“Are you sad?” asked the boy, staring at the man sitting in the alley.
“Do I look sad?”
The boy shrugged. “You look…somewhere else?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked the man, finally looking up at the child.
“I don’t know exactly. You just seem someplace that’s not here. Like you’re eyes are looking at something that only you can see.”
“How old are you?”
“Nine. How old are you?”
The man chuckled. “You’re smart for a nine year old.”
“Tell that to my teacher,” sighed the boy. “She said that I think about other things too much and I don’t pay attention enough and that I draw on my books too much and that I’m not interested in what she’s saying…”
“Are those things true?” asked the man.
“Yes,” admitted the boy. “They are true but I don’t care about what she’s saying and I don’t care about the books I’m forced to read and…”
“So, you’re an artist,” said the man, nodding. “I understand. It’s hard to pay attention when you’re bored and don’t care about what’s being taught. I get that. You want to make things, create things, do different things.”
“YES! That’s it exactly,” said the boy loudly. “Why doesn’t anyone else understand that?”
“Oh, they understand it, they’re just afraid of it. Most adults don’t like it when children want to think for themselves. They want to break your spirit and kill your imagination, so you don’t cause any trouble when you grow up. That’s why the world is the way it is. Creativity and imagination are threatening to the people who run things. You’ll be in trouble until they kill that part of you, or until you learn how to fake it. You learn how to lie in school. It’s the only way to get through it. You pretend to read books you hate, and you say you did this or that, when you didn’t. because you have no interest in those things and they never want to teach you what you want to know, they only teach you what they want you to know.”
“I think you’re the smartest person I ever met,” said the boy.
“Thank you, but I’m guessing you haven’t met many people.”
“I’ve met enough to know I’m right.”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Different than all the adults I know.”
“I see. In what way are you going to be different?”
“I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I know I’m not going to work until I die. I’m not going to have kids. And I’ll be as free as anyone can be in this world.”
“Those are all good ideas.”
“They are for me.”
“No kids? You sure?”
“Yeah, I don’t really like kids. They take up a lot of time and you never get rid of them. When you first get them, they just lay there. They can’t walk or even feed themselves. It takes years for them to be able to do anything. They always want something and they don’t say thank you enough. I definitely don’t want to be tied down like that. I want a different kind of life. I want freedom.”
“Smart choice. Might not be as easy as you think but I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“You travel light,” said the boy.
“I don’t travel and I didn’t make any of the right choices, but I do alright for someone like me.”
“Someone like you?”
“You don’t want to live on the street. It’s not a good place to be.”
“I thought I’d get an apartment by the ocean. I’m going to be a writer and I’m going to learn how to surf.”
“I want to get to the ocean soon, since there’s no ocean in the midwest and I’m afraid that if I get much older, it will be too late to learn how to do it.”
“I hear what you’re saying.”
“Do you have anything to read?”
“Not at the moment,” said the man, smiling a little.
The boy dug in his backpack and pulled out a book, a granola bar and a pad of paper and a pencil. “Here, take these,” he said.
“The Three Musketeers,” he said, nodding.
“It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t want to live in those times. No penicillin or dentists. You know, if you got sick you died.”
“That’s true,” he laughed. “You do think of everything.”
“Not everything. No one can do that, but I think of things that are important to me. I’ll have a dog, you know. Everyone has to have a dog. He can sleep while I write and he can run on the beach, or even surf with me, when we’re at the ocean. ”
“I used to have a dog. Her name was Pepper. She was a great dog.”
“I’m sorry you don’t haver her any longer.”
“So am I.”
The boy stuck his hand in is pocket. “Here. I just got my allowance yesterday. You can have it. It’s not much, but all I do is empty the garbage and the dishwasher, so….”
“I can’t take your money, but I appreciate the offer.”
“I insist,” said the boy holding out the few bills and some change. “I’m just paying you for the help you gave me today.”
“You believe in my dream,” he said. “That makes it more real. Thank you.”
The man reached for the money and shook his head. “I never thought I’d take money from a child,” he said unhappily.
“You didn’t,” said the boy. “You just borrowed it from a friend.”