It was early morning, and I was driving to my vacation house. I was not really in a hurry, so I stopped at a McDonalds to grab a burger. It was a typical dingy place you often see in a quiet town, and I was the only customer. Everything was running as usual, and I was in for another 100 miles of monotonous driving through a rural countryside.
And then something happened. I walked out of the joint and saw a little boy. He was about seven, and totally alone on a deserted parking lot where my car was the only one at 7 a.m. He was thin, even skinny, and had a dreamy, absent-minded look on his face. I felt at first like leaving him alone to whatever dreams were weaving together in his mind, but then decided to find out what was going on. After all, he was just a little fellow, and it certainly was not good for him to be here together all on his own.
“Are you waiting for anybody?” I asked.
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“No”, he replied.
“Do you live here then?”
“No, I was here with my Dad and Mom, and then they drove away.”
“Away? Are they coming back?” He looked amazingly quiet.
“They said I do not behave myself.”
“How long have you been here then?”
Now the little guy looked sad. “Two hours.”
“Two hours?” I realized I had to take him to the police, to contact somebody in that little place to get the boy back to his normal comfortable life. But was it really that normal if his folks leave him on the road like that? Or did he misinterpret their words?
While we were sitting in the police office, he told me about his family. His mom seemed like a good person in his words, but too intimidated by his father.
“She never speaks her own mind if he thinks differently,” the boy said. “If she says something different, he starts yelling at her.” I did not fell a shade of bitterness in his voice. He was merely narrating a story.
“Does your Dad ever beat you or your sister?”
“It is just me. He slaps me across the face sometimes. He loves her. She is his daughter.” Then he gave me the first warm smile in all the time I had been speaking to him and pulled a picture out of his pocket. “Isn’t she cute?” The girl was sure lovely, very much like her brother, but with curly blond hair that turned her into a little princess.
“He always brings her presents when he comes back from his trip. She has tons of toys.” I imagined to myself the unhappy lot of a child who lives with the stepfather. He probably suffered a lot, poor little thing.
Well, when the parents did come a few hours ago, they were hysterically happy to find their child there. He just ran away on his own, they said. They had not the least intention of leaving him out in the cold. They were nice and loving parents. You’d think they were role models for other families.
But I watched the passivity with which the guy moved into the van, and I could not shake off the feeling that something was missing from their words. They were smiling to me, to the policemen, but they seemed oblivious to the boy except the first moments of embraces. I was standing there thinking how the boy’s life will turn out in the long run. Will he ever learn to be loved? Will his relationships later be warmer than his family? I watched them drive away, then turned and walked back to my car.
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