The Bugging Boy

It’s late April and the weather is nice enough for a stroll through the roseless rose garden. Next to nobody takes an interest in gazing at the flowerless shrubs, mounds of dirt, and three tiered fountain of water-spouting waterfowl—that won’t spout anything until June. Lucky me, I have my choice of benches—save for one.

A little boy departs the pebbled path and weaves around the mounds of dirt, scrutinizing them. As he passes by, he says, “Let me know if you see any bugs.”

“I will,” I tell him. “But it’s a bit early in the season for bugs.” Tomorrow’s forecast calls for snow, but I keep this factoid to myself. 

The boy continues weaving. Now and then he bends over to fill the small wooden cage he’s carrying with leaves and twigs. Several minutes later he weaves back and says, “Want to see something in my room?”  

When I was this kid’s age, I would walk up to other children I had never met, introduce myself, and straight up ask them if they wanted to be my friend. This was not my policy with grownups, however. As a man of a certain age, I’m far too self-conscious to reinstate this policy now, be it with children or adults.  

Still, in a way, I’m flattered. I’d like to think of myself as approachable and trustworthy. In another way, I’m slightly gobsmacked. I tell him—politely—that his mother might not approve. This alarms the boy—which was not my intention. But it might as well have been the first time he’s ever stepped onto a dog’s smelly turd. (Myself being the turd in question.) His eyes bulge and he scampers back to mommy. She’s sitting on a bench on the other side of the waterfowl fountain.

As she pushes a stroller past me, she smiles and says, “He’s become very friendly to strangers.” This amuses her. “He’s been giving out my phone number, too.” 

My eyebrows reach for my receding hairline. I nod. Then—gently—I suggest that it might be time for a talk about “stranger danger.” She shrugs her shoulders. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t—that’s the impression. 

The boy’s eyes stay fixed on the pebbled path. Not a bug in sight. Where’s an ant when you need one?  

Ten-odd minutes later she returns with the stroller and her child. “Left my phone on the bench,” she explains. “Oh,” I say. She retrieves the phone and departs with everything (one presumes) she brought with her. Like her boy, had she wanted to leave with something more? No, I flatter myself.  

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