“Are you lost?”
As if pulling himself from some deep inward distance, the boy on the park bench lifts his head and blinks at me. A vaguely startled expression fills his eyes as he focuses on my face, the faraway shouting of children on the playground ringing through the air. He frowns, tilting his head as he speaks. “Are you?”
He is small, maybe eleven at most, but his voice holds the gentle, hesitant curiosity of someone much older. I shake my head. “Just a wandering old man.” The lie tastes familiar in my throat as my eyes linger on his right pocket, which is full and stretched tight with something—a wallet? I meet his gaze and smile in a friendly way. “What’s your name?”
“Truth,” he says simply, offering no indication that the name should be considered anything but ordinary. Standing without warning, his eyes never leaving me, he pulls something from his pocket. My pulse quickens as he steps forward and offers it to me—a small, bright orange. My heart slows its rhythm. He’s a kid. Why did I think he’d have anything of value?
“Hungry?” He sounds pleased with himself, and I struggle to mask my irritation. “It’s an orange,” he says lightly, as if speaking to a small child. I open my mouth, hesitate, close it, and wordlessly accept the fruit. His face breaks into a smile. “C’mon.”
Without waiting for an answer, he takes off towards a patch of shade-cloaked grass, empty besides a single picnic table. When he reaches the table, he climbs up onto it, swinging his legs absently off the edge as he produces a second orange and begins to peel it open with his fingers. He looks up, watching me curiously, and I begin to cross the open space towards him. Idiot, I tell myself, squeezing the fruit in my hand so hard that it nearly bursts. You needed money, not lunch.
By the time I reach the shade, my already-sweaty clothes are clinging to my skin. I sit as far away from the boy as possible, sliding to the end of the moss-covered bench. The table is slippery and warm, scattered with acorns and leaves, the wood still damp from a recent rain. Above my head, afternoon sun filters through wide tree branches, and I am having lunch with a boy who calls himself Truth.
“It’s not poisoned,” he says suddenly, brightly, speaking without looking my way. His t-shirt has a faded superhero across the back, and the fruit feels warm and hopeful in my hands.
“It’s pretty clean,” he continues, wiping sticky fingers on his jeans as he gives me a wide-eyed look. I chuckle softly, hating myself for it, and he observes me with quiet interest as I dig my fingernails into the thick skin and peel it away. Warm juice pours in sticky streams between my fingers as I lift a yellow wedge to my mouth.
Liquid sunshine explodes between my teeth, and he looks delighted at the way my eyes widen. I am reminded so much of another boy that I turn my head away, avoiding that steady gaze as the memory whispers to life. He was nine, just a voice far too big for such a small face, knuckles still darkened with yesterday’s bruises as he gripped the handlebars of that long-awaited bike and soared. He would sit sunburned and shirtless on the kitchen counter and make himself three sandwiches in a row. He hated me.
I stand up, the half-eaten orange still in my hand. The boy has juice running down his chin, and I notice for the first time that one of his shoes is missing.
“Go home, someone’s surely waiting for you.”
Immediately, I wish I could swallow the harsh words. He slides off the edge of the table and hesitates, looking as if he wants to say something, but instead we just stare at each other for a moment. A small, quick smile traces his features as he turns and takes off across the park, shouting over his shoulder as he runs. “Bye!”
He’s gone, disappeared between the swing sets and moss-laden oak trees. I stare at the place where he stood, and I can’t remember his name. It was something… strange, deeply peculiar, yet perfectly fitting.
I glance around the nearly-empty park. Are you lost? He never answered the question. My gaze wanders to a piece of sun-warmed orange peel, already drying in the afternoon heat. I pick it up and slip it into my pocket. The near-weightlessness of it fills me with an aching shame, and I curse quietly. The taste of citrus is still sweet on my tongue.
backstory: I came up with this odd little writing prompt—“Today I ate lunch with a boy who called himself Truth.“—and Weez and I both wrote something inspired by it. She is simply wonderful and so is her story, which you can read here. :)