by Shaara voted
A broken window changes a life . . .
Little Freckled White Boy
I was rocking little Rhonda in my arms while I heated up coffee when a baseball came through the kitchen window. The sudden bang as it hit and the cascade of tinkling glass that followed popped open my eyes. In spite of them being red-rimmed from lack of sleep, I was suddenly awake.
I never would have known whose ball it was that came rolling to a stop in the middle of my red-brick tiled kitchen floor if the boy hadn't rung the doorbell.
Ah, if you could have seen him there -- a layer of freckles across his face so thick you could barely see the skin underneath, eyes greener than celery, and a scarecrow body with trembly arms and legs. I can still close my eyes and picture him -- all sixty pounds of white boy looking at me like I was gonna’ peel the skin off him and eat him.
Poor little guy, hopping on them bare feet, back and forth like he had to use the bathroom real urgent, but he didn’t.
“Ma’am,” he said to me. “I busted your window, and I’m real sorry.”
I wanted to lash out with my tongue and give him a piece of mind. I wanted to make him pay for waking up Rhonda and for the glass all over my floor and for how tired I felt, but I couldn’t ‘cause those eyes of his was staring at me -- those big, mossy-green eyes, lichen-colored like the dry, grassy growth you see on an old tree limb.
I guess I was too tired to be thinking straight, 'cause I pulled that boy inside the house and shut the door. “Hold Rhonda,” I told him, shoving him down into a chair.
Like it was something he’d done all his life, Biff's scrawny little arms wrapped around the baby, and he reached down and kissed her, and darn, if I didn’t just drop down into a chair, too amazed to go get that boy his ball.
My mouth must have dropped open, but the boy never noticed. He started in talking. Why he’d asked me at least ten questions before I got my air back inside and started in to answer the first one.
And he had charm, let me tell you. Rhonda fell asleep in his arms almost immediately, and Biff wasn’t even walking her like I always did. It’s as if Rhonda’d been waiting for Biff all her birth days, just crying every moment ‘cause he hadn’t been there when she came home from the hospital.
I got up and cleaned up the broken glass and gave that boy back his ball, but Biff didn’t want to go play. It was as if he’d come home.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; I was crazy inviting a white boy into my house, his mother not knowing me, but it all worked out ‘cause Biff’s mom didn’t mind at all. She opened her arms to me, same as Biff with Rhonda, and it was like having a lost sister or mother all in one.
Dorothy and I became bosom buddies, and Biff became a regular at my house. He helped me with Rhonda, and then Petey, Charlie, and little Dorothy. His little white freckled face just sort of blended in with the dark skin of my babies, and we got so we never even noticed, even setting a place for him at the table like he was part of the family.
What am I saying? Biff is family, and so is his mother, Dorothy. Why if they hadn’t been our neighbors, I don’t guess I could have made it through those days when Germaine left . . .
Anyway, so here I am sitting next to Dorothy, holding her hand tight, both of us trying hard not to let the tears stain our dresses. All the kids are lined up beside us, their faces scrubbed until they shine, their best clothes on ‘cause we’re all so proud to be sitting in the front row at Stanford University, and that young man walking up those steps is the same little freckled kid who once stood at my front door wiggling up and down like a kangaroo standing on hot coals, except now you can see the skin underneath his face ‘cause he’s not as freckled. But the eyes are still the same -- green as lichen as he scans the audience looking for us. I want to wave to him, but I don’t ‘cause Dorothy’s holding one hand and Rhonda’s got the other.
Biff’s walking up to the man with the certificate now and speaking into the microphone. My throat swells up like a wasp has stung me. Then Biff’s eyes smile into mine, into all of ours, and he says, “Thank you, Mom and thank you, my second mom, Ruby . . .
My eyes can’t hold back the tears then. I let them flow, and Rhonda frees my hand so I can dab at my nose. Dorothy’s still clutching my other hand so tight it almost hurts, yet I don’t say anything. Then Biff finishes his speech and we’re clapping for him. Dorothy lets go of my hand, and we all give Biff a hoot and a holler, except kind of quiet like since it’s a famous university.
My mind goes back, and I start thinking about how much Biff’s grown and how quick time has gone by. Germaine, my former husband, won’t ever get to see his kids up on that stage for college graduation, but I know all of them are going to make it. Biff’s been talking to the kids about going to a university, and because of him they’re all good students.
Biff shakes the college president’s hand and receives his degree. We clap even louder then. That’s our boy up there, I want to say. That’s our little freckled baseball boy, but I don’t say it. I just squeeze Dorothy’s hand, and she squeezes back, and the tears keep on flowing.