What is that?


After taking this shot, I looked up and saw that a kid was watching me. He was maybe 14 or 15 and wearing a uniform from the Seventh Day Adventist school a few blocks up the hill. I’d just passed by there. He was holding a pair of sneakers in one hand. We stood there peaceably, taking each other in. Eventually the kid asked me, “What is that?”

He was looking at the window in a general way and I wasn’t sure what it was he was asking about.

“You mean that, the boot?” I pointed to an ad for Uggs propped up against the glass.

He pointed more directly at the spools and asked again, “What is that?”

“Oh, that”—I realized I might’ve been misled by his saying “that”—”those are spools of thread for the sewing machine. You see the sewing machine back there, with a spool of black thread. You just use the spool that matches the color of the fabric you’re sewing.”

We were both quiet. He was a quiet kid. I had assumed at the time, from the way he was holding them, that he was taking the sneakers in to have them worked on, but upon reflection, that doesn’t seem likely. Kids don’t have sneakers “worked on,” and this was a dry cleaner/laundry, not a shoe store. It was just the way that he was holding them in front of him, as if they were central to his task.

The kid said, softly, “Thank you, Mister,” opened the door, entered the shop, and went inside.