Hugging a Stranger’s Child

The young mother, clearly overworked, wore a thin, ill-fitting jacket and blue jeans. On her right shoulder hung her purse, a diaper bag and three plastic grocery sacks. In her left arm slept a baby bundled in a white snowsuit and pink blanket. There was one empty seat on the bus, so she told her three-year-old son to sit there.

The boy obeyed, but squinted suspiciously at the fortyish woman in layered work clothes and a reflective safety vest sitting next to him. He squirmed. He glanced over his shoulder to see out the window behind him. He turned his face the other direction and eyed the overweight, old lady with a gray, metal cane propped against her knees. The boy stared at her challengingly.

She smiled at him.

He dropped his head, squirmed again, leapt to feet, and darted to his mother. Flinging his arms around her legs, he buried his face against her knees.

“Mikey,” she said uncomfortably. “Mikey, go back and sit down.”

“No,” the toddler whispered.

She shrugged her purse and the diaper bag higher onto her shoulder, leaned forward awkwardly, and placed her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Go. Sit. Down.”

Mikey shook his head defiantly, looked into her eyes, and started to cry.

Other passengers on the bus pressed against each other, some pointed, others jerked their chins in Mikey’s direction, and all of them snickered. The driver’s angry glare bounced off the rear view mirror and slammed into the harried mother.

“Mikey,” she said pleadingly.

The old woman canted her head as she measured the exchange between the boy and his mother. Finally, she called out cheerily, “Mikey.”

The child twisted around to look at her.

“Mikey, come back and sit next to your Aunties,” the old woman suggested.

The woman in the reflective vest nodded toward the boy, then patted the empty plastic bus seat invitingly.

The boy glanced at his mother, who smiled with desperate frustration and repeated, “Go sit down.”

Realizing that he had been saved by his “Aunties,” the boy raced back, and the woman in the reflective vest helped him climb onto the seat. The boy knelt with his nose and one hand pressed to the window. He used the other hand to gesture at all the wonderful things outside the bus window: the overhead train, another bus, a truck from the south side delivering produce. Tapping his hand on the glass enthusiastically, he grinned and cried out at the truck’s logo, “Let us!”

The old lady thought of the three-story walk up and the twice used tea bag waiting for her at the end of the bus ride. The string from the tea bag would be dangling down the side of the cup and beside it, along the edge of the saucer, would be the half-slice of cold toast she’d set aside for her lunch. She tightened her grip on her utilitarian cane.

“Lettuce,” she agreed feigning excitement. “And tomatoes.”

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