In downtown, the coffee shop is closed on weekends. Train tracks shine silver, polished twice each day. The Hall of Justice is the nicest new building in town. A lighted sign on Center Street advertises the free medical clinic this weekend in a warehouse that serves as a church.
We left our hotel in pre-dawn darkness. My wife and son and I arrived an hour before the clinic opened. The parking lot in front held more cars than for an Easter Sunday service. People waited in line at the door. We drove to the back of the building to park in a field with volunteers from three states away.
While my wife recorded vitals and completed patient histories, my son and I worked our unskilled station checking for completed forms and directing people to medical services, to dental for extractions and prosthetics, or to vision for eye exams and glasses. When I reached for one woman’s form, she shook my hand and thanked me. When my son thanked a limping veteran for his service, the man got tears in his eyes.
The rush subsided by mid-morning. I sat down, pulled out a Kindle, and started to read. A young boy waiting on his grandfather asked, “What’s that?”
More patients trickled in. A few sat with interpreters who listened and explained what to expect. A woman borrowed a pen from my son to sign her treatment form. When she handed the pen back, it was wet. My son discretely cleaned it.
The boy who asked about my Kindle watched me write in a notebook. When I saw him again he had a church pen and a pad of sticky notes. The pad advertised a payday lender. He peeled off a note and handed it to me. His message said, “I hop You a hape DA.”
I thanked the boy and wished him a happy day, too. He smiled big. His grandfather, wearing new glasses, called to the boy. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s find your sister and go home.”