He was scowling all morning, so I decided it was worth a try.
“Hi.” I leaned in. “What is orange and sounds like a parrot?”
Still scowling, the jail officer working in the psychiatric unit glanced at me, then tapped his thumb a few times on the desk.
“I dunno. What?” he mumbled. At least he was willing to play.
It happened in less than a second: His face softened, he rolled his eyes, and then the groan became a chuckle.
“A carrot! That’s so stupid!” The wrinkles around his eyes danced as he smiled.
The inmate was pacing the length of the block. The uniform was too large for his slender frame. Though the cut was uneven, his hair was shiny and thick. Further evidence of his youth included his smooth and unmarked skin.
The jail officer, grinning, walked towards the inmate.
“Hey, Doe,” he started, his voice smug, “what is orange and sounds like a parrot?”
The inmate stopped walking, but made no eye contact with the officer. The officer looked at him with expectation and condescension.
“A carrot,” the inmate replied, as if the officer had asked him the time. He immediately resumed walking.
Crestfallen, the officer frowned. “Even he knew that one?”
I turned around so the officer couldn’t see me smile.