"So what do you want to eat?" I said. He was sitting across from me inside Denny's. He looked at the menu with intently and was sitting on his hands with his feet swinging back and forth against the vinyl upholstery. After some time, he pointed at the photo of the All-American Slam with his right hand and a vanilla shake with his left, smiling gleefully as he titled forward. I motioned the waitress over.
She smiled at the boy and then frowned at me. It was 2:30 in the morning. "What can I do for you?" she said.
"We'll have an All-American Slam. I'd like the eggs scrambled. And a vanilla shake," I said.
"And for him?"
"That's for him actually. I'll have a coffee," I said.
"Alright," she said. And turned to the boy, "You're a big boy aren't you?" The boy didn't respond. He had not said a single word the entire night.
I was working late that night from home. I'm a real estate auditor for an accounting firm downtown and occasionally had the privilege of working from home. I had forgotten some paper work at my office and had decided to get it: it wasn't a long drive since I lived across the bridge in West Sacramento. I parked the car in the parking garage inside Downtown Plaza, got the papers, got hassled by the late night security man and got into my car. I drove up the parking embankment, onto the street and was about to cross the Capital Bridge when I saw a body get up in the backseat from the inside the rear view. I slammed my barks and swerved the car to the side of the road.
It was a child and it child stretched and yawned while my chest pounded while my mind and hands gripped the steering wheel. From the looks of it, it as a boy, no older than six and he rubbed his face with the bottom of his palm in the same way that downtown drunks. As impossible and improbable as it was, had I drove off with the wrong car? I put the car into park right there in the middle of the street, turned on the interior lights and flashed the emergencies. He couldn't have been more than six. I closed my eyes thinking that I was dreaming and opened them. He was still sitting in the center of the backseat. "Who are you?"
When I was seven, I got lost at the San Jose Flea Market on Berryessa Road once. My aunt and my mom were with me. They were watching Billy Mays claim small miracles out of some washing detergent as he worked a patch of carpet on a wooden board. I held onto my mom's hand but let go after some time. I was bored and was thinking of the game vendor that we had passed on our way.
It was a Saturday afternoon of the first of the month. The crowds was at its peak since it was the first of the month and everyone in the neighborhood received their government checks. I found the game vendor and picked up the controller that was deep inside the center of the tent. It was connected to a small television set with a Super Nintendo attached to it. I joined another boy who was playing "Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time". He grinned at me and I grinned back. Mutual respect and recognition. Let's do it. I pressed start.
After the store keeper realized that he had had enough of us, he turned the Nintendo off and told us to get out. I waved bye to the other boy and stood outside the shade of the blue tarp overhead and waited. I looked out and up. There were endless blue tarps overhead. I had forgotten which one was the one with the carpet washing man and my mom and aunt. I didn't cry. I never did. Only cried from things like getting my finger slammed by the car door or when I broke my leg the year of the earthquake. I walked out into the crowd.
The boy in the backseat ooked at me blankly.
"Do you know where your parents are?"
Same blank expression.
"Jesus. What have I gotten myself into," I muttered to myself. It was two thirty.
"What's your name?" I said.
He was looking out the window.
I took a legal pad out from my dash and a pen and gave it to him. He scribbled his name on it. I could only assume it was his name as I was unable to make it out, just scraps of line and markings. I spoke slower, "Can - you - talk ?"
The boy shook his head.
"Can - you - hear - me?" I pointed at my mouth.
"Where - are - your - parents?"
He neither nodded or shook his head. He looked at his stomach. It growled. I turned the inside lights off.
"Alright. Alright. Alright." I took a big breath. We had passed a Denny's on the way. It was also next to the county sheriff's station. Less than a mile alway. I brought the car off the sidewalk and turned around. I had no idea what I was doing.
The disapproving waitress placed the food in between us. She also brought a cup of coffee, the vanilla shake and two smaller plates. I pushed the All-American Slam towards the boy. Three scrambled eggs, two bacon strips, two sausages, hash browns, and toasted white bread. Combined with the shake, the amount of food looked ridiculous in front of him as he picked at it clumsily with his fork. Fist wrapped around the bottom of the handle right above to chunks of hash browns he pierced.
He nodded with his mouth gorged. He was chipmunk cheeked.
"Don't forget to swallow."
I watched him gulp and handed him the milkshake. "You got to wash it down kiddo," I said and pretended to pound my chest.
He ate as if he had not eaten anything the entire day. He left a few scraps of scrambled eggs, and a slice of toasted white bread.
I tried to think about what happened. I wasn't gone from the car for too long. Half an hour at the very most. The idea of a six year old child opening the door and sneaking into my backseat at two in the morning in a parking garage was beyond absurd. And surreal. I couldn't get my head around it. I knew I left the door unlocked by accident. But no parents. No belongings. He was mute. Nothing. Except that he was hungry and we were sitting at Denny's together. Perfect strangers. For all I know, the police could walk in right now and arrest me for alleged child abduction.
I had the waitress refill my coffee and continued to watched him eat. "Want to try some?" I put my cup in front of him and added a pack of sugar. I usually take my coffee black. He smelled it. "Yeaaaah. Smells good doesn't it?" I said.
He held the cup with both hands and brought it up to his face. He scrunched his brow together and put cup down, taking a long draw from the milkshake straw.
"Don't worry kiddo. You'll be drinking a lot of this stuff later on," I said and took a sip. It tasted terrible with sugar. I asked for the check.
"A little past your bedtime isn't it," the waitress said.
"Yeah. It is," I said.
I was never good with children. Never knew how to act around them or how to treat them. They made me feel awkward. Nervous. My mom and aunt were the ones who raised me. My dad lived in Singapore and the only trace of him was the money he sent home to my us. I found out about this later on. I never wanted to say that my lack of a father was the reason why I was never good with them; it's a cop out since you'd think being without one would make you a better one right? But maybe. Maybe it does the opposite to a man.
Addison and I fought about it many times. I said and did whatever I could to keep from committing to it. I'm not the father-type. I wouldn't make a good father. I lack paternal instinct. Honey, I love you with everything but I'm just not ready. When are you going to be read? she repeated. We had everything, a nice home, nice cars, we went on nice vacations and had time shares around the world but it wasn't enough to keep her from looking at me with scorn and resentment every time we passed the young couples with their chubby cheeked children riding in child seat of shopping carts. If I wasn't ready, then she would find someone was, she said. And after awhile that is what she did. I didn't hate her. I didn't blame her for anything because she deserved to have a child of her own.
It was already late in the afternoon when flea market security found me. The sky was amber. The security guard had pulled up next to me with his go-kart in a remote corner of the flea market. The area where they sold hardware supplies and tools. The walkie talkie belted to his waist hissed at me. "We got him. Down by the hardware supplies. I'm bring him back." He grabbed my arm and lifted me into the passenger seat of the go kart.
They were all waiting for me. A woman who spoke Chinese smiled and waved goodbye to my mom and aunt who then talked her profusely at the visual sight of me."Where have you been!?" my mom screamed at me. She slapped me across the face as my aunt watched on. It was already late in the afternoon and a sizable portion of the crowd had gone home. There were a few on-lookers who stopped to watch a woman slap her son while crying at the same time. I started crying.
We parked on the street in front of the sheriff's station. Police cars came in and out of the garage. With a full stomach, satisfied now, he fell back into sleep as soon as we left the parking of Denny's. He held my hand while we left the restaurant. It was the softest skin I had ever held. Enough to make me swoon and be so much more aware of the hardness of my hands.
His parents must be freaking out right now. But then I thought about the situation and circumstance. Maybe he didn't have any. Maybe they had fallen on tough times and...I tried to keep my mind from going further into any other kinds of thoughts. Instead, I wondered what Addison would think if she was here right now. She would probably say, "I told you so. Just look at yourself."
I put my hand on top of the boy's head. It felt like like placing my palm onto of a warm pillow and slightly prickly. I drove away from the sheriff's station to McKinley Park a few miles away. I put the car underneath a street lamp and set my cell phone alarm for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes would be okay I thought. I leaned my seat back. And then, leaned his seat back. A few minutes would be okay.