The boy sat underneath the jungle gym, then stood, then kneeled, then crouched, then stood again. A tuft of black hair spilled through the back of his baseball cap, which he was wearing backwards. His navy, low-top Chuck Taylors were untied. The sitting, standing, kneeling, and crouching repeated four more times. And then he saw me watching him.
I was standing behind a hickory tree and didn’t think he could or would turn in my direction, but he had. The boy didn’t seem too bothered by my gaze since he returned to his posturings. The longer he knew I was still watching him, the more exaggerated his movements and huffing and puffing grew. Was he performing? Was he letting off steam? He couldn’t have been older than a fifth-grader, so what could he possibly have to vent? Daddy won’t buy me a puppy, mommy keeps changing her mind, daddy never leaves the house unless it’s for work, mommy is nicer to strangers than me, daddy has no friends.
Such evaluations would suggest a very perceptive child, and yet, how much of those utterances are indicative of a fast-developing mind vs. an ability to mimic linguistic stimuli? I stepped away from the tree and approach the jungle gym. The boy turned as he heard my feet shuffling through fallen leaves.
“Why are you watching me?”
“Why are you in a park by yourself?”
“I asked you first.”
“You look upset.”
“I’m not upset, I’m just tired.”
“You’re ten years-old, how could you be tired?”
“I’ve seen my future, it’s not pretty.”
“What you call not-pretty, someone else could call very pretty.”
The boy lowered his chin and exhaled like I’m the child.
“I grow up to be a killer.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I saw it.”
“Did you see your face? Were you watching yourself do it or was it like a first-person shooter video game and you knew it was you?”
“I saw it…I saw my face.”
“Do you want to be a killer?”
“Nobody wants to be a killer.”
“But do you?”
“I hope not.”
The boy flicked his glance up and with the clearest, crystal green eyes, he pleaded for me to help him so that he would never have to find out. I put my hands on his shoulders and squeezed. He let out a breath that smelled like pine and jasmine. I walked back up the hill and out of the park.
When I checked the news the next morning, I saw several headlines about a tree below the jungle gym where there wasn’t supposed to be one. Nobody thought to remove it. Twelve years later, after the park had undergone several changes in perimeter scope and terrain reshaping, a thunderstorm swept through the area. When the skies cleared again, and the neighborhood was cleaning up tree branches and leaves, power crews and tree removers found the bodies of a mother, a father, and a little boy in a baseball cap underneath a fallen tree. They had been crushed.
One more act of intervention that leads into irony and I’ll have my interventionist license revoked. Humans have no idea how hard it is to make their damn universe work.