Tutor and the Right Place, Right Time

Weirdest Adventure Ever

Happy Friday.  Short school day! President’s Week Vacation coming up!

On the way to work, at the turnstile of the train station, there is a young boy standing along.  Is he eight? Maybe 10? He asked me to help him through the turnstile, and I figured that here is a kid late for school who lost his train card. In he went.

He followed me up the steps to the train platform.  Rush hour ended a while ago. There are only a few people up here. Kid asked how he could get to (connecting) train. Well, that’s weird, if a kid is on the train alone he should know specific directions of how to get where he’s going.

  • I asked if he’s going to school. (assume makes an ass of u & me…)
  • Nope. He’s going home because school was closed.

Someone is starting President’s Week vacation early?  Makes no sense.

  • Do you know your mom’s phone number? Do you want to call her?
  • I don’t remember the number. And we just changed numbers. And my mom doesn’t answer her phone.

Oh yeah. THAT makes total sense. I suspect that I’m getting the runaround a kid is supposed to give strangers asking for personal information.

  • Hey kid, here’s my phone. Please call your mother.
  • (dials one number, a second number, a third number. Leaves a message)

We both sit on the train, staring out the window. Kid tells me again that school was closed. He expands on that: he’s going to retrace his steps, go to a specific station on (connecting train), then go left and right and two blocks and left and left and be home.  I wonder if he remembers the directions like he remembers his phone number. Try, try again?

I remember a kid six years ago. His mother had walked him home a bunch of times and he thought he knew the way, straight for six blocks, turn, two more blocks. He wanted to walk home himself. He got lost and got help from a ‘nice guy’  who turned out to be a kidnapper and murderer.

Just as I’m starting to really panic for this kid, my phone rings.

  • Hello, I missed a call from this phone number?
  • Yes, thanks for calling back, one second please.
    • I hand the phone to the kid.
  • Hello. Hi mom, school was closed and I’m going to retrace my steps…

OK, no need to panic, this is now a workable situation and we can work it out like reasonable adults. Kid hands my phone back to me and I talk to Mom for a while, she’s distraught (reasonable reaction!) and asks me to tell her kid how to connect trains and ask him to get off at a certain station.

  • I’ll take him to the right station and make sure he gets on the right train. Are you at (station)?
  • No, I’m going to head there now.

Well, obviously one cannot a complete stranger to please disrupt their day to help a random kid wait an unspecified amount of time at a random train station. That’s OK. I volunteer. The mom is simultaneously grateful and urging me not to do this. I know that dance, and I assure Mom

that this is really no problem. We hang up. I put her name into my phone. I wonder if the kid is nervous.

  • So, what’s your name?
  • J.
  • How old are you?
  • 11.

(older than I thought. still too young to be on the train alone)

  • So, this is turning into quite an adventure, isn’t it?
  • Yeah! I like adventures. I go into the woods a lot –
  •  -is amazed. Where does he find woods in the city?-
  • – and I’m really good at dodging trees, and if I meet a wolf I can jump right over it and run away, and bears hit people. I give bears honey, I give them lots of honey so they shouldn’t hit me. It’s a trade. I’m really good at making trades.
  • … …  … That’s nice.
  • More adventures….

We switch trains. I call to update Mom. She tells me J is a special needs child. It’s his first week in a new school. She’s really grateful that I’m taking the time to take care of him.

I’m really grateful that I was in the right time, right place to keep this kid from getting on the train nearest his school and guessing his way through the NY transit system.

I call mom that we’re five minutes out from the train station. She says she’s almost there. Can we wait in front of the store on the corner?

Right in front of the station is a guy selling free phones. J wants to chat with him. I take us over to the corner and ask if he sees his mom.  About a minute later, he gets antsy and we walk back to the phone guy. J asks some questions, the guy tries to convince me to take a phone, tries to convince J that his mom needs a new free phone. I get tired of listening to sales-guy be pushy (its just his job don’t be annoyed at him) and convince J to come back to the corner store.

It’s about 30, 40 minutes since I met J at the turnstile.
This morning is just bizarre. I’ve never been in a situation like this before.
I’m perfectly calm and actually the sales-guy is the only irritation in this perfectly normal get-kid-back-to-mom situation.

Suddenly there are three large guys saying, Hey, are  you Similar-J-Name?  One is wearing a bulky vest with a badge “___ Safety Patrol.” I know that name, they do police auxiliary work in the neighborhood. One show me a badge in his wallet. One shows me a picture of J on his phone. The school had called the police about their runaway kid. These guys are coordinating with the school, searching the neighborhood in expanding circles. They don’t know I had contacted J’s mom.

I explain that I had spoken to J’s mom who named this corner. J and I are waiting for her to come get her kid. Patrol guys talk to each other, make some phone calls, ask me for details. One tells J that they will drive him back to school. J wants to wait for his mom. Patrol guy suggests that J should wait in (unmarked) patrol van, since its cold outside.  J gets into the van, and I think I can go back to my own day now. Another patrol guy asks me questions, where did I meet J, what happened, how did I contact his mom…

Suddenly one patrol guy shouts, don’t let him run!  J suddenly decided that these large guys are kidnappers and he has to escape.  I hurry over and ask if he’ll wait with me instead. Apparently I’m a safe haven.  J relaxes.  No more running away.

J waits with me.  Patrol guys wait with me, but not with J, who does not want to be near these kidnappers.  One white-bearded patrol guy tells me that J had been at the school for all of one week. Mom & J had recently moved, so it seems J had been telling me the truth earlier. Mom really did change all the phone numbers, and he really didn’t remember the new ones. And maybe Mom didn’t answer the phone ever when a certain number showed up on Caller ID.

  • Hey, that’s mom’s car! Hey, Mom!
  • J hugs Mom.
  • Mom hugs me, and J makes it a group hug. 🙂

Mom talks to me, to the patrol guys, frantic and relived at the same time. I feel the same way, to a lesser degree. She scolds J, tells him they will have a TALK with the school, she will drive him there, the patrol guys plan to follow her.

I plan to get back on the train, go to work. A patrol guy stops me and asks for details again, more details, lots of detail. Finally I head back to the train. Surprise, (connection train) is going to get me within a few blocks of where I have to go, I  don’t need to transfer back to the train route I started from.

I’m glad I was at the right place, right time.

One minute earlier or later, if I had run into a red light, if I had followed through on my plan to be early for work today, if if if, I don’t want to think about if. I just sit on the train and stare into space.

Everything is OK.

Now I have time to be scared.

That was a scary thing that just happened!
So much could have gone wrong!!!eleventy!

I get to work and sit down and shake for a while.

Followup:

The principal of the school called me up. Each bus has a matron to make sure the children get off the bus OK, and the teacher is waiting at the door to make sure the children get inside OK. The principal stands outside while the children are getting off the bus to make sure everything goes smoothly. He saw the child walking away, called J, and J started running. The principal ran inside to call a worker to go with him, and drove off to search for J. The kid realized his ‘escape’ had been noted, and took off running. By the time the principal reached the corner of the train station, the child was already up the stairs and inside the  train station.

Now I wonder: If I had asked more questions at the turnstile, before we were safely all the way upstairs at the train platform, would J have told me the truth? If I had asked him to go back downstairs, or even walked him down, would we have serendipitously met the principal, or would another missed connection have meant J was on his own? He sure didn’t know the phone# or address of his new school. (go left, go right, go two blocks, go left…)

Did I say I’m finished shaking?

I am not.

Have a happy weekend, J & J’s mom!

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