A boy of nearly thirteen was following a beautiful woman. He didn’t concern himself with why he was trailing the woman; she had emerged from a building and began walking in the boy’s same direction a little ahead, perhaps twenty feet. This alone placed him in the position of a follower. Yet he had passed his original goal, the magazine stand between the corner bar and the Cuban market on Flagler Street, in order to continue on this new path. The magazine would be waiting for him another time but the beautiful woman would be gone any moment, perhaps into another building, perhaps into an automobile, apartment house, restaurant, anything, and she would be gone probably forever. So he took up the trail.

Of the woman personally, he knew absolutely nothing. She was a complete stranger. Even the attraction which he felt for her was a novel thing. Sexuality was still an obscure curiosity to him, not a driving force, and the word sex itself never entered his head. Yet the attraction was surely physical if he did not know her any other way. The young man accepted this to himself, but more in the way that a traffic accident is a physical attraction, or dogs mating.

She held her face aloft in the slight breeze which danced on the golden brown hair and produced a lion’s mane effect as it swept the shoulders clean, then regilded the blue collar and back. It was a heart-shaped face with a straight nose and slightly flaring nostrils, dark, perhaps brown eyes and clear, tanned skin. She was dressed in a royal blue skirt and short-coat with a light blouse beneath. The blue skirt was long, stopping inches below the knee, with a lengthy but not at all indecent slit which allowed leeway for her legs nearly to the middle of her thigh. Her heels were of medium spike with delicate straps. This much the boy took in on the first sight and accepted just as quickly. The clothes were probably expensive but it made little difference to him. Her left arm swung freely with her steps while the right was kept curled about a small, black, clutch bag. Her demeanor was confident in the passing crowds. She at least knew where she was going, the boy at one point thought.

At times he became possessed of the notion that the skirt held the woman quite snugly. It was the snugness of fit that enticed on these occasions where he found himself wishing to know the feel of such snugness, to be that close to her moving body. The impetus moved him sometimes so much that he would hurry his steps to come within ten or twelve feet of her  and remain so until he suddenly felt he might be invading her space and cause her to turn upon him as though an intruder. Then he would slacken back to a safe twenty feet and wonder at this boldness with such an utter stranger.

At one point the woman stopped altogether near the end of a block and began reading a colorful wall poster announcing the upcoming Calle Ocho festival where El Espuma would be headlining. The boy was at a loss what to do, for to pass her was unthinkable and to simply stop and wait was a potential embarrassment. People were coming and going when he paused and, with a sudden inspiration, fell to one knee and rapidly snatched the string of his shoe in order to retie it. This he did, tying slowly and with one eye on the woman glimpsed between the movement above him. She started forward again unexpectedly and he was forced to hurry the knot and chase through the crowd a bit to catch up to his twenty-foot distance. He became impatient with himself now and began questioning his motives.

What would he gain by all this? What could he gain? Was gain what he intended or was he merely following something mysterious as he had when he used to play at being a spy in the street? Would he tell anyone of his lark or would he keep it secret? What was there to tell? Why was he following her this way?

It never occurred to him to wonder who the woman was; she was simply there before him. Perhaps knowing that she was a local secretary or bank clerk or salesgirl would have changed things. Then he could leave off the chase and pick it up whenever it was convenient for him to wander past her place of occupation. But she had no occupation as far as he knew, and no existence beyond this moment. The feelings of confusion and attraction were not unpleasant but were bewildering nonetheless. He would have to quit soon anyway as he was getting too far from home. Still, he kept on.

It was growing later and later in the day and the woman was moving further and further away from where the boy should be, and he was moving with her. His feet moved faster or slower, placing him closer or at more of a distance from her without his considering the process of walking. At one point they passed a churros y café wagon where medics were loading an old man on a stretched into the ambulance. The rolling red and blue lights seemed celebratory somehow to the boy. He had been a pedestrian his entire life and there were still years of walking ahead before he became empowered with the horses of an automobile. So walking came naturally and unthinking. Except that he considered how far he had walked this day and how similarly far he would have to go to return.

It had been a long straight stretch along Miracle Mile and the hypnosis of he walk, the personality within he movement, held him deep in transport, when she stopped again, this time at a bus bench. He slowed to a crawl and forced his gaze down to the sidewalk to await this new development. The woman stood behind the green bench while the young man covered ten feet of the distance between them. She peered down the road then at the bench, as though inspecting the planked seat, and finally stepped from the back of the bench to sit upon it, crossing her legs to the knees then smoothing the cloth of the skirt in her lap. The slit of the material inched along the muscle of her left leg and seemed to draw the boy on. He came forward slowly, uncertainly, but decidedly. He stepped toward the bench and stopped alongside, flinging nervous, watchful glances about the thinning crowd and down the busy street. Then he looked at the woman.

She met his eyes with an indifferent but pleasant nod, perhaps a slight movement at the sides of her glistening lips was even a smile. The young man smiled nervously and looked at the bench seat beside her. She slid to the side without changing position to allow room for his small body. He sat, mute. At least, he thought, this bench was for buses going back home again. He decided at that moment no matter what the woman did, whether she rose and continued walking or remained, he would await the bus home.  He was so close to her now that the faint odor of her scent wafted into his nostrils. It was a scent perfectly matched to his image of her. He kept his head down, as though scrutinizing the pavement, and only with quick, uncontrollable snatches did his eyes examine the cloth and skin of her legs. He felt a little stunned by her nearness. Her elbow touched him as she searched within her bag and he started as though from a nap or trance. He drew every breath as though it were important to savor the air around. His hands lay limp and clammy on his lap. The traffic hurried past.

When the bus appeared he was again startled. She rose to meet it and waved the driver down with her free arm. She was standing so close he could have reached out and touched her hips. She was so close that his breathing stopped, then started in rapid succession. They were a snug pair at that moment and he would have been willing to sit there a good long while. But the bus pulled up and the doors folded apart and the woman stepped up the first, second and third steps, the space between him and her expanding. He was so dazed by it all that he nearly forgot to get on the bus. It was not until the woman was seated that the boy jumped up and over the entrance steps, paid his fare and recovered himself standing with one hand on the cold, chrome rail to absorb the pull of the vehicle’s acceleration. In another few seconds he moved down the aisle, passed the seated woman toward the front of the bus and found a seat for himself well to the rear, some twenty feet back, beside an elderly gentleman.

The young man sat with a bare notice of the old man, who greeted the new passenger with a warm though not forward smile.

Buenos dias,” the man said.

Buenos,” the boy replied without meeting the man’s eyes.

The air of the bus was cool and smelled somewhat of diesel. The scent of the woman was gone from his nostrils but its effect lingered like liquor. He strained occasionally to see the back of the golden brown head, then settled his body for the ride. He glanced at the old man beside him who peeped over the top of the small newspaper he was reading and nodded to the young rider. The old man was all right, he decided. It was all right. Everything was all right now and he would be home soon. He even still had the woman with him in a way for now. How long she would be with him he couldn’t say, nor did he care to ponder it.

Things remained quiet in him for a short while. He was calm in his thoughts as if resting from the experience of being so close to the beautiful woman. Soon, however, he began feeling somewhat lost, not physically but emotionally. He was tangled, as though the future might be unpleasant. His eyes returned to the older man for assurance and found it in the folding away of the newspaper and the open “Hello, young man,” which the elder offered with a Spanish accent as an invitation to chat. The boy nodded and said “Hello,” almost in a whisper.

“What’s new in your world today?” asked the gentleman.

“Nothing,” replied the young man as though he were perhaps hiding a truth.

“Oh, my,” said the elder. “This can’t be. In the life of a young man like you every day must bring something new. You wait and see if it doesn’t, verdad?” With this, the man chuckled and passed his eyes along the street beyond the bus window. A minute went by between them in silence before the man added, “Yes. It is an old world full of new things. There are novelties enough for the ages.”

It was old people’s talk, what the man was saying, little sentences with big, unfathomable ideas behind them. To the young man it was dull rhetoric. But for the fact that something new had happened to him this day. Having the old man ask about it made the boy want to speak of it like an adult.

“I was going to buy a magazine,” he offered.

The old man turned another smile to him. “Were you?” And what kind of magazine would it have been?”

“Space stories. But I didn’t buy them.”

“Oh, ho, a change of heart?”

The young man smiled now. He felt he could trust this elder. It would be safe. Without pointing he said “Did you see the lady who got on with me?”

“The pretty one? Yes. Is she your sister?”

Blushing, the young man shook his head. “No. I don’t know who she is but I’ve been following her nearly all afternoon. That’s why I didn’t get the stories.”

“Been following her all afternoon, have you?” Why, may I ask?”

The young man said nothing a moment, then answered. “I don’t really know. She is so pretty. I mean, maybe I’m in love with her.”

He had expected the old gentleman to laugh at this, to snatch the boy’s innocence and devour it with laughter as so many grown ups would. But this did not occur. Instead, the elder nodded with a serious expression, almost solemn, and his eyes moved along the heads up front to the full golden hair.

“It is a serious thing, this love. You have chosen a beautiful woman and that in itself could be disastrous.” Then he chuckled good-humoredly and tapped the folded Diario de las Americas against his leg.

“Why do you say that?”

“Oh, I mean nothing by it. El amor is a ticklish subject, like religion. We can approach them but we cannot directly address their essence. One must be careful what one says. Just you be sure that I know what you are feeling. I am old but I’m not dead. And you don’t recover from love, like religion, until you are well dead.”

The young man blinked at the words of old philosophy and wondered if he shouldn’t now remain silent. The old man was in a world of his own. The old eyes betrayed a new, restless inwardness and the young man would just as soon end the conversation before being eased out of it by the deep thoughts of the grown-up.

“Oh, I loved a beautiful woman once. She was nothing like your lady, but she was a beauty even so. Hermosa. Carinosa. Bellisima!” His eyes grew small, making his face look even older. “That was a long time ago now, in another land, mi pais, Cuba. But through time and distance, she’s still with me.” He turned his face fully to the young man. “I hope you recover from yours sooner than it has taken me with mine.”

The young man smiled and said “Oh, I’m going home now and everything will be all right. I’ll probably never see her again. I’ll be all right.”

Again the newspaper tapped the old leg. “I’m sure you will be. The world is full of new, wonderful things for a young man to become immersed in. Surely, you will forget her in no time at all. No time.”

“Yes,” the boy continued. “And I can get the magazines I wanted tomorrow.”

“Yes. Tomorrow, certainly. Back to the routine like nothing ever happened.” The old man’s words seemed no longer directed to his companion but to himself, with a soft tone of sadness in them. “You will be alone again, without her, and you will be all right. She will be nothing more than a pleasant memory. You will have loved her and lost her as they say. And none the worse for it.”

The two sat in contemplation for some minutes, so deep that they almost missed the woman rise at a stop and step to the curb from the idling bus. The boy looked up first through the window past the old man.

“She’s going,” he said with a groundswell of emotions he had not expected: longing, fear, surprise, relief and other strong but not fully formed feelings.

The bus pulled away from the beautiful woman with the golden hair and the old man nodded.

“Yes. She’s gone now. Ella se fue. Se ha ido. Forget her,” he said, drawing a crooked finger across the edge of his glistening right eye.