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Behind the Eyes of a Rainbow
It was an average day. Warm enough for Mary to be out and about in Central Park without a jacket. But there was enough of a breeze for her waist length hair to be blown back from the wind as she walked the paved pathway that wound around the park. Every day she walked this same pathway on her way back from her summer job. She worked at an old fashion ice cream parlor two blocks down from the apartment she and her parents lived in. A bird that was soaring above New York City would see the Victorian style apartment she lived in, directly across the street was an entrance to Central park, and then one street over was the ice cream parlor where Mary worked. So she just walked some of the long pathway in Central Park to clear her mind.
On this particular day, a lot of children were running around with their parents, joggers would run by her with an MP3 player blaring, and roller skaters would roll by with delighted smiles on their faces. Every few feet there was a park bench with lampposts that would turn on at night. Occasionally there would be a person or two sitting on one. She didn’t really pay attention to any of the people or the benches, until she saw a bright red balloon tied to one. It was one of the older park benches with names scratched into the backs, and the paint on the metal arm rests was chipping. The balloon was tied to the arm rest on the left side, and next the red balloon was a small boy about eight years of age. He looked sad and not very well cared for. He had on a pair of dark shorts that reached his knees. Then there were off white socks that came up to the middle of his shins. He had a dirty gray t-shirt and a worn out baseball cap that shrouded his face from the sun and passers-by. On his feet, his worn out sneakers looked about ready to fall apart. Mary was startled by his despondent presence next the happy and cheerfully colored balloon. He clearly had tied it to the park bench and looked like he was waiting for something. His head was down, and deep in thought he was. Mary walked by slowly, staring at him, not meaning to be rude, and just trying to figure him out. Suddenly, his head popped up and he looked straight at her with shocking blue eyes. She turned and walked away faster than before.
A few days passed, turning into weeks, and the boy was always there. He wore the same outfit and the same look. He always stared at Mary as she passed. The only thing that changed about the scene was that each day a new balloon was added to the bench. Each one was a different color until a few weeks passed and repeats began appearing. It looked like a rainbow was tied down to a bench. But the uplifting rainbow didn’t match the downtrodden boy. Mary was frustrated with herself. Why was she so scared by this eight year old kid? After all she was fifteen! It’s not like he would hurt her. So one day in mid July, instead of walking past the forlorn boy, she walked right up to him. He didn’t lift his head as he always had for the last month and a half. She sat down next to him, and silence fell over them. He didn’t move a muscle, and neither did she. Mary was the first to speak.
“Hi! My name is Mary Brinkley. I have been walking through Central Park a lot, and I have always noticed you and this bench. If you don’t mind me asking…”
He cut her off. “My mom told me not to talk to strangers, but she is a stranger to me. So I don’t talk to her.”
Mary considered getting up and walking away. Maybe she should just forget about this kid and go on with her relatively happy life. There were other routes around this park, maybe she could avoid him. But she knew in her heart that she would never forget the peculiar image that she had now become a part of.
“Oh. Well why is that. Doesn’t your mother love you? How can she be a stranger?”
For a moment Mary thought she had asked too much. She didn’t want this boy to think she was a stalker and start crying or something. But it only took the boy a moment to answer.
“Ever since Dad got hit by a car she hasn’t been the same. She drops me off at the park every morning while she goes to work somewhere. She doesn’t take the time to even talk to me some days. So I come and sit on this bench to stay out of people’s ways. I just sit here and wait for the sun to go behind that tree.” He points to a tall tree that hid half of the sun. “That’s when the hotdog man and the balloon lady pack up there things and leave. It is the time my mom walks by the park on her way home.”
The little boy was rambling on at a very quick speed, and Mary was having trouble hearing his almost whisper of a voice. She had a few more minutes until he had to leave, so she decided to ask him the question that was burning inside of her.
“Well, then why do you tie these balloons to this bench every day?”
“Mom gives me a dollar everyday for lunch. I don’t get hungry very often, so I buy a balloon.”
But that was not enough for Mary; she needed to know more about this poorly cared for boy.
“Why do you spend your money on a balloon instead of food? How old are you?”
The boy looked at her. She saw something in his eyes that was more than even she can see in her father’s eyes. It was wisdom, it was understanding, it was something that told her she wasn’t exactly sitting next to an eight year old.
He looked down at his worn out sneakers. “I tie these balloons to this bench so that I can get away from here. I will be able to fly away with the birds that cross the sun. I want to go away forever and never come back.”
She then saw a rage inside of his deep blue eyes that wasn’t there before. She was a little frightened by his strong emotions, but she had to keep her cool if she wanted to lessen the burning curiosity inside of her. She took a deep breath.
“Look, it is impossible that this bench will lift off and float away because of a bunch of balloons. I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but I hate to see you get your hopes up.”
After that she looked at him, and his eyes went cold. He turned his head towards the tree that told time. He saw that the last rays of the sun were barely peeking out from behind the tall tree. He got up suddenly and started running towards the entrance of the park. Mary stood up and motioned towards his direction, but decided it was no use. She turned and finished walking the path that led her to her home.
Days passed, balloons were added, she didn’t go sit with him for awhile, but obviously her opinion didn’t stop him from getting balloons.
Red…blue…orange…yellow…pink…purple…green…white…red…It went on and on. By the time Mary decided to go up to him again, it was mid August. She walked up to him with two hotdogs in her hands.
He looked up at her, as if to ask what took her so long. Mary took a deep breath. She handed him a hotdog and he took it with indifferent eyes. But the mask didn’t last long; soon he was digging in to the hotdog as if he hadn’t eaten in days. That could have very well been true. But Mary tried not to think about that.
“So, I see you have added to your collection. It is quite a rainbow you have here. Don’t you think you should save your money and spend it on groceries, or new shoes or something you need?”
Mary held her breath hoping he wouldn’t run off on her again. Luckily he didn’t.
“This is something I want. Floating away is something I want.”
Mary could see she wouldn’t make him budge. He was a stubborn child, she could tell by his strong opinions and the ideas brewing up in his eyes. Mary figured she should just drop the subject.
“Ok well…you never told me your name. If you feel like it…If you forgot, my name is Mary Brinkley.”
The small boy replied, “I remember. My name is Theodore.”
Theodore…ironically that was her father’s name. Theodore…well now she knows! Mary didn’t know what else to say, and the clouds were turning a dark, heavy gray. She was thinking that maybe she should head home. After ten minutes of silence, she decided she better leave.
“Well, Theodore, I better head home, it looks like it will rain soon. Do you have any place where you can go until the rain passes?”
Theodore looked up at the sky, either studying the clouds or wondering where he could go.
“Yea, I’ll be fine,” he looked sheepishly at his empty hotdog wrapper, “thank you.”
It was so quiet that Mary almost didn’t hear him say it. But she was sure that was what he said, and her heart felt warm. Maybe, just maybe, had she made a difference in this kid’s life.
Mary stood up and started at a slow trot towards her apartment, “Well, Theodore, I will see you tomorrow!”
She couldn’t hear his answer, because a sudden burst of thunder cracked through the sky. She started sprinting. When she looked back, everything was a blur from the torrential downpour around her, but she couldn’t miss the wooden bench surrounded by balloons. She turned and moved forward, seeing only a slight stir in the rainbow.
The rain didn’t stop. It kept pouring for two days. She wasn’t able to walk to work; she had to get a taxi because her mother didn’t want her catching a cold. Mary couldn’t get Theodore out of her head. Was he okay? Did he ever get home? Has he added more balloons? She hoped and prayed during her work at the parlor that the rain would stop.
As she stepped out of the parlor, with the smell of waffle cones and chocolate syrup fogging her brain, she made a quick decision. Instead of hailing down a taxi, she quickly crossed the street towards the entrance of Central Park. She ran down the path that she usually strolled down, and kept her eye out for the rainbow tied to a bench. She was almost there.
Bench…lamppost…bench…lamppost…bench…lamppost… There was an empty spot where Theodore’s bench was supposed to sit. Where the assortment of balloons was supposed to be. She dropped to her knees, and as her shoulders began to shake, she looked up to the sky. That was the day the old, wooden park bench disappeared.