I ask him for directions. Boy with a gorgeous tattoo of a skeletal hand holding an old school microphone, inked on the left side of his neck. He told me to take the bus north. He was going that way. To the studio. He's working on a sick beat, he tells me. We talk music til we reach my stop. He asks if he can join me, whatever it is I'm doing. He thinks I'm mad cool. I don't mind. I like his skateboard. We get to the grocery store and he helps me find rye bread and dried apricots. He grabs a pack of jelly beans. I'll walk you back, he insists. His dark eyes, uncomfortably contrast against his translucent eyelashes and brows. Something disturbing, like an overgrown inked up cherub. Ok, I tell him. We begin moving. One step after another. He is young. Early 20's young, but with stories of someone who's lived a heavy life. Abandoned by his mom as a kid, father locked up, slept in dumpsters, rhymed on stage with Jeru, survived a stabbing in the neck, and went backpacking across the U.S. with no money. He's kicked it with Prince backstage because the artist loved his shirt (a self-made tee saying "WE ARE EVERYBODY-I LOVE YOU" in jean stitching). He works at a youth shelter for little money. He plays instruments, paints murals, writes poetry, and hopes to die doing something that matters. And
he beat boxes with a harmonica.
We get to the corner of my block. Move to a sheltered area with a bench and sit cross legged across from each another. He lights a smoke and pauses. Tell me your
stories, he says. So I tell him. Everything. With every story, he lights another cigarette, like incense clearing air. I watch him watch me speak. His face expressing my experiences like he's been there with me all my life. Intense comfort. I stop and reach into my purse for an apricot. Silence. A haze of fog and cigarette smoke shrouds this moment. I'm not sure what is happening. I could be questioning all of this. Passing judgments. Analyzing. Instead, I look at his tattooed forearms which read "First" on one, and "Union" on the other. A recently converted Baptist. By chance. Because he did not bleed to death in the alley that night. Because he lived. Because the man who rehabilitated him took him to his church. Because he found love. For himself. Through something much bigger.
I unfold my palms as my body loosens, rocking to the rhythm of something unknown. Something happening right here, at this moment. With him. This pasty born again backpack rapper with inked up skin and a fucked up life. This embodiment of hope. Love. Faith.
Pure. His essence a reflection of myself. A reminder of all that's good.
It's late. We get up from the bench and walk back to the corner. I'm not sure what to say. What to do. So I say alhamdullillah, and embrace him. Then we walk our separate ways.