I dropped in the IGA on Bragg Blvd last night. Al had left some cash for me to go and pick some stuff up for him. While I was out I forgot to do it. Usually I drop in there on Sunday's before church lets out... last night was the first time I had ever gone at night...it was around 6:30 or so...
The place was almost deserted. I found a park right in front of the door, which never ever happens. I got a shopping cart, made sure my purse was zipped and decided to go from end to end because Al's list was in my head and my head sometimes refuses to recite things properly.
I went down two aisles and encountered a black lady with two kids, a really fat girl of about 8 who was busy trying to inhale chocolate peanuts through their plastic wrap and a boy who was maybe 4. He was busy eating a bright red apple. I smiled at him because he had on a red sweatshirt and the apple was the same exact color.
Didn't get far when I noticed the boy was running around the aisle in an erratic fashion. Something about it was familiar but I kept doing my thing. On the next aisle I saw him again...alone, eating his apple. I started to speak to him but the words froze in my throat. The boy was austic. I saw the vacant look and realized I knew it. William, the oldest used to have that look, used to run around like that and... I felt a kinship with this child. A sorrow for the mother who was probably my age...
I pointed the boy in the direction of his mother who was frantically calling his name..."Jamal....Jamal". I said, "Go." When William used to be like the boy I found that simple instructions worked the best. He went running to her.
A few aisles over I accidentally knocked down some paper towels and was bending over and putting them back in place. Jamal appeared again. We were eye-level and I smiled at him. He looked at me and offered me some gnawed apple. I saw him. I saw a flash of the boy locked inside and I felt a rise in my heart. I pretended to bite the apple and he laughed. Then I pointed him in the direction of his mom...and once again said "Go."
We played the "Go" game all through the grocery store. But that was the only time I saw the boy within during the aisle games. At the check-out I stood waiting and suddenly he appeared with the apple core and a bag of candy. He showed me both. I pointed at his mother and he trotted back over. She was two checkouts away. She looked at me and said, "He has autism and is everywhere. I usually have someone watch him when I have to go out but no one could tonight."
I said, "He's little Jamal Apple-seed and a very special boy." My heart was full of things to say but we had to check out. Then I heard a bunch of laughter from the register that the lady was at. Jamal was holding out the apple core for the lady to ring up. He was there once again... shining from the inside. Then he was gone. He kept running to the door but didn't go out.
After I got my bags, I went outside and stopped outside the door. A voice said, "Little apple boy is going to make a break." I was right. The automatic doors opened and he flew out. I stopped him and offered my hand to him. He took my hand and his was sticky from eating the apple. I could smell apple and we waited for his mom to come out. She did in a flutter of plastic bags.
"You are an angel," she said when she saw us standing there, so patiently. I said," He's a special boy. I didn't want him to get hurt or someone grab him." We walked to her car and I helped her get him in his seat. I leaned over and kissed his head but he didn't notice. He found a piece of paper to play with. His mother and I put the bags in her truck and I wanted to say so much but really didn't know where to start.
I had been there before and I knew the road ahead of her was going to be tough but with love and paitence and damn determination, he could be unlocked. So I said, "Inside his autism, a boy is waiting to be released. Have the courage to find the key that will unlock him."
I don't know if she understood. I hope she did. There's a wealth of apple seeds inside the core of that child. I just hope and pray that somehow the seeds will be released and he'll rain big juicy red apples on the world.