He is but 13 years old, an eighth-grader. He was window-shopping yesterday at Hechinger Mall in Northeast Washington. Someone asked what was on his mind on this Sunday.

"The oil thing," Thomas Elijha Harvey replied swiftly. Saudi Arabia, he added, the Persian Gulf. They had talked about it at school in Accokeek, in Prince George's County.

"One girl started to cry," Thomas said. "She said her father's brother was over there . . . . I told her, 'Don't worry, and hope there will be no war.' Then I told her, 'If he dies over there, just remember the good times.' "

On what might have been their country's last weekend before war, the people of metropolitan Washington did their usual Friday-Saturday-Sunday things. They went to church, they ate out, they watched football, they hit the malls.

For many, those ordinary doings came sheathed in extraordinary anxiety.

With the U.N. deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait hours away, with Congress having authorized an attack to enforce that resolution and with no sign of a nonviolent exit, dozens of residents said they spent their weekend mesmerized by the tumble toward war, wrestling with their fear and their sadness.

Such feelings were with Clyde Willoughby, watching the Redskins game on Saturday. The team lost, but that didn't seem to matter, not compared with what might happen after tomorrow to 430,000 Americans in the Persian Gulf. "I don't think I was as emotionally committed to the game as I usually am. It seemed small potatoes," said Willoughby, 26, a courier from Alexandria.

Such feelings were with Jochen Hoffmann, 49, a federal employee from Arlington, who said he hadn't had such a knot in his stomach since taking exams in college. "It is fear and worry," he said, "fear for what might happen to the country and worry about the cost in lives and in financial terms."

Such feelings were with Bertha Carson, 67, of Northeast Washington, who watched the House and Senate debates on war and thought of relatives at the front and thought of relatives here, where terrorism might erupt with conflict. "I'm so afraid of the hatred they {the Iraqis} have," she said. "They'll all get enraged if we attack."

Few needed prompting. Asked what they were thinking about on the second weekend of the year, the same answer came again and again: war. And many were torn. They object profoundly to what Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did to Kuwait. But an all-out offensive?

"Who's the bad guy we see on TV?" Karen Kabel, 39, said to her son, Kyle, as they skated yesterday at the outdoor rink on the Mall.

"Saddam Hussein," Kyle said. "He has bad soldiers."

Kyle is 4.

"Mentally, I believe that, yeah, right now we can't let Saddam Hussein push us around," said Kabel, a resident of Fort Washington who works for the Department of Transportation. "But emotionally, it's difficult. It's scary . . . . I'm glad I'm not George Bush."

Edwin Brown is drained too. "I just can't keep it off my mind," he said, lacing his skates at the Mall rink. "A lot of people are going to get hurt." But Brown, 55, a D.C. resident and Navy veteran who has a home improvement business, said he has come to believe that Saddam must be toppled because of the threat he might obtain -- and use -- nuclear weapons.

"I'm just afraid this guy's going to be a nightmare," Brown said.

Until the last few days, it had all been kind of an abstraction to Joseph Rollins, 38, of Forestville; it had all been just talk. No more. "It's coming down to having an actual feeling about it," Rollins said Saturday at Wheaton Plaza.

That feeling is unsettling.

"It's like a feeling I had when I was going to school and I knew I had a test that I wasn't prepared for. It's that personal, the anxiety," Rollins said.

It is that personal for many. They have relatives either in the Persian Gulf or in the reserves. They worry about what will happen to the economy and their jobs. And the possibility of pro-Iraqi terrorism in this country frightens them.

"People who come in to eat are scared," said Sina Somekhian, 26, owner of the Old Town Cafe in Alexandria. "They have people over there."

Randi Clark does: two first cousins and an uncle. She wants no shooting. "I've lost a lot of friends in the last two years in shootings here," said Clark, 19, a salesclerk at a Wheaton store, referring to the rising number of D.C. homicides. "It just doesn't seem we need to go looking for more."

The problem, Clark said, is that many of her friends don't yet believe the nation stands near conflict: "They say, 'Oh, we are not going to go to war on the 15th. That's just talk.' "

Mark Crosen, 30, and his fiancee, Pearlita Leffingwell, 32, don't think it is talk at all, because he is an infantryman in the Virginia Army National Guard.

"Every time I get a call from my grandmother, my niece, my parents, that's the first question: 'Has Mark been called up?' " Leffingwell said. And though Crosen said he would fight, he worries about the job as a construction superintendent he would leave behind.

"If I'm called up for a long time, even though they're supposed to protect your job, I don't see how my company could get by without hiring someone," Crosen said.

William Webb is a member of the Leesburg Town Council. He wonders: Could this war make Loudoun County's sluggish economy worse? Could it lead to unemployment? "Bread lines, if you want to call it that," Webb said.

"How much is gasoline going to cost? How much is heating oil going to cost?" said Webb, 66. "And I wonder about Leesburg, the economy of Leesburg. Are we going to have to raise taxes in order to survive as a town?"

To many, none of this anxiety is worth the price. They think America should mind its own business, or they are cynical about the motivations for war. They think it is for big business or oil or the economy, not for any principle. Marc Jefferson, 21, of Northeast Washington, said Bush wants war to bolster a sagging economy.

"They want to fight to bring the job market back up," said Jefferson, who was window-shopping at Wheaton Plaza. "They can use people who are out of work now to fill in for the people who are over there."

"While it is honorable to feel that you are Big Brother and should help protect the world," said Renee Spivey, 41, a clerk of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, "there comes a time when you have to take care of home first. We're spending money over there we don't have. We're using a credit card."

But Vietnam War veteran Louis Payne thinks this fight is the right fight.

"Only because I don't see any other options," said Payne, 46, a District resident who said he served with the 101st Airborne Division. "There comes a time when you've got to put your foot down, you've got to do something."

There is much talk of war at Fettoosh Restaurant in Georgetown too, but talk from a different angle. Because Fettoosh is a place where Arabic is heard as often as English.

"It's not worth war," said owner Sami Chway. "The danger is done to Kuwait. With time, Iraq will get out, the embargo will work. I hope we can get peace without war, but I can't find a formula . . . . I'm sure America is going to win, but it is not going to be easy. A lot of people are going to suffer and get killed in this."

Staff writers Gabriel Escobar, Robert F. Howe, Lisa Leff, Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.