When I saw the boy and the girl pulling apart the creeping juniper shrub, I decided to stop and see what the problem was. And when I kindly asked? Why, they ignored me and kept on yanking apart those branches.
I peered in between their grimy hands and saw what seemed to be the object of their pursuit: a red rubber ball with white polka dots.
“Lost a ball,” I said, watching the two children dig farther than necessary into the bush. The boy’s hands were turning brown, sticky residue coating his fingertips. The girl’s left forearm was cut, but not bleeding. How they couldn’t plainly see the ball was a mystery to me.
“Why, the ball is right there.” I pointed a finger between their oversized heads. “I can see it clearly.”
The little girl rolled her eyes without uttering a word. The boy glanced at me, annoyed, saying, “Anyone can see that.”
He proceeded to clutch a fistful of juniper and jerk it out of the ground. I tell you, he didn’t even think twice when he tossed it to his left and went back for another tuft.
“Ouch! Cut my hand.”
“Why don’t you just grab the ball?” I asked.
The girl looked at me.
“This is none of your bee’s wax.”
Then she sized up the shrub, maneuvered her head to the left, and dove in toward the ball face first. Naturally, her face got a good slashing and the ball just fell deeper.
“Why don’t you just—”
“If you don’t leave, mister, I’ll scream so loud that the neighbors will call the police,” said the boy.
The girl began to sob.
I returned a week later and saw the same two children with bruised arms and scabbed faces bouncing the same ball back and forth on the same sidewalk, this time in front of a forsythia bush, beside an ugly, destroyed creeping juniper.
The ball came perilously close to landing in the forsythia as I decided to pass this time without saying a word, realizing these small people hadn’t learned a thing.