The Button

    “The Button,” Friend, Dec. 1983, 36

    The Button

    One by one tiny droplets hit the windshield of the bus. Soon a silver mist formed on the glass. The driver reached over and turned a knob. Carlos watched the rhythm of the slim wipers as they flung the droplets into the wind.

    Carlos brushed away the tears that had formed in the corners of his dark eyes. It will be lonesome this Christmas without Papa, he thought. He remembered last Christmas, with Papa laughing and bouncing little Maria on his knee. Now Mama worked, Carlos went to school, and Maria stayed with a baby-sitter.

    Carlos sighed. Two days till Christmas, he mused. I haven’t a present for Mama or Maria, and I’ve spent my last quarter for the bus.

    Carlos had wanted to buy the flowered scarf he’d seen his mother admire. And for Maria he’d seen a fuzzy white lamb in a toy shop window.

    The boy felt inside his pocket one more time. There was the strange-looking button he had found on the sidewalk today. And, of course, the silver dollar. The dollar had been a tenth birthday present from Papa. But Carlos couldn’t spend that. It was the last thing his father had given him before his death. Whenever Carlos felt the coin, he thought about Papa.

    The bus hissed to a stop, the front doors snapped open, and a man wearing a mud-spattered raincoat got on.

    What a mess! Carlos thought. Mr. Raincoat’s hat is squashed too. Maybe the car that spattered mud on his coat ran over his hat. And he looks tired.

    As Mr. Raincoat paused to shake the water from his coat, the bus lurched, and he plopped into the seat next to Carlos. The man settled into his seat, and Carlos heard him mumbling to himself: “Why did my car have to break down on a rainy Sunday when the garages are closed? I enjoy walking in the rain, but not pushing a car on a busy street.”

    Then, relaxing a little, Mr. Raincoat looked at Carlos and smiled.

    Carlos watched the water spray up from the passing cars, then glanced at Mr. Raincoat’s window reflection. The man has the same smile Papa had, he thought. As he gazed at the shimmering lights through the wet window, Carlos breathed a long, shaky sigh.

    “What a deep sigh,” Mr. Raincoat ventured. “With Christmas only two days away, I suppose you’ll have a big family celebration.”

    “Yes,” Carlos said, folding his arms. Every time the man spoke, Carlos felt more lonesome for Papa. He felt relieved when he saw his stop coming up. Carlos reached up and pulled the signal cord. “Excuse me,” he said.

    Mr. Raincoat stood up and said, “I’m getting off here too.”

    Several people stepped off with Carlos and Mr. Raincoat. A cold wind ruffled Carlos’s thick hair. He turned up his jacket collar, shoved his hands into his pants pockets, and fingered the silver dollar as he started down the street. Something made him stop when he heard someone say to Mr. Raincoat, “Mister, did you know you have a button missing from your raincoat?”

    “Yes, thanks, I do,” Mr. Raincoat answered. “I’ve looked all over for it. After church I even stopped at my office. I thought I might have lost it there. I often walk this way, so I’ll look for it again as I walk home.”

    Carlos paused for a moment to tie his shoelace. He heard their fellow passenger continue: “I hope you find it. Your coat buttons are very unusual. It would be a shame not to have a complete set.”

    “Yes, it would. They’re antique silver. My wife gave them to me last year,” Mr. Raincoat responded.

    Carlos retied his other shoe and waited until the two men strolled closer. He raised his eyes so he could see Mr. Raincoat’s buttons. Then he stood up and pushed his hand deep into his pocket. His fingers found the button. Carlos knew it matched the buttons on the man’s raincoat. It must be valuable if it’s an antique, he decided. It’s silver, too, so that means I could get a lot of money for it.

    Carlos imagined how pleased Mama would be when she unwrapped her scarf and how Maria’s eyes would sparkle when she buried her face in the fuzzy lamb’s wool.

    In the middle of his happy thoughts he heard Mr. Raincoat saying, “My wife bought these buttons when we were in Spain last year. As a surprise last Christmas, she sewed them on my favorite coat. Every time I button my coat I think of her. She died shortly after Christmas last year. Because of these buttons, I’ve had some interesting conversations and made many new friends. Her gift has helped me in my loneliness.”

    Carlos’s throat tightened. Pulling the silver button out of his pocket, he strode toward the two men. He handed the button to Mr. Raincoat. “Merry Christmas, sir,” he said. Then he hurried down the street toward home.

    Illustrated by Richard Hull