It was Shaurice Fair's first day back to his job working the cash register at Tootsie's Salad Express in the Reading Terminal.
His first day back since the shooting.
Since the night in early September when the 17-year-old Strawberry Mansion senior was seated in a folding chair on a crowded street near his home, talking Sixers with his friends.
That's when he heard the pops. It took him a moment to register that it was gunfire. And another moment to register that he should run. He tried, and he fell, and he fell again. You've been shot, he told himself.
So Shaurice crawled. And made his way into a house under construction. The workers hiding there gave him water. He saw a bullet poking out of his shin. Blood filled his sneaker.
Later police would say that the bullets were meant for an older man on the street. All together, three people were wounded. Shaurice was just on the wrong street at the wrong time, police told me.
In the nights, in the quiet of the hospital, after doctors inserted a metal rod in his leg to stabilize his bones, after his mother had gone home to sleep, the moments of the shooting would replay in Shaurice's mind. He would think how lucky he was that he was alive, even if there were things he'd have to miss out on. Like trying out for the varsity basketball team. And his job at the Terminal. Would it be there waiting for him when he healed?
Keeping his mind ‘in a good place’
To get the gig in the first place, Shaurice had texted Tootsie Iovine-D'Ambrosio for nearly two years.
"Man, this kid is tenacious," Tootsie thought.
Shaurice had first met Tootsie at the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center in 2016, when she offered the teens there Thanksgiving week jobs at the family's produce stand in the Terminal. The Terminal's merchant association has an outreach program for teens at the center, and Tootsie is a friend of Kevin Upshur, who runs the center and works tirelessly to better kids' lives.
The way Shaurice, then 15, saw it, the center was a place where he could get away from a truth that was already starting to sink in for him: that there were things in his neighborhood that would hurt him bad, even if he got just a little too close. Those things — drugs and violence — made Shaurice want to get out.
"Keep my mind in a good place," he said.
And so Shaurice raised his hand for one of Tootsie's part-time jobs. And that happily surprised Kevin, who had always known him to be so quiet.
At the market that Thanksgiving holiday, Shaurice worked bagging groceries, remembering to smile as he kept pace with the endless customers.
He worked the next Thanksgiving, too, and afterward kept texting about a permanent position.
Finally, in March, a weekend shift opened up. The cash register — a promotion, and Shaurice, who's quick with math, earned a raise fast.
He had already fallen in love with the Terminal — the energy, the crowds, the chocolate doughnuts at Beiler's that he rewarded himself with after shifts. The newness of the place. Though he rarely saw anyone from the neighborhood, one day a group of his brother's friends came in and waved.
"That made my day a little," Shaurice said.
He worked his job and he saved his money, and bought himself a phone and a new pair of sneakers — Vans — and then he was shot, and the blood leaking out around the bullet in his shin stained his sneakers red.
Another hurdle overcome
For a month, Shaurice practiced walking again, his limp easing as the swelling went down. His nurse and therapist visited his house in between tutors. He was so happy when he took his first few steps.
He'd overcome another hurdle — one that shouldn't have been in his path in the first place. His after-school job — his way out — shouldn't have been dependent on two dedicated people moving heaven and earth. He shouldn't have needed a way out.
At least now, there was one less hurdle in his path than he thought there would be: Tootsie would have held his job for him as long as he wanted.
Last Saturday, Shaurice made his way back to work. He knew it was going to be a good day as soon as he walked in. There were balloons at his register, and Tootsie had made his favorite Rice Krispie treats. And there was a stool behind the register, for him to sit, when the pain was too much.