"You remember me?" the kid said.
I said I did not. He looked like a dozen other kids in the library, maybe a little older. It was early afternoon and they were running around in packs. Teenagers studying for school exams a week away.
He smiled. "You helped me with my algebra. Told me how all those letters were just numbers if I squinted my eyes."
"A little," I said. I leaned back in the old desk chair. The support gave out a death rattle and I decided not to lean back so far.
I looked him up and down. He puffed up and smiled bigger. His strong chin jutted out showing a dust of fashionable scruff. He wore good clothes that were clean and laundered. Freshly laundered. He was home from college, coming around to visit carrying no backpack and wearing clothes right out of his mom's dryer.
Shaking my head, I said, "You look familiar but I can't get a name."
"She said you wouldn't remember me."
Then it clicked. Jamal. His sister's name was Katie. She was older and would come in the afternoons with her friends and get a study room. The giggling group of girls had forced him to sit outside with nobody to talk to but a librarian.
A young librarian who happened to know a little bit about algebra and a lot about graphic novels.
"You still reading Spider-man?" I said.
He laughed and we shook hands. I stood and he had a few inches on me. That was a shock, but then casting my mind back it had been almost ten years. Maybe fifteen.
He reached down and picked up a bag off the floor.
"I still pick them up once in awhile. Was wondering if maybe I could show you some comics?"
I said sure and he gave me a few superhero comics I was familiar with. Nothing big, nothing in the top ten books of the month, but solid titles I had read. I thumbed through one.
"I think we've got them collected over there," I said, pointing. "Collection's grown since you were here. How've you been?"
His grin got bigger. He told me he went to college and art school. His sister had laughed, but he'd made friends there. Gotten lucky and gotten some good jobs.
I asked him what kind of jobs.
He nodded to the book in my hand. I flipped to the front page and there was his name, right there under the word "Pencils."
"I didn't know if you'd be here," he said. "I just wanted to thank you. I started reading them here and, well, you know. You gave me those Spider-mans and stuff. Thanks."
I told him he was welcome, that I was glad he'd done well. He said naw, that it wasn't big time or anything but he liked it.
After he left I sat back down in that creaking chair and looked over the same table that little boy had sat at a decade before. He'd had his head down and had been tapping his pencil on the surface and humming to himself, making all kinds of noise.
I gave him the Spider-man books to shut him up. Ten years later he was thanking me.