The Staring Contest / by Preston Thomas

 THE STARING CONTEST | © PRESTON LEWIS THOMAS

THE STARING CONTEST | © PRESTON LEWIS THOMAS

I park next to him in the CVS lot, just across the street from Starbucks, my intended destination.
At a glance, I can see that he’s one of four kids and two adults. He looks directly at me and maintains his gaze as I walk past their vehicle. When I return, having aquired my brownie and triple espresso, he once again locks eyes on me. I decide to return the stare. Game on.

I hop in my car, close the door and instantly turn my head to face my opponent. I narrow my eyes and raise one brow, telegraphing my thoughts “you ain’t gonna win, son.”

Then, he cheats.
My adversary has no scruples.

He rests his chin on the window seal. His eyes soften and widen and he fires a laser beam – that innocent and disarming kid smile.
It’s a direct hit. He’s a sneaky little S.O.B.

I can feel the involuntary grin spreading across my face, and I instinctively reach for my camera. He sees the camera and leans forward just a bit. What a ham! I quickly make a couple of photographs. I want to show my “competitor turned new found friend” what I’ve captured, but most parents ain’t thrilled about the idea of strange men approaching them with pictures of their kids. I decide to stay put.

It then occurs to me that for the entirety of this interaction, not one other person in the car with him has paid either of us any attention.
I put a pin in this thought.

I throw him a smile.
He waves.
I wave back, and drive off.

During the short trip home, I’m visited by a tumult of thoughts. I find that I can’t shake the fact that it’s not the best time to be a young Black boy in the US of A.

A quote from the great James Baldwin comes to mind:
“It comes as a great shock… to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance… has not pledged allegiance to you.”

I just want the kid to grow up.