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The two youth's walked for some blocks until coming to a halt in front of a corner bodega, one of many that dotted the New York City landscape, like familiar and trustworthy inns on a medieval pilgrimage route. This wayward stop, however, was particularly grandiose. Its side wall displayed a magnificent portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe, well lit thanks to the store’s exterior lights, making it seem as if the graffiti art were hanging in the Louvre instead of plastered to a dingy brick wall. The spray paint boldly exhibited a calm and soothing face. Her head was shrouded in a green hood ordained with multiple tiny, yellow crosses that contrasted nicely with the solid, deep-red cloak, her hands clasped in prayer. Beside her hung an open scroll, furled at the top and bottom, wavy and tattered with age, or at least painted to look as such. It proclaimed a poem by Edgar Guest, "A Child of Mine (To All Parents)," a dignified and solemn accompaniment to the memorial for which the wall was dedicated: a teenage child who had left this world too soon. The still unknown artist, apt to be self-taught, had only initialed the work as "JM" and finished the piece in one solitary night a few years back.

One of the pair remembered walking by and seeing it for the first time. He stopped in his tracks, his eyes fixated, taking it all in and contemplating how something so full of bane yet so acutely beautiful could exist simultaneously.

"Hey, get me a water, will ya?" the second half of the pair asked.  The first merely nodded, still gazing at the wall as he made for the door.

"Good day at the courts, Joe?" asked the short man behind the counter as the youth walked in. He was mired in a mix of incense and cigarette smoke. His dark wrinkled skin, more akin to slabs of leather, was only accentuated by the bright neon glow put off by the New York Lotto sign that dangled higgledy-piggledy in the window, creating a heavenly aura around him. He wore a long gray beard that seamlessly blended into his equally long gray hair. Around his neck hung thick wooden beads matching the ones cuffed to his wrist. Although missing a few teeth, that in no way deterred him from smiling the biggest greeting, beckoning everyone on the street to patronize his store. He also called anyone that entered, "Joe," regardless of sex, creed, or color. In his old and deep black eyes, everyone was the same.

He had a name of course, or at least must’ve been allotted one at birth, though nobody in the neighborhood quite knew what it was. In lieu, a nickname was soon circulated that, as nicknames inevitable do, stuck. It was agreed upon (as much as matters like these can be agreed upon), that due to his sagacious although at times cryptic advice, the small man behind the counter would be christened (or rechristened, depending on one’s perspective), with the affectionate name of Fortune Cookie.

"No, we lost," the youth responded.

"Sorry to hear that. You getting better at least?"

"A little."

"Good to know, Joe. Life is like a game too, so play it with everything you have."

The youth looked at the door toward his traveling companion, he too now admiring the wall art. "I plan on it, man. Thanks."

"That all?" asked the smiling advice-giver as the youth placed his supplies on the counter.

"Yup, just junk food today. We need to recharge."

"Keep smiling, Joe," Fortune Cookie said as he followed the youth's gaze outside. "The brightest blazes are usually kindled by unexpected sparks."

The youth nodded and grinned in silent acknowledgment

Created: Jul 05, 2012

Tags: story, corner bodega, youths

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