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The child sat on the sidewalk, his legs splayed out beneath him. This was an improvement. A few minutes ago, he was lying on the ground on his back, flailing and screaming as his mother attempted to drag him into the Metro by the arm. Now, the boy had fortified his position on his butt. His arms were crossed tightly over his chest. Mom was waiting it out.
I watched the scene from a nearby bus stop, waiting for a 90 bus alongside an old woman who sported a gloriously brimmed hat and a permanently bemused expression. “Mmm,” said the woman, indicating the child. “Mmmm-mmm.”
A tall, bespectacled walker attempted to skirt quickly past the scene. “BAHH!” the child exclaimed, suddenly springing to action and extending his arms wildly in the man’s direction. The man jumped awkwardly and raised his hands in a position of surrender. “Sorry,” he mumbled, automatically, as he continued down the sidewalk.
The mother, the old woman, and I erupted in a bout of hideous laughter. We laughed together for several minutes, until our uproarious cackle faded into a sporadic snicker and finally back to silence. A wild, awkward grin remained on my face. The child, unamused, stared directly at me. When I was a child, I had performed similar stunts: Refusing to cross the threshold into daycare; screaming at my mother through freshly slammed doors; chasing after the cat for not surrendering to my forceful hugging regime. In my pièce de résistance, which I debuted in early adolescence, I had assumed a horizontal position in the middle of a ski hill, removed my skis and boots, and declared, in front of my wind-swept extended family, that I was to go no further.
The bus arrived. The child, his eyes still trained on me, wiggled his butt into the sidewalk and re-crossed his arms. My eyes were wet from my painful joy at the boy’s suffering. I winked at him as his mother again turned serious. The boy had proven himself a contender.
On the bus, another, older boy, took over staring duties. His gaze was less antagonistic: This boy appeared to be inspecting my chest for his entire bus ride. When we arrived at his stop, the ogler turned to me before exiting and announced loudly, across the seats: “I like your duck.”
I looked down. I had been clutching a large, scrappy plush duck in my arms for the length of the bus wait and ride. The animal, a childhood relic I called “guck,” had been tucked close to my body since I had accidentally discovered it earlier that day, in an old suitcase. I realized then that I had been embracing the thing fully, pulling it close to my heartbeat and resting my chin on its head as I waited out the ride. I dislodged the toy from my arms and discarded it on the seat next to me. This is as close as I will ever get to raising children, I promised myself.
Photo by A National Acrobat