“Hello honey,” she said, just as I would have said to my son.“Where are you right now?” she continued, with a sense of urgency. This piqued my interest. It was an unusual question to provoke such angst. I leaned forward in my blue printed chair and looked through the contents of the bag at my feet, ostensibly looking for a book, a pen, maybe my iPad, or a magazine.
“Uh, huh, ok,” she said quickly. “If you are there and you plan to stay, here is what I want you to do. No hanging around Melvin. He is no good. And no staying past 8 o’clock. No good will come of that either. Don’t’ want you getting into trouble. You hear?”
The train slowed as it crossed over the bridge in Trenton, and then gathered momentum, swaying side to side. The car smelled of disinfectant and sweat. My chair sagged from much use. I shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position.
“And what are you wearing?” she continued, speaking softly, but intently. “Yeah, you know I don’t like you wearing that. It worries me. I have told you before.”
There was a pause. What was he wearing? I flipped open my magazine and studied the perfume ad. It showed two extravagantly dressed, beautiful young models, riding a horse bareback across an open field. Her arms wound tightly around his waist, and she rested her head on his strong shoulder. They wore Wellington boots, providing a stark contrast to the tuxedo, the evening dress.
“Take the hoodie off. Take it off right now. You want to make sure that everyone can see your face. Did you shave today? What you doing with your hoodie on and what you doing with Melvin?” She was whispering loudly now. I could hear her clearly if I leaned my head to the left of my seat and rested it against the glass window. The wheels of the Amtrak car screeched, drumming against the track that bore it to New York City.
“Yeah, and then what will you do? Call me when you get home, please. Right away. I will be back later tonight. I want to see you in the house when I get home. In the house. When I get home.”
She sounded agitated; a mother, worried about her child. The hoodie–it reminded me of another story: a boy, with skittles–a neighborhood vigilante, racial profiling, and then a shooting. The boy had been only seventeen. One year younger than my son. I sat up straight, closing my magazine.
“And will you stay there, for now? Or will you be somewhere else before you come home? Oh yeah? No, I don’t think so. I really don’t think so. don’t go there, Earl. Please. At least you are safe in Center City, until it gets darker. Was that Melvin’s idea? I don’t like him.”
My felt felt warm and a dizziness washed over me. My boy was probably sitting in a large classroom right now, or sleeping in the secure dorm room of the University. The campus was protected by an interior quadrangle, security staff, emergency phone boxes on every corner and required card identification slots for all entrances and exits. He was privileged, and white. He would be relatively clean. We had purchased a few new articles of clothing from a shop before he headed up to school earlier that fall. They would probably be wrinkled now–maybe dirty. We would meet at a vegan restaurant on 117th and Broadway. The dizziness passed. I pressed my lips together and closed my eyes.
“So, Earl,” the woman continued, softly. “You know that I would be there, if I could. Have you heard from your father? No? I see. You take good care of yourself. You know that I love you. I want to see you when I get home. Goodbye, Earl.”
Focusing on my glossy magazine, I skimmed over a story about making your life the best that it can be. I heard the woman on the phone stuff her phone in a bag and inhale. A newspaper snapped open, and she exhaled.