He didn’t miss the bus. The bus missed him.
That’s what he told the officer.
It was the first day he was supposed to take it, but for whatever reason, the bus had not come. Maybe the driver hadn’t been told, or perhaps there had been a miscommunication between the school and his parents since English was not their first language. Whatever the case, they had left for work believing that the bus would be coming along shortly. The boy waited. And waited. And waited a little bit more.
Then, fearing he would be late for school, the fifth grader began to walk. He wasn’t completely sure which direction the school was. He waited at intersections of streets with names like Hamline and Lexington and Snelling until the lights turned green during the morning rush hour. His red backpack full of books began to get heavier with each step. His stomach began to growl. He thought about the lunch his mom had packed for him that morning. Food that didn’t smell or taste like the lunches his friends brought to school. Food that tasted like home to a Somali boy crossing busy streets all alone in a huge, gray, city on a blustery December day.
The yards were bare and it was in the 30’s as he started out. He passed houses strung with bright Christmas lights. A large plastic Santa in a bright red suit smiled at him from one yard. As he walked, he looked for anything that looked familiar. His tennis shoes made soft smacking sounds on the sidewalk.
He was more alone that he’d ever been before, and more alone than any 5th grader should ever be in the middle of a city. He didn’t have a cell phone. His mom and dad were at work. The school probably thought he was home with the flu.
Suddenly, he heard a giant clap of thunder that made him jump and it began to rain. He kept walking. The rain turned to sleet, and then to snow. His shoes got wet and he could feel the beginning of a large blister forming on his right heel. His thin Dollar Store gloves were soaked. He pulled them off to blow on his hands and dropped one into a puddle of slush. The boy began to limp because of the blister. He could feel fear creeping in next to the cold.
This is where the story gets a little miraculous…
The half-frozen, very lost boy stopped a burly, red-bearded, young man wearing a green Camo jacket to ask for directions outside my daughter’s apartment. The man had already called the police and explained that he was waiting with the child until help arrived. The miserable, shivering, boy stood a few feet away stealing glances in our direction as we talked about where the school he was looking for might be. I walked over to the boy and told him that I was a mom. That everything was going to be okay and that I was going to take him into the building to let him warm up until the police came. His dark eyes welled up with tears and he nodded, limping behind me up the stairs to the building.
Inside, I took both of his hands in mine to warm them up. He told me his name was Abdullah. I asked him where his gloves were and he told me how he’d lost them. I offered him hot cocoa and a Christmas cookie and he stopped sniffling. After a few minutes, the police officer arrived. She asked the boy a few questions and made a call to the school. Finally, he climbed into the back of the police van. The man with the red beard went back to his life. I went back to mine.
I have thought about Abdullah a lot this week. How, in the midst of fear and confusion, he reached out to a stranger. How it was possible for a fifth grader to be lost for over two hours while his parents were at work, unaware. How a kind young man with tattoos and piercings on his way to work stopped to help a child, and then stayed. How a mom who looked nothing like his warmed his very cold hands between her own. How a police officer called him “Sweetie” as she asked him questions. Years from now, when the boy remembers the day he was lost in a city of strangers, I hope he remembers all of this. All of us.
Because here’s the thing. We are all connected in the most remarkable ways, Abdullah. You, the man with the beard, the police officer, me.
We just are. Trust that. Always.