Charlie’s in the Lost and Found
I was working at Wilson’s Leather and Suede, finishing a wall display when they walked into the store. A rough-looking couple began drilling my manager on the quality of cow hide as they checked out the new biker jackets we had just put out for Christmas. I noticed a little blond head bobbing in between the racks of coats. A dirty little 4-year-old face peeked around a black lamb skin bomber. His eyes soaked in everything, brown and warm, he reminded me of an abandoned puppy dog. I smiled and playfully gave up his hiding spot, “I see yooouuu.” He smiled back at me and it froze and abruptly disappeared as if caught in the act of some crime.
With his parents distracted, he followed me like a puppy throughout the store, searching for the location of his parents at every turn. His tight little fists were white from holding on to whatever trinket lay within. “What’s your name?” I asked as I straightened another rack. “Charlie,” he said, scared at the sound of his own voice. I told him my name and we talked about Christmas together and reindeer and Santa. He lifted up his hands, in an act of trust, to tell me his age but stopped himself as he remembered the trinkets in his hands.
“What ya got there?” I asked. He nervously looked over at his parents who were occupied with the trying on of coats. Satisfied he slowly un-curled the fingers of one hand. Cigarette burns lined the palm of his hand and forearm. “Where did you get these?” I asked coolly, thankful for my acting skills because everything in me wanted to scoop him up, take him home and keep him. He looked over at his parents and back into my eyes, pleading without words for me to help him.
I quickly regained my composure, and then suddenly they were leaving. With my heart pounding I coolly tried to convince them to hold the coats they were looking at “because it would be such a disappointment to return and find them gone,” I said with my best retailing skills. I handed them the hold slip hoping to get a name. They weren’t buying. They roughly grabbed Charlie by the coat and half -dragged him out of the store. The last thing I saw were those warm chocolate eyes pleading with me to save him.
I’ll follow them, I thought. I didn’t have time to tell my manager anything, so I told her I needed a Coke, and I quickly walked out into the Christmas mall mob. My mind worked fast as I frantically searched for the little blond bobbing head, I’ll get their license plate number and report them. But somewhere in the Christmas shopping crowd Charlie and his little hands and pleading eyes disappeared. I never saw him or his parents again. That was the Christmas season of 1995. A year doesn’t go by that doesn’t include prayers for Charlie; he would be about 21 years old today. May he be found by God.
Merry Christmas Charlie.
God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me […and Charlie]! Psalm 66: 19-20