Meeting Two Youths at the Mall

Youth In Transition to Adults


On a December, Wednesday morning, Barbara and I travelled to her favorite indoor mall in the Atlanta area -- a huge, upscale DELIGHT for women.   Inside, we split up immediately, she heading to her favorite stores; me, heading to my favorite writing area (She shops, I work).  I didn’t know that I was going to meet two youths: one, a female who seemed regal but careful and controlled in her behavior; the other, a young man who was open and friendly, but whose smiling and joking may have hidden nervousness.

She, the persona of success; he, of promise.  

Before I go on, I need to set the scene.  

The area where I sat was a small area designed to encourage computer use or conversations.  It was defined by a special hanging 'lattice-like' ceiling and live bushes in high planters behind each side of a square composed of the four sofas, each about ten-feet long and at right angles from each other.  A small passage area separated them.  Two of the sofas ended with a built-in electrical outlet.  In front of each sofa was a padded structure like a bench which could function as a seat or table or ottoman.

No one else was sitting on the sofas when I arrived.  Alone, I got my computer set up and got busy writing.  So absorbed in my thoughts, only a ringing phone got my attention.  I looked up and saw an attractive young woman, clearly in her early twenties, with one hand holding a phone to her left ear and the other adjusting her black, bandana headwrap (like Aunt Jemima’s).   What got my attention was her neck – very white, thin, and long but free of any hair.  Then I noticed the headwrap was so tightly molded to her head as hiding her hair.  I looked down to my computer screen.

Typing, I heard her talking, barely, as she spoke softly.  I did notice she enunciated clearly and without a trace of Atlanta’s “Southern” accent.  Mostly she listened to her callers. 

When trying to capture a thought, I often look up.  That day, I noticed, I focused on her.  She was wearing tailored, designer-looking clothes, as I say above, carefully pressed.  Everything from her velvet vest to her shoes were matte-black except for her cream-colored blouse and a fashionable scarf hanging shoulder to shoulder, and across and down her chest.

 She was on lunch break: a “shop girl.”  She had brought her lunch in one of those designer lunch bags.  From it, she produced three Tupperware-like containers, one with a salad; one with a mix of carrots, broccoli and Brussels sprouts; and one with grapes and orange slices.  She carefully would pull a lid off, stick her fork into it, and, gracefully, in a single sweep, carry a load to her mouth.  She seemed to be rotating each.  Once, when taking a drink, our eyes met.  Moving the thermos away from her face, she smiled with her eyes, and nodded in recognition.

During her lunch break, some shoppers, females carrying fancy shopping bags, detoured from the walk to chat briefly.  She nodded her head often.  Three of them were in their early twenties like her, but one lady was older, like a mother, who reached for her hand, took it, and began patting and massaging it. My lady seemed to tolerate such, but when the woman rose to leave, she quickly pulled it back to her side and draped it over her waist.  I saw long, thin, and very white fingers, without rings, ending in carefully manicured nails.   I felt I witnessed a private moment.

When finished eating, she cleaned her empty bowls with a small cloth, and began to pack her lunch containers.  She checked her phone, repeatedly running her left-hand index finger left to right over the face.

When I looked up the next time, she was holding note cards and letters in her right hand and looking at the one in her left hand.  She then ‘paged’ through the rest before storing them back in her purse.



From time to time during the hour, I had been fighting the urge to say something to her.  Finally, on impulse, I decided I’d visit her.  Looking at her and rising as I lay my computer to one side, I asked, “May I share a thought with you?  -- I’ll be brief.”

She nodded, saying nothing.  I sat on her sofa, a few feet away, getting eye level.  When I turned to address her, I found that I had carried by computer mouse with me.  A bit embarrassed, I stuck it in my vest pocket and looked at her.  “Sometimes I get a special feeling about a person and get a strong urge to share.  You see, I’m a retired college professor who has taught thousands of women, and while not a psychologist, I do have much experience ‘reading’ people.”

She sat mute.  I continued, “What I want to say to you is that I feel you are going to build a very successful life, perhaps wonderful life.”

“Are you clairvoyant, a Psychic?”  She stabbed the nouns at me.

“No,” I continued to smile.  “I am just a sensitive and observant person with much experience with successful youth.  I’ve taught thousands.  I know that the people most likely to realize their goals are careful and thoughtful ones, who have developed strong organizational skills and who plan their activities.  They are goal-oriented.  You have the same behaviors.”

“Oh.  Okay.  I’m amused.  What do you see about me to conclude that -- what did you say?  -- I’m going to enjoy a ‘wonderful’ life?   She emphasized the word “wonderful.”  Her posture become severe:  she straitened her back, pushed her shoulders back. She began to massage her hands and looked hard into me.

“I said, ‘perhaps a wonderful life.’”  Then,  I started to report to her what I’ve shared with you readers.

She interrupted me.  “A long life, do you feel?”, clearly sarcastic.  She gathered her purse and lunch bag.

“No one knows that.”  I smiled back at her.  “Each day is a gift.”

“How do you know I don’t just have guy trouble?  Or an upset stomach?  She rose and I stood up too.

“No rings.” I pointed to her hands.   “And I don’t feel it.  Remember, I’m talking about feelings.  

She stared at me, for several seconds longer than I expected, empty time.

I just smiled.  

Then she gave me a summary of her recent life. "I have no time for men, none.  I’ve been working for over a year now.  So I have money.  Also, I have a full-ride, merit scholarship at my university in Boston.  In January, I begin my senior year.”

Then she dismissed me, “Thank you and good bye.”  She turned on her heels and walked away.

I watched her go, hearing her heels click a tattoo against the tile floor.



Not long after she left, a young Black man -- like sunshine -- beamed warmth into my area while talking on his phone.  He continued his conversation that sounded like a job interview, while sitting on the sofa to my right.  He was clearly excited, animated.  I enjoyed looking at him:  he glowed, his light brown face beaming.  Afterwards, he got his phone cord out and looked for an electric outlet.  I pointed to where I had connected and offered to share.  

“Thanks!” He said and plugged it in.  We didn’t exchanged names.  He volunteered that he arrived last weekend to get employed in the film industry:  “Atlanta was the ‘New Hollywood,’ you know.” 

I said yes, I did.  Saved my file, put my computer to sleep, and closed the lid.

We talked about the growing number of film companies located in the area. As I write above, he was open, excited, and friendly.  I told him about the companies I knew about in my area.  He repeated several times that he was determined to get a job with a film company.   

I said that a friend worked for the company producing the “Marvel” films.  She reported twelve-hour days working in freezing winter weather or hot and humid summer ones, getting coffee for the “Talent” and moving props around but mostly just standing.  I said that many jobs were available in production companies in Fayetteville.  Some maintain schools to train employees. 

He volunteered that he was trained already, having an “A.A.” degree from his community college in his home town of Lexington, Kentucky.

We talked for maybe half an hour.  He left when his phone was fully charged.  After he left, Barbara returned to leave her purchases with me before going on to another part of the mall.  I continued writing.



Several hours had gone by when I heard a female say “Excuse me.”   I looked up and saw the shop girl holding a steel box.   I invited her to sit.   She said she couldn’t stay and stood in the passage way on my right.   She was running to the mall office and saw me.  

She said that my thoughts had been circling in her head for hours – “I can’t get you out of my head.”  And she said, “I never expected to see you again, but when I saw you still here, I had to stop.  Maybe then, I can get you out of my head” 

She continued, “Addressing me this noon took courage.  Your explanations could have scared me, and I might have called the police.” 

Then she moved to my left side and sat on the edge of the sofa, resting the box on her lap. 

“Your feelings are uncanny.”  She inhaled deeply and then exhaled in one long puff. “As I said earlier, it’s not money, men nor" – she smiled – "an upset stomach.  I guess I want to tell you --  my situation, not sure why, but you seemed -- seem  -- sincere in wanting to share joy with me, offering me your prediction – feeling -- of a good life  -- really hope, I think.” 

She was having trouble sharing, her words broke up with pauses.

She pulled the strongbox to her chest.   She looked me directly in the eyes, hers just a bit wet, and slowly shifted her long face into a weak smile.  “I left college early last spring, coming home to get help.  I’m better now.  That older lady who visited me earlier?  She is the receptionist at the doctor’s office where I have been getting treatments.  I am well enough to return to college in January.” 

She paused and then said, “I’ve been fighting cancer.”  She bit her lower lip.

She rose, walked around me to leave.  I slipped my computer onto the seat and stood up very near her as she passed me.

Suddenly, as in an after thought, she turned and said, "one last question." 

I nodded.   

“You said something about my perhaps having a wonderful life.”

“Yes, I did."  

“Any tips?" 

“Oh, no!” I shook my head.  “Life is just too complex for simple answers.  And the road to living a life open to wonder has many avenues  --  more than my many students!" 

She smiled when I said 'students.'  Her smile, perhaps, encouraged me to say more.

"But I’ll say this: You are a very smart woman and with a little thought, will find ways to get joy in your heart; to share love with people you can trust." 

She adjusted the box in her hands to free her right hand and offered it to me.   “Professor, may I know your name?”

I clasped her hand and gave her my name.  “Richard Williams”

“Thank you, Professor Williams.  I wish you could be one of my teachers.”

I thanked her and wished I could too.

I watched her walk away.  I must have slipped into a trance because I next found myself standing alone -- again with that silly computer mouse in my hand.  I returned to my computer and tried to write but failed.  I kept going over my time with the two youths, mostly the young lady.

Then Barb showed up loaded with bags and we went home. 



Weeks later, now writing about my experience that afternoon with two youths, I understand that both needed a boost in hope.  I could not get the man a job and I could not give the lady good health.   I gave what I had to give:  Hope.




Life is good.  For us, however, when we are in the transition time of having graduated from high school but not yet with a career, life is often confusing.  At times, depressing. 

I remember being very scared but controlling my fears.   I used all the courage I could muster, to sign up for my first semester of college, not knowing how I’d pay for it and if I’d succeed if I did enroll.  And I was using money for that first semester that my dad got for me by borrowing from his life insurance policy.   You know what I mean.  Taking chances.  Taking small steps.  Refusing to be too scared.  Using the energy that fear develops.  Hope is good. 


Note:  My thanks to Jeanie Drake (Bev Andereson, Class of 1964) who is always a "reader" for me.  She loves to write and always agrees to read my drafts before I share them.  I remain responsible for any errors.  Thanks Jeanie

Also note:  Most of the details that I share above of that December afternoon, now several Decembers ago, are true.  I would classify  the above as fiction as I have forgotten many small details and have  embellished what I have forgotten.  But I did have the two encounters about the two very much as I have described them.  That afternoon meant more to me than I realized at the time.  I keep writing revisions of my experience.  Where my memory fails, my emotions fill in and forgotten facts become substituted with fiction. 


Another note:  What I write about an effective teacher's observations and understanding of students, I know to be true.  A new teacher facing "classloads" of students can easily be overwhelmed resulting in limited vision and 'teaching' to a sort of mythical audience (one from her history of classes; not the people in the classroom).  Over time, the effective teacher grows very observant and, excuse me, 'wise.' He or she begins to notice the effects of motivation or lack of.  Sees those who use time effectively.  Sees those who practice good learning skills.  Thus, sees the resulting success.  After many experiences, and a score or more years of teaching, a teacher sees those successful students become community contributors.