"Hey, kid," I say. "Hey?"
The kid continues playing in the water.
"Kid, you got any parents?"
He looks up at me, grins, and says something that I can't make out. Not because he's far away, or soft, but just because I can't.
But he's back playing in the water, slipping and sliding and screeching and having a good, naked time.
Clearly, though, the kid is kinda fucked. He's either disabled, fucked up, or doesn't speak English, and there's no one round for me to palm him off onto to. So I pull out my mobile, dial 000, and ask for the Police, because who else do you call when there is a naked kid who is kinda fucked up? The kid doesn't seem to understand that standing still would be helpful, so he continues down the creek, jumping and diving, and I follow, talking to the emergency operator. ("He's Caucasian. Maybe seven or eight. I dunno--he could be disabled. I can't understand a word he says. It could be another language. Yeah, I can hang round till the cops arrive, if you want. I'd kinda feel bad just leaving him here.") Eventually, a guy who is jogging comes buy, and since I'm done with the emergency operator, and I want to share my social responsibility, I call out, "Yo, man, you know this kid?"
He stops. "He isn't yours?"
I wonder, briefly, how many parents are letting their kids play naked in a creek round my neighbourhood. "No."
Meanwhile, the kid has kept running long, and he's found a big pool of water to dance and splash around in. It's not real good water, but I'm thinking the last thing I should be doing is picking him up and pulling him out. Besides, whatever shit he's rolled round in, he's done it, and a little more isn't likely to hurt. The other guy, J, who has joined me in waiting for the cops (whose sirens we can hear tearing through the streets, way back where I was, originally, before the kid started running) agrees with me. As he points out, the kids doesn't seem afraid of anything, and he's not going anywhere now, so we just wait, until the cops arrive, of which four do. They see the kid in the water and then one of them takes off his gun belt, his notebook, and another says, "Damn, man, I gotta share a van with you." The other two laugh.
Lucky for Heroic Cop, the kid gets out of the water. When he catches him, the kid starts screaming. The Detail Cop next to me says, "We're not getting anything out of him. Better call an Ambulance to get him checked out," and he begins speaking into his little radio. A minute later he takes down my details (hence the name), and J's, which is how I learnt his name, and then we take off, leaving the naked little boy to the authorities and, no doubt, the child welfare people. As I make my way out of the park, however, I spot the cops up where I first found the kid, looking for any sign of clothes, or so Cop Three told me. An old couple is standing on their back porch, watching.
"Is this about that naked boy?" the old woman asks.
"Yeah." I pause. "You saw him?"
"He ran right past. Came from across the road."
"You didn't you do something?"
"I was just shocked. A naked little boy. What was I to do?"
"Well, I called the cops."
"Anyhow, you have a nice new year."
And I put my headphones back on and continued on my way. It was Tom Waits, incidentally. Song 843.