A boy, the age of my second daughter,
with the same sparkle in his eyes, the same laugh, the same smile,
sat next to me on the train.
He was loud and so friendly.
He wasn’t lost nor was he a beggar.
But he was alone, in the train and perhaps in this world.
Not a care in the world but with that smile and laugh.
My husband shared how he met a young boy, who looked and behaved exactly like my daughter, on his way to work. At a time when most children are already in school or on their way to school but this boy wasn’t going to school. He was just where he wanted to be, on a train.
We always thought, we would know how to handle such situation. How we would talk and iron things out if we ever came across a lonely child but in reality it is much harder to do.
This boy, although clearly looked and fit the profile of a homeless person was simply different. He just wanted to talk. He was heading some where. He didn’t want cash, he just wanted to talk. He was eager to talk to all the passengers on the train. He wasn’t rude, he was just excited. He wanted to share his story.
Many ignored him. Steered away from him because he smelled and he was dirty. The boy found an empty seat next to my husband and sat there, but he asked permission before sitting.
My husband described to me what happened in that 10 minutes. How the boy spoke in Hindi to my husband, thinking that he would understand, because technically my husband should have but unfortunately that’s one language he did not pick up whilst growing up. So much of what the boy said didn’t make sense to him. But he listened and from the boy’s gestures and enthusiasm, he knew the boy wasn’t talking about his troubles. He was just excited to share his story with someone. Like how my kids share their stories because every little detail in a child’s life is very important.
But he forgot to do what we always thought we would do in such situation. He forgot to ask the boy where was he going, why did he look like he hadn’t showered for a couple of days, if he needed some cash or if he needed to call someone? But all that did not cross his mind as he watched the boy talking and when his stop arrived, he just got up and left, like he has been doing for so long.
He only realised all that he had not done and should have done, only after he sat down for breakfast. Feeling so awful and playing the whole scene over and over in his head, thinking how or what he should have done differently. How he should have handed out his jacket to the boy because he looked so cold in the train, how he should have given him some cash even if the boy didn’t ask for any or how he should have hugged the boy though he did not have the guts to do it when he felt like because he looked so much like our daughter. So many regrets and an opportunity gone to show the boy and many on the train how one must treat a child, no matter how or what the child may be like.
But what was even more sad was the way, no one in the train wanted to look at him. Not wanting to make eye contact with him so that they would have had to deal with him.
That got me sad and thinking, if ever my child is lost and gets filthy or dirt on her clothes and starts smelling, no one would want to help her. No one would offer to ask her if she was alright. Everyone, even those who think they would have, might just forget to do the right thing at the right time.
Blessed are those souls who are able to respond in real time and handle such situation so accurately. They are definitely made up of something so special. Ingredients and compositions that gives them the ability to react so differently than most you and I.
I am compassionate but I am judgmental too, a little too judgmental. Sitting in the comfort of my house it was easy for me to tell my husband, I think he should have done this and that but would I have done the right thing if it was me on that train? I don’t know what is right or wrong but I do know, ignoring a child who wanted to speak is so wrong.
Hypothetically speaking I would have aced this situation but in real time, with so many others reacting in a certain way, would I have reacted differently;
Would I have had the guts to embrace him, skip work and travel with him to where he wanted to be?
Would I have actually said “sorry boss, can’t come to work today because I have a lost boy who needs me more”?
Would I have dared enter a restaurant with all eyes on us and sat there eating together?
Would I dare follow him to wherever he needed to go and see whom he was meeting?
What would you have done?
Remember, thinking that you know what to do and to actually be doing it are two different things.