still holding his damn sweater and its cold outside so you really can't explain why you're not going after him and kneeling to hug his little boy body. Instead, you walk over to the table where he was seating, the round plastic stool still warm from his body, and you see a smear of pink on the table where he tried to wipe up the yogurt. Beside it is a little plastic dish of gray green beans left behind on a Styrofoam tray and it is the sight of those green beans that finally force the tears – god, I’m sorry, you think, I'm sorry yelled at you this morning, you tell the little smear of yogurt, I’m sorry I didn’t just help you tie your damn shoes instead of insisting you do it yourself. I’m sorry I checked my phone instead of listening to your story about the Jedi who won the Olympics and I’m sorry I didn’t sit down cross legged with you right there on the kitchen table for just three minutes to hear you tell it. Then the cafeteria manager comes over in a cloud of bleach and sanitized air, a damp cloth in her hand, and you reach for the tray and toss it in trashcan at the door.
The sounds of recess grow louder as you walk through the front doors and out into the cool late fall day, and then from your car, just as you are about to pull out into traffic, you see him sitting alone under a tree at the edge of the playground, he's unwrapping his sandwhich, he's taking a bite, he's looking up into the tree and its just-now-changing leaves, dreaming some five-year-old dream, and he's definitely, definitely, almost for certain, not thinking of you.