Monday, April 03, 2006

We were in Central Park on Sunday, we'd walked through the Ramble to the lake, and we were sitting on a rock, right over the railing from the path, that was dappled in shade. We looked at the couples in their boats. Always the man takes the oars. A Japanese woman leaned over the back of her boat to take a picture of a duck.

Near us people lay on a big rock on the water.

There was a commotion among the bushes and reeds beside the water to the right, below the bridge. A black boy, about 10, emerged trudging shin-deep through the shoal. He walked heavily, languorously, more and more impeded with each step by the soaking of his shoes, his socks, his pants. A group of boats that had gathered to observe some geese now dispersed, their occupants bewildered by the boy. He seemed to be trying to say something in a sort of moan. "Boat," I think he said, stretching out the O. Boooat. The men rowing rowed away, trying not to seem to eager to depart. The boy trudged farther in, water knee-high now, still so much shallower than you'd expect amidst these ducks and boats – he seemed to be performing some sort of half-miracle, heedless, upright and mostly dry.

He caught up with one couple's boat, the last to have turned around and slowly leave. They scrutinized him quizzically but did not shoo him away. He grabbed the back. The woman stared at him and might have said something, but it did not seem unkind. He muttered something about don't leave me, don't go without me, don't go. Then he said something like pusssh and he gave their boat a little push.

Eventually he crossed to our shore, to the stone beach to our left. Though he reached the water's edge he seemed oddly reluctant to get out. I thought, Get out. He kneeled in the water and reached up to the rock, at the feet of two women who were sunbathing there. They seemed intent on ignoring him, or at least not being disturbed or antagonized by his behavior. Alligaaaator! he said. The one woman right near him sat up and looked at him but said nothing as far as I could tell. Aaaligaaator!

He crawled out of the water onto the sunny, hot rock and walked away. I scrutinized his gait for indications of illness, injury, intoxication or dementia. His posture seemed insouciant and also weirdly listless. Nowhere to go sort of thing. He reached the path and I thought he'd disappear behind the bend forever.

A minute later we noticed he was still lurking, farther down the path where more rocks gave out on the water. We turned away but soon heard urgent splashing: a man had removed his shirt and jumped into the lake. A moment later he waded back with the boy, now completely soaked, heavy in his clutches. I found it amusing, yet somehow alarming, perhaps even outrageous, to think this poor Samaritan imagined he had saved the boy's life. But maybe he had, who knows? We got up and left, and walked by the boy, now sitting on a rock. There was a gaggle of people near him, all looking a bit stupefied. None were tending to him directly but it was clear that they were involved in some way with making sure he was all right, fretting about his fate, puzzling over his intrusion upon their idyllic afternoon, its portents and ramifications. I took a good, hard look at him as we passed by. He held two dollar bills aloft, before him, in his left hand. I imagine he wanted them to dry but he held them like a charm and I'm not sure why. S. made the point that this was perhaps not all a bad thing; he was playing, he was good-humored. Kids do things. I agreed but he worried me again when I took one last look back. He had spit onto himself and a thick strand of spit now hung from his lip to the front of his still-soaked shirt.

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