He’s one of the numerous unsupervised kids in the neighborhood.

Waving to us from the backyard of a derelict house, he flows into us steadily. I wonder what he thinks of us, upon seeing Kathy’s wide grin and my bird bones colliding to demonstrate flight. There we were, a white woman, a yellow girl, and a cup of a black boy. He asks us to walk him to his friend’s house, and he spins a story of ten brothers and bikes taller than fences, all the while with a dribble of snot right below the bub of his nose. We dance, we fly off tree stumps, and we cross the roaring lane of Portage Avenue to hear his mother hollering for him to get on the porch. I wonder what she thinks of us, upon seeing these two strangers accompanying her own fearless eyes running around on a six-year-old body.

My professors warn me not to explore this ‘ghetto’ alone, this street of broken glass and mutilated plastic bodies. They fear for me and recognize the invisible line that separates me from you, the line that manifests itself where the historic district ends and the chain fences begin. Everyone talks of the hopelessness of poverty, the desperation of being destitute. I wonder how empty hopelessness tastes and whether this young cub will ever have a fatal dose of it. Yet, his eyes shine with a vivacity that electrifies, and he is richer in spirit than I have been in years. This neighborhood is not an impoverished wasteland to escape, but his kingdom. Unafraid of these busy streets, these deserted houses, he knights us to the honored position of his friends and strides forward.

What do you see when you walk around here? Surely not the sprawl of the suburbs, nor the tightness of a metropolis. What do you hear? If you hold your breath and the temperature holds above frigid, maybe the wind will carry to you the giggles and chatter of unwatched children emanating from their hidden corners of the world. How could any place be hopeless when children call it home? Their eyes shine with a blinding hope that smites fear, the fear that limits us to recognize lines rather than people, that keeps you from me, that keeps us from hoping for something brighter, something better.

I wonder if you can fall in love in less than ten minutes, if this is the only way you can fall in love—in these mere moments of true communion when complete strangers jump up with you, flapping their arms and sticking out their tongues like it truly is possible that we are soaring not away from anything, but nevertheless, we are soaring, soaring together.

Listen to this boy on the wrong side of Portage Avenue singing like a nightingale.

by Sherry Zhong