A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking our dog around the block, I encountered a young man. It was one of those miserable days in what has been a miserable winter. True, we were inching toward spring, and had had a day or two with temperatures above freezing. But this day which had promised to be a touch warmer turned out to be cold—with a wind that cut through my jacket.
As this young man approached, it was evident that he must be a student at the nearby high school walking home. We live near a large apartment complex, and frequently have students cutting through our neighborhood.
What caught my eye about this young man was that he had NO coat on. He had his arms tucked down inside his pants, in an effort to keep warm. I always make it a point to acknowledge the students I see walking through our neighborhood—so, I said to him “you look cold.”
His answer surprised me a bit—“I’m lost.” Thinking he might want directions, I asked where he was going. “To ____ High School.” Now, he was walking from our school district high school and the one he named was another school which is over three miles from where we were. Such a walk could take him over an hour.
And he was walking. Without a coat. On a cold day.Well, I said, I know where that high school is—why do you want to go there?
So I can get to the place I need to be, he answered.
I asked why he didn’t have a jacket on, and he shrugged with that mixture of nonchalance and cluelessness one sometimes sees in young teens.
I couldn’t just let this go—so I told him to walk with me to my house, a few doors from where we were. As we walked, I asked him his name—Malik. I asked what grade he was in—9th. And I asked about favorite subjects, which teachers he had.
As soon as we got to my house, I asked him to wait, while I could get a jacket for him. While he waited outside, I popped in my house, and quickly filled my husband in on the situation. Immediately, my husband said he would drive Malik to the other school.
My husband then went to the basement, and got a jacket for Malik. Then we went outside to Malik, who very quickly put on the jacket. We told Malik to keep the jacket and that my husband would drive him.
I then asked—where does he need to go from the other high school? Oh, from there I can walk to Zion Church, he said.
My husband and I knew exactly where he meant, so my husband said he would drive Malik there. Thinking that Malik might want to tell someone he was getting a ride, I asked if he wanted to call his mother, but he demurred saying she was at work.
So, my husband headed off with Malik, took him to the church where Malik went up to the door and rang a bell, knew what to say to get in, and went inside.
We haven’t seen him since. Every now and then, I have thought about Malik. I hope he stays the sweet young man he seemed to be—only with a touch more common sense in remembering to bring a jacket to school on cold days.