There’s a television in the corner of a breakfast restaurant, it’s broadcasting a political talk-show. The TV hosts are flinging hands at one another, arguing about God-knows-what while I eat eggs.
“Nonononononono,” says the talking head. “Don’t tell ME I’m un-American, sir. YOU’RE un-American…”
In the booth ahead of me: a young boy. Five years old. Six maybe. He orders cheese and scrambled eggs—I know this because he shouts his order. Which draws looks.
Some children’s voices are shrill when they shout. Not his. His sounds like a laugh fit for a playground.
His mother hushes him.
He is your typical American kid. Cheery face. Large ears poking beneath a red baseball cap. Freckles. He has a big bandage on his collarbone.
He coughs. It sounds like a bad cold. He uses his hat to cover his mouth. His head is bald. I see blue veins underneath his pale scalp.
The TV host shouts, “DON’T YOU TELL ME I’M UN-AMERICAN! I’M AS AMERICAN AS…”
The boy asks his mother, “Are you tired, Mom?”
She smiles and nods.
“Are you as hungry as ME?” he says. “NOBODY’S as hungry as me.”
She doesn’t answer. She’s pretty. Young, but weathered. She looks like she’s lived twice the life any of her peers have.
He leans on her shoulder. There is a medical bracelet around his wrist. He tells her he’s sorry for being so sick.
Her face swells. “Don’t you ever say that again,” she says. “You hear me?”
“I’M UN-AMERICAN?! I’M UN-AMERICAN?! YOU’RE UN-AMERICAN! YOU, YOU, YOU…”
The boy asks if he’ll be going back to the emergency room again. “I hate it there,” he adds. “I don’t wanna go back.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know, Tray. We’ll have to see.”
Tray. It’s a sturdy name. And he must be a strong kid because he has a tough mama. Life for some five-year-olds is carefree. I don’t get the feeling Tray’s is.
“…UN-AMERICAN, UN-AMERICAN, UN-AMERICAN, UN-AMERICAN, UN-AMERICAN, UN-AMERICAN, UN-AMERICAN, UN-AMERICAN…”
Their food arrives. They pray over it. And though I can’t hear what they’re whispering, I say a quiet “amen” along with them.
The boy eats like there’s no tomorrow. She barely touches her omelette.
When they finish, she gathers her things and pays the waitress. He walks toward the restrooms. He doesn’t move too fast.
She waits for him with her eyes shut and eyebrows pinched together. It’s been a long night.
They leave. I watch them through the window. She lifts him into the car. He’s weak.
“NO SIR! I’M SAYING YOU’RE THE MOST UN-AMERICANEST OF UN-AMERICANS…”
Their car exits the parking lot. The waitress finally shuts off the god-forsaken TV. And I’ve lost my appetite. I’m too busy thinking.
I know you don’t hear from me as often as either of us would like. But I hope you hear me today.
Please help Tray.
I’m begging you.