Every morning when Ethan wakes up, he brushes his teeth, washes his face, and puts on the clothes his mom laid out for him four hours earlier. Then he goes out to the kitchen, grabs whatever box of cereal is on the counter and pours it into a bowl with some milk, if there is any. Carefully closing and locking the door behind him with a key he keeps on a bright yellow lanyard in his backpack, he heads down four flights of stairs to the street below.
The cranky purr of MTA buses and honking horns greet him, clouds of exhaust hanging in the air. He greets it all back with a smile. Then he starts his seven block walk to school, giving a polite wave to the crossing guard who makes sure he gets across the intersection safely.
About halfway there, he says good morning to a man who has set up house with a handful of discarded cardboard boxes, hoping to brighten his day. His mom taught him that you never know what someone is going through, and sometimes you get to be the sunshine — like he is for her, she always says.
But the man never returns the gesture or even acknowledges him. Sometimes on his way home from school, he leaves the man an apple or bag of pretzels that he saved from lunch, but still nothing. Ethan hopes the man at least eats the food, so it doesn’t go to waste, as he heads on to his grandmother’s to do homework until his mom returns from work.
Him and his mom then walk home together, sharing details about their days. He tells her no, the man still didn’t say hi. While she makes dinner, he gets to watch one TV show — whatever he wants. It’s his favorite part of the day. He always considers his choice wisely, switching it up depending on the day or time of year.
The days go on, much the same. Ethan tries hard to continue being the sunshine. Some days he’s not as good at it, but he still tries. His mom says that all he has to do is try whenever he gets frustrated or down about something, so that’s what he does.
Then one day as he’s walking home, he hears, “keep the faith.”
“What?” Ethan asks, turning around, stunned that the man spoke and confused what he means.
“I saw your, uh, Mets backpack,” came the low, scratchy voice. “Keep the faith. They’ll get the Series one of these years.”
Ethan beams and says, “I have a José Reyes jersey, too.”
He then turns to go, realizing that is probably the end of the exchange. As he walks away down the block, he hears a faint “thank you.” It makes his day.