"Maybe the rain brought him," she said as she looked over to Kasparov, who was reading a Canadian paper he'd picked up a few days before. It was the Toronto Globe and Mail, his favorite from north of the border. He liked the Globe so much he might have paid for it, if necessary. He was a strange, large-nosed man who shut himself away for hours to read the world's newspapers. Sometimes he would sit in the ticket-taker's kiosk or out in the theater lobby, carving odd puppet faces in soft basswood with an incredibly sharp penknife. And then he'd read his papers again or comb the Internet on a small netbook that fit precisely on the kiosk's narrow mahogany shelf. On this day, he was seated on the far side of the lobby with a week's worth of newspapers and two days' worth of basswood chips. Most of the papers were in English, two in Russian and one was in French (not the Globe and Mail). The Moskovskaya Pravda, the Moscow daily, was spread open and littered with shavings; Kasparov was not fond of the Russian mouthpiece and he'd always apologize — to anyone — if he was seen in possession of it.
He looked up from the Globe when she spoke and he saw that she was staring through the cut glass doors as she watched autumn fill the alley with its leaves, with gray, and with silence.
He followed her eyes, and his fell on a boy who was standing outside the doors, moving his head from side to side, and bending his knees over and over, just slightly, as he watched the rainbows created in the cut glass of the doors. The peculiar-looking half-squats allowed the child to catch the bright rainbows cast by the door and by the crystal chandelier that hung over the magnificent north staircase inside. On a bright day, a hundred prismatic splotches might glance off the theater doors and splatter themselves across the walls and woodwork of the lobby. Outside, even the sidewalk and the sides of the neighboring buildings would turn colors. But not today. It had been too gray and was now too dark. The boy was relying on the dim lights inside the lobby for his rainbows and had to continually change his position to catch the colored light.
Kasparov, whose early life in Ukraine had never been simple, could tell a homeless child at a glance. He could see the child's young life for what it was without having to bother opening his eyes.
"Besprizorniki," he said quietly, using the Russian term for the homeless children who roamed Russia and the Soviet satellites in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.
She nodded. She knew the old Russian term for street child. And she knew it translated with much more baggage than those two simple English words: street child. There had been hundreds of thousands of besprizorniki after the Bolshevik revolution and though Kasparov was a generation removed, he was nevertheless intimately familiar with that immense, little-remembered twentieth-century human tragedy because of his mother, who had grown up among the countless roaming, starving children.
The doors were unlocked. Kasparov rose to invite his guest inside, and though the older man moved slowly, even silkily, the boy flew off like a bird. There was always the probability of flight, Kasparov thought, but you had to try.
Ruth set the pattern book she'd been deciphering to the side, plopping it on top of the cardigan's cast-on, and rose to go and catch the boy before he vanished. She would invite him in or something. She didn't exactly know what. But as soon as Kasparov opened the big glass doors, the boy turned and began walking briskly north up the alley, his boney knees bumping each other as he rushed. It was 7 in the evening and fairly cold, but she grabbed the heavy wool sweater from the back of her chair and slipped on shoes that were too thin for the weather and began following him in the dark. She whistled, trying to get him to turn around. He looked back but continued forward. She threw an acorn at him and hit him in the head, solidly, at twenty yards, but he refused to feel it. He rubbed his head, scratched his curls and wandered on.
They'd gone five or six long blocks west and then south, the boy occasionally breaking into a run to gain some distance between them and then slowing again, and Ruth was closing in when he suddenly stopped at a mound of junk in the street gutter near a drainage grate on Seventh Avenue. In the blue halogen glare of oncoming headlamps of the speeding traffic, the refuse pile looked like a crushed Halloween pumpkin and a sack of clothes and other trash.
As Ruth got closer to the mound, she knew there was something wrong. In fact, she wanted to stop, turn around and go back. Why had she left the lobby? She'd practically figured out the decreases but now she'd have to start over. She slowed to a stop about ten feet from the stuff in the gutter and looked around for the child. He was nowhere in sight. She stepped cautiously forward, as if she knew what she was going to find. She did; she was never wrong about these things. With the help of the car lights and the streetlight on the other side of Seventh, she was able to make out the form of a man lying face-down, shoved up against the curb like a fat sack of rice. She could see the back of his shirt; it was orange, like a pumpkin. She had mistaken his black jeans for a black trash sack. Golden-toe nylon socks covered his feet and his shoes had slipped off. One was about a foot away, and the other lay in the middle of the street, where it had been thrown. She looked at the shoes, the feet, and all she could think about was size eight-and-a-half or nine wide, extra-large shirt, forty-six-inch waist. There was blood pooled beneath the body but she couldn't tell how much.