Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Little Boy Lost

Everyone has a story.  Do you ever find yourself wondering about the chronicles of people around you?   As busy as we are with our own lives, we enjoy finding the time to go to the movies, turn on the television or sit back with a good book.  It’s easy enough to find entertainment in a story that won’t disrupt our own.   Taking an active role in the story of stranger – well, that might get complicated.   

Oct 12th was National Gumbo Day.  This year, my husband and I celebrated by enjoying a bowl of gumbo at our local Gumbo Festival.  The kids scarfed down cheese-covered fries and then waited patiently for their dad and I to finish our meals.  By patiently, I mean that they said, “Hurry up and finish eating already!” less than a thousand times.    You see, they didn’t care that it was National Gumbo Day.  They didn’t go to the Gumbo festival for gumbo.  They were there for the rides.

After eating, we split into groups.  My husband and son went off to the “big rides” while I watched our youngest enjoy the tamer attractions.   The Fun House was one of her favorites.  She waded through balls, climbed up, slid down, and then got back in line to do it over and over again. 

That’s what she was doing when I saw him.

Two dirty streaks ran down his cheeks, but he wasn’t crying.  The tears that left the tracks had dried. He mouthed silent words, talking to no one in particular, except perhaps himself.  His left hand was near his chest, making repeated motions in the air that didn’t appear to be ASL to my (admittedly untrained) eye.  He couldn’t have been more than five years old.  He was alone.  My mommy sense soared to red alert status as I scanned the crowd, searching for someone, anyone that might be looking for him.  Another mom met my eyes.  She had noticed him too.  “Is he okay?” she worried.   I fought back the instinct to reach down with a comforting touch to his shoulder, because something told me that physical contact from a stranger might be overwhelming for this child.  Instead, I lowered myself to his height and asked, “Are you lost?”  He didn’t look at me as he shook his head.  I pressed further.  “Who is with you?”  His raised his arm and pointed to the empty space between the The Fun House and the ride next to it.  Then, before I could question him again, he began to walk toward the spot.  When we reached the in-between point, he gestured again.  Behind The Fun House was an RV.  It was inside the fence bordering the fairgrounds, not in the parking lot.  I wondered if his family traveled with the carnival attractions.   Perhaps the rides were as familiar to him as the swing set in my yard is to my own children.  Still, he just seemed much too young to be walking around in a crowd of strangers by himself.

At that moment, a police officer passed near enough to us that I was able to get his attention and explain the situation.  While he began talking to the little boy, my daughter exited the ride and ran up to me.  She was ready to move on.  I watched for a moment as the police officer walk toward the RV with the little boy then took my daughter’s hand and went off to a different part of the fair.

I didn’t see that tiny, tear-stained face again the rest of the evening, but questions hung around my mind.   Why was he alone?  Why had he been crying?  Did someone hurt him?  Was he hungry?  Did his family know that he was walking around on his own?  Were they worried?  If he was part of a “carny” family, perhaps there was an agreement among the attraction operators to keep an eye on him.  I wondered if he had a permanent home, or if he lived “on the road?”  What is life like for a child, any child, who travels from one carnival spot to another?  Maybe it’s a wonderful life, full of adventure and amazing experiences.  Maybe it isn’t.  I don’t know because I’m not a part of his life - not a part of his story.

Should I be?  

Was it too easy for me to walk away?     

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