Ben, who turned 13 a day before, the beginning of the rebellious stage of life, returned home in a rush like someone was after him. Abigail, his elder and only sister, knew he had been up to no good.
"Ben! What have you done this time around?" Abigail's face paled a little, then a scowl slowly formed on her young, pretty face.
Ever since Abigail and Ben lost their parents to the Covid-19 virus a year ago, Abigail had to grow up and take responsibility for Ben, her younger brother or else he would be taken away from her and placed in some foster home. Having attained the age of 18, Abigail worked two or three jobs daily, depending on availability, just so they could survive.
She matched angrily into Ben's room. "Hey! Knock first." Ben said, trying to hide his backpack in the wardrobe.
"Shut up, you little twit!" Abigail responded, grabbed his backpack and rummaged inside. Ben tried to take it back from her but she held onto it tightly. Abigail pulled out a video game disc and held it up. "What is this? It's not yours. You stole it."
"I did not!" Ben denied it.
"Yes, you did. I know you took this from Mr. Kemp's store. Return it at once or I will turn you in myself."
Ben narrowed his eyes. "You wouldn't! Mr. Kemp is a stingy man, he would not lend it to me."
Abigail scowled at him some more. "Lend it to you? Why would he do that? It's for sale, you little twit. Life is not a picnic where you can take what you want. Return it at once, Ben."
Abigail dropped the disc on the table and walked out of Ben's room. She'd had enough and was close to tears remembering she had to prepare for her second day job - babysitting a neighbor's child. The money would go into their feeding for the next day.
Ben took his time returning the video game that afternoon. He dragged his feet on the sidewalk, kicked an old beer can out of his way, wishing he lived in a world where he was allowed to do as he pleased such as taking Mr. Kemp's stuff because the middle-aged shop owner was not nice to kids.
Then a pair of feet in white trainers joined him on the sidewalk and they both seemed to walk at the same pace. Ben looked up to see whom the feet belonged to. An old, weary looking man casually dressed with grey hair on his head, eyebrows, moustache and beard.
The old man smiled warmly at him. Ben had no idea what to do. He thought, gosh, this man really is old.
"Old? Because of my grey hair?" The old man asked out loud, still smiling. Ben's eyes widened in surprise. "I-I did not say anything," he stuttered and walked a few paces ahead of him.
The old man caught up with him. "Young man, you don't have to say anything but I can hear you as clear as day."
Okay, this guy is a joker! Ben thought again. Old man stopped, hands on his hips and gaped, like he could not believe his ears. "Joker? No, I am not."
Ben stopped too and looked around him. Few people passed by and did not pay them any attention. He thought, this man is weird. I'll stay right here and shout for help if I have to. Ben folded his arms across his chest and looked at the old man from his head to toes. I can certainly take him, if I need to defend myself.
The old man chuckled. Ben's eyes widened once more. It was obvious the man could really hear Ben's thoughts.
"Young man, you are funny and adorable but you cannot 'take' me. Don't let my looks deceive you. I am Michael, by the way."
Ben stared at him in wonder. "Michael? Like archangel Michael from heaven?"
"No, not that Michael." He said, smiling like he was in on some private joke. His words were softly spoken, making Ben feel at ease with him. Like a parental figure, someone he could confide in.
Michael looked pointedly at a couple of steps leading to a closed store. Ben followed his glance. "Let's sit, Ben. Consider me your friend. You can tell me what's on your mind."
"You know my name," Ben remarked as they both sat down on the steps.
"Yes I do. Now talk to me Ben. Something is on your mind."
Ben suddenly felt remorseful. "I am not happy. I wish things could be different. I think Abigail, my sister, is sad because of me."
"Why is that?"
"I-I took this video game," Ben fingered the disc in his hands, "from Mr. Kemp's store and he does not know. Abigail knows and she's unhappy about it."
"She should be. Taking something that's not yours is wrong, Ben."
"I know. I didn't mean to but Mr. Kemp is not nice to kids around here and I wish I had the money to buy the game. I wish Abigail did not have to work hard. I wish my parents were here." Ben looked forlorn.
Michael sighed and asked, "Why not save up for it or ask your sister for the money?"
"I can't ask Abigail. We barely have enough to eat. And she's always so serious and busy. She's always saying things like 'life is not a picnic, you little twit. Be serious'", Ben mimicked his sister's voice. Michael chuckled. "We don't play together like we used to when my parents were still with us."
"And you think Abigail doesn't miss you too? She does. Ben, yesterday was unpleasant and it's gone. Today may appear bleak but I want you to be hopeful about tomorrow. You have a great future ahead of you."
Ben looked amazed. "Wow. How do I make my future happy and great?"
"Start today. Start now by making things right." Michael advised.
"Yes, that's what I was going to do. Return the game, I mean."
Ben smiled from ear to ear as he carried on a conversation with his new friend, Michael. Few passersby turned to look at Ben where he sat talking to an empty space beside him. Happiness and peace could be seen on his face.