Grime had worn grooves on the backs of her heels.
Flip flop season was quickly veering toward boot-wearing weather, and I wondered if she had warm shoes – or a place to bathe.
The September sun was brilliant in a cloudless sky, but the chill in the air made me thankful for the sweater I’d shrugged on as my husband and I walked through Riverfront Park.
The girl caught my eye as we waited at a crosswalk. Her thin shoulders bowed under the weight of a backpack, and her arms were filled with plastic bags. Clothing dangled from them.
Her companions, a large man on a small bike, and a beanie-wearing, vaping teen, mostly ignored her. She kept her head down, her long hair hanging in greasy ropes around her face. One of her companions had to nudge her when the crossing signal flashed.
I worried about her feet and her bare legs. They weren’t the kind of dirty a kid gets from playing barefoot all day. It looked like it had been a very long time since her last hot shower.
We stopped at a restaurant entrance, and the trio kept moving. I paused, watching her walk away.
A few weeks later in my suburban neighborhood, I went out to get the newspaper from our box. An angry shout startled me.
“Give me my coffee right now!” a woman shrieked.
I’m pretty addicted to my morning cup of Joe, but I don’t think I’ve ever sounded that furious when asking for it.
I looked down the street and saw a woman in a pickup truck, yelling at a small boy on a bicycle. Neither the truck nor the boy looked familiar.
Turning away to retrieve the newspaper, I heard her shout again.
“Give me my coffee! I am so sick of this. You do this every morning and I’m sick of it!”
Her anger floated like a vaporous cloud, shattering the Sunday morning stillness. But her words intrigued.
Did this boy steal her coffee and take off on his bike every morning? That would definitely be rage-inducing behavior.
Did the kid do it just to provoke her? How far away did they live that she had to get in her truck to track him down? Was it the coffee-stealing or other behavior that the woman was sick of every morning?
From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of her reaching out from the truck and snatching a white cardboard cup from his hands as he stared at her.
They were too far away for me to see the kid’s expression, but I have no doubt he was glaring.
I walked slowly back up the drive, wondering if I should intervene.
Suddenly, the boy spoke. Well, screamed. An expletive.
The woman floored the truck, speeding past my house.
“I’ll show you ‘expletive’ !” she screamed as she drove by.
What had been an awkward, but potentially amusing anecdote became a heartbreaking glimpse into a family’s struggle.
I don’t assume this woman is a bad mom, nor do I infer this boy is a budding delinquent. I’m not making an album out of one small snapshot.
After all, I’ve had my share of painful encounters with angry kids. I’ve been the perpetrator and the victim of enough harsh words to know that no one gets out of parenting or childhood unscathed.
From my front porch I watched the woman race up our street in one direction, while the boy furiously pedaled off in the other.
Shaken, I closed the door and walked up the stairs into a home where my well-loved family slept.
And I then remembered the girl with the dirty feet walking away from me on a downtown Spokane sidewalk.
Dropping the newspaper, I bowed my head.
I prayed that the girl with the grimy feet had walked safely to a shelter where she was warm, well-fed and clean.
Then I asked that the woman in the truck and the boy on the bike would circle back to each other and discover forgiveness and healing.
More than anything, I hoped that all three would be able to find their way home.