I'm parked at the terminal, standing by my bus in Rainier Beach as I work on a Richard Wright novel. Ah, literature. A cry interrupts my reverie: Shanala is running over to my bus now, with a toddler in tow. She's probably going to ask when I depart. What other reason would she be rushing over here for….
No, she's got something else on her mind tonight. Shanala is a semi-regular. She comes and goes, a waif in a beanie and blue jacket, mid-thirties, sometimes coming out for a ride just to see who's on the street, sometimes healthy and sometimes ill, leaving me at Third and James and fading into the shadowy recesses, the realm of eyes glinting dilated and bloodshot, the rustle of baggies and clink of metal, smells and faceless shouts but from where. Places you can walk only if you've walked them before; an alley with the wrong kind of smile.
She's always remembered my name. Shanala knows everybody. Sometimes I'll get people coming out for a nighttime ride just to get out of the house, to cool off after a fight with their spouse. I don't know what drama she's escaping, but she likes coming out to my little mobile living room, chatting up the acquaintances inside.
Tonight her air is different. It's not trailing something in her life, not reactive but causal. Her energy is new, fresh, on the leading edge. "Nathan, Nathan!"
"Nathan, I've been saved!"
Clean and sober, she explained. The husky voice, excited: "one week and… sixteen days it's been. I been lookin' for you to tell you! It's funny, I ran up on this other driver thinkin' it was you, sayin' 'heeeyy' and he said, 'whaaat??' An' I said sorry, I's lookin' for Nathan!"
So many questions, bubbling up inside: how did she, what brought this on, why now? And how did she know it would mean so much to me, that she wanted to tell me about it, that she sought me out to do so? That was what humbled me. We hugged, and she explained her situation further. She asked my opinion on whether or not she should go to a certain upcoming party. She introduced me to her niece ("Arqueen!"), who gave me a hug as well. What a bundle of joy.
They walked away both with a sparkle in their step, a frisky nimbleness in their evening stroll, past the lit high school football field, empty, the two of them and their shadows headed toward Rainier Beach park. Look at them. One tall and one small, animated on the vanguard of life.
It's hard to tell who is younger.