The morning was much cooler than usual, the snow having freshly fallen the previous night. My walk to the office was only five blocks, but in this weather with the sun being shy by hiding behind the clouds, made it seem more like five miles. I held my coffee tightly for the warmth, and trudged along, regretting not wearing gloves. I was coming up to the local park which was a sad sight in mid-winter. The slides and swing-sets looked so lonely and neglected this time of year. Today wasn’t a normal day for the solemn looking play-set. A lone child, a boy, sat on a swing and kicked his shoes against the frozen ground. I noticed he had a look of contemplation on his face as his gaze met mine. I smiled the best I could for a man close to freezing and proceeded with my trek on the icy sidewalks of the city.
It was just a normal day at work, the phones wouldn’t stop ringing, the work piling up as fast as I could edit and before you knew it was time to head home. The evening walks were always so much better, with the lights twinkling all around the city. It did seem a bit colder than this morning, but I was happy to be going home and my pace seemed to quicken with every step. Chinese take-out, the ball game and a nice bottle of red wine eased my evening into bedtime. I am skipping a lot of my mundane existence because it does not relate just yet. I have a basic routine I follow daily; I am not one for change. Again, I head out for work on my route and as I come up to the park, I notice the same boy, on the same swing. This time there was something different about him. He didn’t seem deep in thought; he appeared as though he was calling me over with his eyes. I glanced at my watch and noticed I had over forty—five minutes until I had to be at the office. I decided to enter the park and sit next to him to see if he would strike up a conversation. As I got closer, I saw his woolen hat was covering a head that had no hair and trying to hide invisible eyebrows. My heart went out to this lonely boy and I knew I had made the right choice in stopping. He wasted no time in saying hello and introducing himself as Henry. He asked me what made me turn into the park. I told him that he did. He was surprised and a small smile appeared through cracked lips. He was curious to find out why I constantly walked the same route day after day. I didn’t realize I was entertainment to anyone, let alone a child. I told him that I had to go to work and it was the quickest way there. He wondered why I never changed it up, made it more adventurous. I explained that sometimes as adults, we don’t think of such cool things. He laughed in agreement. He said that if he were me, he would slide across the ice, throw snowballs at the parked cars and try to see something new every day. His wisdom about life tossed my brain around a bit. Here was Henry, who couldn’t be more than ten or eleven and he was giving me advice on how to live.
It was time for me to go, I still had three more blocks to walk and with ice having formed a thick layer, it would slow my steps. He said he would see me tomorrow with confidence and I knew I couldn’t disappoint. I thought of Henry throughout the day and into the evening, not noticing him in the park on my journey home. The next morning, I carried not only coffee, but a hot cocoa as well for my new friend. It was just so cold out; I couldn’t imagine sitting there with him shivering while he watched me warm up with my hot drink.
Henry was waiting for me again, wool hat in place. He asked if I knew he had cancer. I had figured that was the reason for the hair loss but I played it off quite well. The focus of the talk switched quickly to me. He wanted to know if I threw a snowball, or slid on the ice on my way to the park. I laughed at the idea and he admonished me with small noise. He told me to enjoy everything I could while I can, for you never know when your number is up. He sipped his cocoa very slowly and proceeded to ask how I felt about God. I had no answer. I never really believed in anything my entire life. Monsters, God and Santa Claus were all myths to me. I wasn’t sure how to answer him, so I said I just didn’t think. He pressed me for an answer on why I don’t think God is up there, watching over us. I told him a good reason was him. I didn’t think that a God would let great kids like him get cancer. He thought for a moment and told me that there is reason children get cancer, it’s to remind old people like me to enjoy life. I never considered myself old at thirty-three, but I guess Henry did. He said it wasn’t my age that made me old, just my actions. He thanked me for the cocoa and stood up to leave. I checked my watch, I figured I must be late if Henry was ready to go. I still had over half an hour to kill and wondered where he was going. He said he had an early doctor’s appointment and his mom would be mad if he didn’t get home in time to leave. As he walked away from me and I turned to leave, I felt a “smack” on my back. Snowball. I laughed it off, knowing I would get my revenge on my walk tomorrow.
All day at work I was distracted by Henry’s words. Kids get cancer to make adults enjoy their lives. I couldn’t grasp that idea, but coming from a child, what do you expect? Logic isn’t part of their thought process at this age. With tomorrow being Friday, I had to try to spend a little more time with Henry before the weekend. I never left my apartment on weekends, and if I did, it was just to go to the café and that was the opposite way from the park. I got up extra early to get ready and headed out with two Styrofoam cups again. Henry was nowhere to be found. I waited until I could wait no more and left his cocoa with a note letting him know I was sorry I missed him. Being a boy, he was probably wrapped up in some cartoon and forgot our meeting. I was sure I was going to get a surprise attack of snowballs and was slightly disappointed when I didn’t. I had to stay later than usual at work to make up for the time I lost in the morning waiting for Henry. I decided to head to the park Saturday morning. I wanted to see if Henry was there, expecting me to show up, breaking my habits a little. Henry wasn’t there; instead a tired looking woman was in his place. It had to be Henry’s mother, considering her age and the fact that she was holding that wool cap. Right after I noticed her, I recognized my cocoa and note, both still on the bench, untouched. She asked if I was Greg, Henry’s new friend. I handed her the fresh cocoa and asked her to sit. I slid the note to her and asked her why I hadn’t seen Henry. She started to sob, clenching to that hat as hard as she could. She explained that he had passed last night, complications from pneumonia. She blamed herself for letting him come out in the cold, but it was his wish, his last wish. She said Henry had been talking about me for weeks, watching me from their apartment. It was his goal to change my life, to make it just a bit better. Carla, his mother, stated that he felt sorry for me, always doing the same thing day in and day out, never wavering. He told her that if he really did change me a little bit that I would show up today and she should be there to let me know that God wanted him home. I knew he had cancer, but I never fathomed he was truly sick. I thought the cough he had was just due to the cold air. She wanted to thank me for taking my time to speak with her son, to show compassion when the world today severely lacked that emotion. I felt the lump in my throat grow enormous and I could no longer hold in my tears. I reached out to touch her arm, show some comfort, when she handed me the wool hat. Henry wanted me to have it, to remind me to live every day. As she walked off I looked up to the sky and noticed the sun shining brighter than I ever could remember. I took the cocoa that Henry never got to drink the day before and poured it out onto the ground, as my own little memorial to him.
His message was loud and clear now, he had been watching me and his dying wish was to change my life. Here was a child that knew he was going to die and he spent his last days attempting to help me. I thought it was the reverse, I thought by giving him some of my time, I was cheering up a sick child. I never once thought Henry wouldn’t get well, he was a child, and he would live for years to come. I slowly got up from our bench, stuffed the hat into my coat pocket and proceeded to head home. I heard Henry’s soft giggle in my head and took out the hat. I popped it on my own head and formed the greatest snowball in the history of snowballs. I threw that ball with such force at a parked car that it set off an alarm. I ran for the hills, in a different direction this time, letting myself slide across the ice. It felt good.
© 2011 Wendy L. Loose