I’ve started taking my lunch in Retama Park on Maple Avenue. It’s a three minute walk from my office…and few people are ever there in the middle of day. This park has become a delightful escape from the technology, air-conditioning, and straight lines of the office.
Today, as in other days, I sit on a bench towards the center of the park, the only bench that’s actually in the shade. A large water-oak spreads it limbs to block the harsh south Texas sun. In the shade, the constant breezes making their way from the Gulf make the spot perfect for reading, thinking…or dozing.
I’m reading a novel—Tony Hillerman (The Walking Wind). Out of the corner of my eye, a person comes into view…a boy…a young boy…a BIG boy…maybe 10-years-old? He has his basketball. He makes his way onto the concrete courts where the netting is half torn away from the baskets. He begins to dribble and shoot—duip, duip, duip, duip….plunk!...duip, duip, duip….
I return to my novel. Shortly, my mind begins to wander…and the sun is slipping through the leaves making the pages bright…hurting my eyes. I lay the book down, lean my elbows on my knees to escape the sun, and rest my chin on my loosely balled fists. About 25 feet away, a Mexican ground squirrel scurries, haltingly, through the scrubby grass.
I hadn’t noticed that the dribbling had stopped. Turning to the voice, the lad stands ten feet away looking at me, ball in hand.
“No, not bored…just sitting here thinking.”
“Well, at least you have a park to play some basketball in. Do you live close by?”
He points across the street to the public housing for the elderly.
“So, you get to come over anytime you want. That’s cool.”
“Yeah…but I’m bored…I’m SO bored. I can’t wait for school to start back.”
“Well, don’t wish away these summers! I remember when I was your age that summers dragged on forever. Now, I don’t get summer breaks…and I miss those days."
“Well, I just know I’m bored."
“What grade are you in?”
“I’m going into sixth grade!”
“Oh…so, is that middle school?”
“I’m not from around here. I’m just visiting my grandma. I live in Elsa” (a small, rural town some 45 minutes from where we are.)
Not really an answer to my question…but, I guess he thought ahead to cut off the next inevitable question.
“Ah…just spending some time with Grandma?”
“Yeah. You wanna play some ball?”
Laughing a bit, “Uh…well, I have to go back to the office here in a minute, and in this heat, I’d be a sweaty mess if I played ball. So, I can’t this time….”
“Oh…yeah, okay. You work at STC?”
“Yes, I work at STC.”
“What do you do?”
“I work in Institutional Effectiveness.”
“Well, I make sure everyone in all the programs and departments stay on track.”
“Oh…sort of like ‘school monitor’?”
“Yeah…kind of like a ‘school monitor’.” I laugh.
My lunch hour really is up, so I stand.
“Well, I need to get back to work. Have a good time shootin’ hoops.”
“Okay…I will. See you later.”
“See you….” And, off I go, back towards the office.
There are good kids in this world. He talked easily with me, an adult. He allowed himself to be curious, to ask questions. He was kind…and didn’t cuss (kind of rare for our neck of the woods.) He had no devices visible of any kind—no phone, no tablet—nothing to distract him from his surroundings…or from our conversation.
Next time, I’m going to shoot some hoops. And, I plan to have a book to give him in his season of boredom. Next time, if God gives me a next time….