Like yesterday and the days before that, I am perched on a stair rail, straining my eyes to catch every face that passes. Have you ever looked across a sea of faces, searching for a familiar set of eyes? It’s frustrating because they won’t stop moving. It’s live-action ‘Where’s Waldo’ with no guarantee that he’s even on the page. Too many people move about, their hair and clothes blurring together. They look through me and away again, but I see no match for the eyes I search for.
Despair creeps around in my chest and yet I can’t stop searching. My eyes are poring over the bustling streets even as my mind sifts through the images from moments before. It exhausts me, this constant alertness. He is out there. I know he is. Walking somewhere on the next street, or holed up in a warm office with a mahogany desk. The only way I can fail to find him is if I stop looking. I hate to turn my head even though I know he is just as likely to walk behind me as in front. I hate that I could glance away at just the wrong moment and miss him. So, I face the same direction on the same street every day.
A cold front moved through this morning drenching the city with rain. I can’t stop shivering. I’ve lost so much weight that the frigid air sinks straight into my muscles and joints. I ache.
I clench my teeth against the tremors of my jaw and throat. Just ten more minutes. Traffic always dies down after 6:30. I’ll find something warm to drink then. Maybe a dry doorstep to huddle in until morning.
The minutes pass too quickly. Not a single set of eyes matches mine. People are hunched and walk faster now that it is dark. Their determination makes my task impossible.
My throat is sore. I am terrified of getting sick because it will make it harder to continue my search. I need to get warm. And find food.
I walk three and a half blocks to a café where I know I am welcome. I only have six dollars but Sal will give me hot tea for free and let me stay until closing if I buy a sandwich. I’ll save half for breakfast.
Sal’s café is just half a block away when I hear a plaintive mewing. I can see the warm glow of the store front and I don’t want to hesitate. Another whimper pulls at my ears and I glance down. A tiny kitten, scrawny and bedraggled, is crouched behind a garbage pile. I look around but there are no full grown cats about. Abandoned. It reminds me of myself.
I gather the pitiful creature into my hands. Its shivering somehow warms me and my teeth cease to chatter. My jaw is stiff from fighting the cold and my throat is too scratchy to speak clearly, but my voice soothes the kitten all the same. It must feel the presence of a kindred spirit. Maybe Sal will give me warm milk instead of tea. And we might be able to clean up a bit in the restroom if it’s not crowded.
I walk the last few yards more slowly, consciously smoothing out my stride. The kitten is snuggling into my chest. I will be its protector and provider. It’s ironic that I am filling the very role I was searching for someone to fill for me. Orphaned and alone, but no longer helpless or hopeless.
Out of habit, I continue to meet the eyes of every stranger I pass. Too green. Eyebrows to coarse. Hair too fair. Too wide set. Too fierce. Too timid.
One thousand faces or one million? It only matters that I don’t give up. If I don’t stop looking I will find him.
I set the kitten down next to the bright glass door to adjust my sleep roll and straighten my clothes. My nose is starting to run and I blow it surreptitiously on a wrinkled tissue. With a couple sniffs and a deep breath I feel better. I gather up Kitty. It looks relieved to be in my hands again. I am reaching for the door when an arm appears in front of me.
“Let me get that. It looks like you’ve got your hands full.”
I look up automatically, grateful for the kind words and tone.
I am looking into a pair of slate-blue eyes with a hint of turquoise around the rim, framed by soft brown lashes. His nose is gently formed and his mouth is wide. It would look right if it were smiling. His brow dips with concern and the corners of his eyes crease with hesitation. I am staring.
“Uncle Bo?” My voice is a scratchy whisper, shocked and unbelieving.
“Bo? Nobody has ever called me Bo except. . .”
“. . .except my father,” I finish.
“How? . . . What are you doing here? . . . . Who?”
He speaks in halting fragments. Confusion, but not doubt, clouds his eyes. Eyes like mine. He sees it too.
“I want to find some milk for Kitty. Do you want to get a sandwich and talk? I’ve been searching for you for almost two months, ever since Dad’s funeral. Nobody would help because the adoption records were sealed, but I knew you would want to know. I knew you would be able to help. I knew you would want to if I could just find you. I wasn’t wrong to look, was I?”
He pauses before answering, staggered by the flood of words and the desperation in my tone.
“No. You were right to look for me. . .”
“Kara. Short for Karalyn.”
“Kara. It’s wonderful to finally meet you. Let’s get you warm and you can tell me everything. People call me Robert, but Uncle Bo sounds perfect between us.”
I can no longer feel the cold.
– Peggy Rueber