Startled by the sharp bbbrrring of a bicycle bell I stop and turn around to see who is coming up behind. It’s a steamy Okanagan afternoon and I’m happy enough to interrupt my jog.
Ice cream. Do you want ice cream? A small brown, very brown boy skids his foot on the loose gravel and brings his bike to a bumpy halt. The wheels on a white plywood box tethered behind bounce sideways and then rest. The lid, decorated with the peeled painted words Ice Cream, settles. The boy, catching his breath, looks relieved that his caravan hasn’t run him over and at the same time looks hopeful that he’s about to make a sale.
What do you have? I ask. Fudgicles, Revellos, Creamsicles, he says.
A Creamsicle, I say. Orange I hope.
Orange it is, he says. That’s 50 cents.
He closes one hand around my two quarters and pulls a brown paper bag out of his pocket with the other. He steadies his rig with his knee until the bag and the coins are stuffed safely back in his shorts. He smiles and pulls out a Creamsicle. He smiles again.
He says, thank you.
As the heat begins its assault on the ice cream I say, thanks and pull off the wrapper. I lap the drips with my tongue.
Where did you come from? I say. I’m not sure if I mean how did you just appear out of nowhere or what brings a young brown boy to this very white interior town? He doesn’t get my question either. He dips his head as if to listen harder. He squints his eyes as if that will help him understand. Then he fans his hand on his chest and says, I’m Portuguese. I’m from Brazil.
He hops up on his bike seat and pushes hard on the pedals. Slowly the rig edges ahead.
As he rolls away I call out, Thanks a lot for the ice cream
Without turning around he calls back, You’re welcome
I watch the boy and the bike and the white plywood box wobble up the road. Little did I know a few months later he’d be sitting at our dinner table eating chicken pasta casserole.
I say, He’s come to stay. He’s now part of our family.
Our kids look at him eagerly, hesitantly, curiously.
I say, You have another brother. He’s our family. Now there are six of us.
He smiles and scoops more casserole. Before I can explain that his foster family can no longer take care of him, that their dad and I agreed to take him in, that everyone will get their say later but he needs a home now…
He says, I picked this family. His English is better now. He says, I looked around this place and knew this is where I want to live. He fans his hand around the table. With you people. In this home.
I’m thinking, wait a minute. You picked? You’re the kid on the bike with the ice cream and the paper bag full of coins.
We hang a flag of Brazil in the room he will share with his new brother. We find a mason jar for all his 50 cents. This will be his permanent stop. He is home.
It’s been almost 35 years and I still wonder who chose whom and in the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. He’s a son, he’s a brother, he’s an uncle, he’s family. It was magic that brought us together.