Esau looked at our car and smiled. He had cut his long dirty brown ponytail that made him look like a Chicano. We hadn't seen Esau for a few years. We pulled over.
"Damn," he said, "I was just thinking about ya'll. Seriously. I got a job," he said. "I was working at Walgreens in Puerto Rico. Then they gave me a transfer back to Boston. I'll be starting G.E.D classes next month." He smiled.
I remember the day I drove Esau two hours from Boston to Gardner, Massachusetts.
I got Esau a summer job.
He needed his birth certificate.
"I don't have it," he said. "My mother took it when she left us."
"What do you mean?"
"My mother left us – me, my brothers and sisters, my father. We were young. She took our birth certificates with her. We don't know where she is." He paused. "Can I get a new one?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "We'll go over to City Hall."
He hesitated. "I wasn't born in Boston."
"Where you were born?"
"Gardner," he said. "Massachusetts."
I had never heard of Gardner. I had no choice. I had to take him. If I didn't, he wouldn't be able to work.
The next day, I picked Esau up at nine in the morning.
"Thanks T," he said about ten times after he got into the car.
We drove and drove.
I mostly listened.
He talked about his dad, then his mother.
"My father took care of all five of us," he said with pride.
Esau never said why his mother left and I didn't ask.
We arrived in Gardner.
It was a small town.
We were obvious strangers. The townies stared at us as we walked to the city hall.
I asked the clerk for a copy of his birth certificate.
We gave her Esau's mother's first and last name, and his birth date.
She printed the certificate and put it in an envelope.
And I handed her $15.
It is unexpected moments like this that build bonds between street workers and gang-involved youth.
I smiled like a proud street worker as Esau leaned against our car and talked.