The boy had a name dammit. His name was Alan. Alan Kurdi. He was three years old.
The lady places the shoebox in front of Sid. She has punctured two holes into the side.
I found it on the sidewalk, she says.
What is it?
I don’t know. I just saw it in the gutter as I came out of the shop. I’d only just bought these shoes so I put them on and put this little guy in the box.
Sid looks over the counter and down at the lady’s shoes. Of course. The same red as Alan’s shirt. Gleaming new in the sunlight as she walked into the Cleveland Animal Welfare Center, they had sent him spiralling towards Alan.
On September 2, 2015, he climbed into a rubber dinghy in Bodrum in Turkey with his family. Sixteen people crammed into a boat designed for eight, all trying to reach the Greek island of Kos, all trying to escape ISIS and the rubble of home.
What did you do with your old shoes?
The lady looks surprised by the question and she smiles.
I put them in the trash. Now that I think about it I don’t know why. They weren’t that bad. I wasn’t really thinking.
She looks down at the box again.
I guess I just wanted to get this poor thing here.
She opens the lid and Sid leans to peer in.
It’s an unloveable thing really, she says. But I couldn’t just leave it there.
Sid pulls the animal out. It fits comfortably in his hand and he softens as his fingers cradle it. Sid’s body curls protectively and he brings the animal close to his face. He runs his thumb carefully along its belly and watches the creature’s breathing, holding his own as he does so, and as he stares at the animal, he senses the lady drawn in also, so that she too is bending over the creature.
Everything is capable of being loved, he says.
The lady smiles.
Well I guess that’s true.
Her voice is barely a whisper.
He can smell her perfume.
Strawberries and freshly-cut grass, although he is sure that’s not what it says on the bottle.
They stare at the animal for a few seconds.
Alan’s boat capsized five minutes into the journey.
In the time Sid has known this lady.
Do you think it will be okay?
Her forehead cross-hatches with concern.
I have no idea, I’m not a vet.
He looks up from the animal.
He’ll be in good hands.
The lady smiles in relief and pushes her hair behind her ear as she looks down at her shoes again.
I don’t normally wear heels. But I have a big presentation today.
Lupe Fiasco raps about Alan in Alan Forever, in which he imagines the life Alan might have led had he survived and lived a happy life.
Sid quietly sings the chorus to himself.
The waves can be your color, the beach can be your pillow
My heart can be your house, my eyes can be your windows
To teach you how to swim and then we’ll play Nintendo
And be with all of your friends, dancing to the tempo
Are you okay?
The lady’s concern is for Alan now. She can’t make out what he is saying, or singing, but he looks scared.
I’m sorry, she says. I talk too much when I’m nervous.
Sid closes his eyes, takes another breath and smiles.
I just need a few personal details.