The roar of traffic, the clickety-clack of heels on pavement, and the incessant hum of humanity reminded Kim he was nowhere near the peaceful surroundings of Galilee. Even Jerusalem hadn’t been this noisy.
Leaning back, the boy gazed up through soaring lines of steel and glass as he stood outside the office building waiting for his appointment with Dr. McFerren. The big clock above the entrance reminded the visitor he was a few minutes early.
The boy sauntered over to a smartly dressed window and studied the colorful displays, each designed to catch the eye of hurried shoppers. Somewhere in the distance a radio blared out a rock tune, adding its rhythmic voice to the tumult.
In the reflection of the window, Kim could see people passing by, heads bent low, hurriedly living their lives amid the chaos of big-city schedules and demands.
The boy sighed. It didn’t take him long to start missing the farm. But, Dr. McFerren was a nice man. Kim figured he could endure a visit to the city once a week, at least for a while.
“You like those shoes?” A familiar voice spoke nearby.
“Dr. McFerren,” Kim gasped. “What are–oh, am I late?”
The man smiled. “No, you’re not late, Kim. I saw you down here from my window and thought I’d join you. This is my favorite shoe store. That’s where I got these.” Dr. McFerren pointed at his brightly polished loafers. “They gave me a good deal, too. At least they said they did.” He laughed out loud. “You never know. I probably could have gotten them $5 cheaper across the street. But, the salesman seemed so sincere. I’m a sucker for sincerity.”
Kim admired the doctor’s shoes. “They look great and I mean that sincerely.”
Dr. McFerren nodded. “Very good, my boy. You’re learning.”
Kim grinned up at his friend. He liked the doctor’s openness, honesty. He knew Dr. McFerren cared about him, about the problems he faced in the world.
“Come Kim, there’s someone I want you to meet.” The two walked down the street, away from the office building. When the boy questioned as to where they were going, his friend simply teased, “You’ll see.”
A few blocks later Dr. McFerren turned and ventured into the courtyard of an old brick building. The sign above the gate read “Garden Apartments.” Kim didn’t see any trace of a garden as he and the doctor moved toward the large doors guarding the entrance to the building.
“What is this place?” Kim asked, searching the dark windows looming above them as they stood waiting for an answer to Dr. McFerren’s knock. “It’s kinda depressing.”
A sullen form appeared at the door. “What do you . . . oh, Dr. McFerren. It’s you. Come on in!” A toothless grin creased the deeply furrowed face of the speaker. “She’ll be happy to see you.”
The doctor laughed.,”I’ll bet.”
“Oh, don’t be that way,” the old man at the door said frowning.
“You know she looks forward to your visits.”
Dr. McFerren nodded and motioned for Kim to follow. The two made their way along a dark hall and climbed two flights of stairs. “The elevator broke down about eighteen years ago,” the doctor said between puffs. “I can’t say much for these stairs, either.”
Kim noticed a definite sway to the boards underfoot. “About as bad as Voyager,” he mumbled.
“Did you say something?” the man asked.
“Oh . . . no . . . I was just thinking out loud.”
The doctor smiled. “You’d fit right in here.”
A voice called out from a darkened corridor. “Hello Dr. McFerren. Come to see 304 again? Good. Give her my greetings.
“Sure thing Mrs. Jackson. I’ll do that.”
Another voice filtered through the thin walls. “Thanks for the doughnuts, Dr. McFerren. I liked the lemon ones best.”
“To your health, Mr. Bartoski.”
“Hey McFerren,” yet another voice echoed from behind closed doors. “Thanks for the afghan. My legs are much warmer now.” A series of manufactured coughs chased the words down the hall. “I still could use a nice fluffy comforter. You know, like the one across the street in Miller’s Dry-Goods Store. I believe it’s on sale too!”
“I’ve got my eye on it, George,” Dr. McFerren called back.
“You’re a good man,” came the reply. “The red one looks the warmest if you ask me.”
“My feelings exactly,” the doctor replied, winking at Kim.
Other greetings drifted in the stale air. Kim listened as his companion acknowledged each one. It seemed every occupant of the old run-down dwelling had something to say to Dr. McFerren. The man answered each call with encouraging words and a smile. The questioners couldn’t see the smile, but they could hear it in the voice coming from the hall.
Finally the man stopped in front of a battered green door. Someone had very carefully painted the numbers “304” in bright gold letters right at eye-level. Dr. McFerren gently knocked.
“Who is it?” came the immediate reply.
“It’s me, Willy.”
“Willy McFerren. You remember me, don’t you?” The doctor threw Kim a knowing grin, then continued. “I was here yesterday. We had a nice visit.”
The door creaked open an inch or two. Kim could see nothing behind the small crack. “I had no visitors yesterday.”
“Sure you did,” Dr. McFerren urged. “We had tea. You gave me some oatmeal cookies and we watched your favorite game show. You remember?”
The door opened a little more. “Cookies? Tea? You must have me confused with someone else.”
“No, no, no. You just forgot, that’s all. May we come in?”
“Who’s that?” A crooked finger emerged from the shadows.
“This is Kim, my friend. He’d like to visit with you too. If it’s not convenient we could come back another time.” The man turned as if to leave.
“Nonsense.” The door opened wide, “As long as you’re here, you may as well come in. And your friend can come in too, I guess.”
The room was dark. Shades were pulled tightly, keeping daylight at bay. The doctor walked over to a nearby window and parted the curtains. Sunlight streamed into the small apartment, illuminating the simple chairs and bare wooden floor.
“Aaaahhhh!” Kim jumped as an old wrinkled woman hobbled across the room, her fist shaking in front of her face. “Don’t do that!” she shrieked. “What are you trying to do, blind an old woman?”
The doctor ignored the attack. “Sunshine’s good for you,” he said, throwing back the curtains in the tiny kitchen. “It makes you healthy.”
The woman, followed, shouting her protest as each darkened window burst with light.
Kim noticed that the tiny apartment was neat and orderly. What furnishings there were showed signs of careful attention as well as wear. Across the couch a colorful bedspread had been tucked in carefully at each comer, the makeshift cover sharing the same design as the neatly folded spread resting at the end of the single metal-frame bed against the far wall of the room.
In the cupboard, flowered teacups grew in orderly rows guarding the plates and saucers stacked behind. Plastic flowers nodded in the breeze flowing through the newly opened windows. Kim figured those were the only kinds of plant life capable of surviving in this sunless world.
“There,” Dr. McFerren said, surveying the brightly lit room.
“Isn’t that better?”
The old woman sat down in her chair beside the couch, her breath coming in puffs. “First you blind me, then you wear me out. Is that any way for a guest to act?”
“Now, now, don’t be angry with me. I’m just trying to look out for you, that’s all.”
“Well, I’ve got a husband who does that!” the lady retorted.
“Oh yes, I forgot. How’s he doing?”
“Quite well,” the woman brightened. “I expect him back any day now. He’s on a job down south. He’s a hard worker, that man. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Dr. McFerren nodded. “Yes, you’ve told me. You must be very proud of him.”
“Oh I am,” the woman sighed. “But, I do miss him when he’s gone away so long.”
For the next half hour Kim listened as Dr. McFerren talked to the old woman who sat in the chair. She spoke of dreams and plans, of her husband and the house he was going to build for her in the country. Her eyes shone brightly as she hinted of the happy times to come. As words flowed from her lips, the years seemed to fade from her dark, wrinkled skin. There was strength in her dreams. Dr. McFerren understood that.
” . . . and I will have a flower garden by the back door. Each day, I’ll pick a fresh bouquet for the table. I love flowers. I truly love flowers.” The voice grew weak, tired. “Did you know that?”
“Yes,” the doctor whispered. “I know. And you love the sound of rain and the smell of baking bread. And you love to hear children singing in church and the chime of your grandmother’s clock in the hall. Remember?”
The old woman’s head nodded slowly. Her eyes saddened.
“And you love your son. You love him very much. And he loves you very much. Can you remember that, too? Can you?”
The woman’s eyes closed, her breathing becoming shallow, slow. Dr. McFerren reached over and gently caressed the old woman’s cheek. He hummed softly, a tune he seemed to know well.
“I’ve got to go now,” the man said after he finished. He spoke, even though the old woman was asleep. “I’ll come again tomorrow. Remember, I love you, Mama.”
Kim looked up in surprise, tears stinging his eyes. The doctor smiled a sad, lonely smile. “She doesn’t remember me.” he said. “The doctors say she may never know who I am. But, I know who I am. I’m her son.”
The man rose and walked around the room quietly closing all the curtains. Darkness captured the tiny dwelling once again. At the door he motioned for Kim to follow. Together they walked along the hallway, down the creaking, swaying stairs, and through the barren courtyard.
At the gate the doctor turned to his companion. “Kim, I won’t need to see you anymore. I can tell you’ve learned the secret of surviving in this world. It’s in your eyes when you look at other people, when you look at me. I don’t know how you found it, but, it’s there.”
“What do you mean Dr. McFerren? What have I found?”
“You’ve found love, Kim. When someone else’s pain can bring tears to your own eyes that means love lives in your heart. I didn’t teach you that. Someone else did. My job is to know that it happened.” The doctor extended his hand. “Have a good life, my friend. I’ll send the appropriate papers to your father.”
The man turned to leave, but Kim stopped him. “Dr. McFerren. Thank you. Thank you for caring about me.”
With a wave the doctor was gone. Kim watched him cross the street and enter Martin’s Dry-Goods Store. The boy nodded. Yes, that’s exactly what the Nazarene would have done.
With a final glance toward the old apartment building, Kim began walking along the busy sidewalk. The hour was late. He didn’t want to keep Mr. Parks waiting.