The sixteen-hour flight from India had landed me back in Los Angeles and had drained me of energy and patience. With the thought of catching food at home, I decided to join the queue for the bus ticket. As the scorching July sun glared down at me, I hopelessly peered at the long queue stretched before me. I discerned the man in front of me say something to his wife about the bus timings being changed. With the passing of a few minutes, the confusion seemed to rise. The air filled with irritable screams of impatient passengers as the staff, themselves unsure of the correct information, exchanged worried glances. I was silently observing the situation, and with the back of my hand, wiping the drops of sweat that accumulated on my forehead, when I felt my jeans shift against my legs. On turning quickly, I caught a hand in my back pocket.
Much to my surprise, the young thief was a little boy. He was covered in a shabby and torn over-sized t-shirt that reached his knees and a ripped, mucky half-pant. I was still holding his hand when I felt him tremble and breathe heavily as he glanced at me with frightened eyes. He wriggled against my hold and struggled to escape while I walked out of the queue and to a quieter place, beneath the shed of a coffee shop. In a civil tone and low voice, I said, “Don’t worry. I don’t mean to cause you any harm.” I let go of his hand and softly placed my hand on his shoulder, saying, “Why must you steal, young man?”
He had stopped trembling by now and his green, earnest eyes had landed on my own, reminding me of sterling emeralds dazzling beneath the sun’s glare. “Five months back, I had lost my family in an accident. I have no place to go to and I’ve had nothing to eat,” he spoke in a quiet but bold voice. It left me unsettled to my core.
“Why don’t you stay in an orphanage, then?” Naturally, I asked.
“I was taken to one, but I ran away. They used to beat me.” His voice now sounded disturbed. His eyes shifted from mine, running here and there as if in search of something.
“I’m very hungry. I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday,” he said, again.
I turned back to look at the queue while my own stomach complained. I looked at the child again, at those pleading earnest eyes and let out a sigh. Letting my emotions have the better of me, I walked to the restaurant right next to the airport, holding the boy’s hand.
I saw flames of an instant joy flickering in the child’s eyes as the waitress placed the meatloaf on our table. He decided to abandon forks and spoons and dove into the meatloaf with his hands, stuffing them endlessly in his mouth.
“Careful, there. You wouldn’t want to choke.” I said, but he didn’t seem to listen.
After devouring a whole meatloaf, he pleaded me to order for another.
I watched him as he stuffed the food with his little hands, stopping not even to breathe, and I could only imagine how starved he must have been. I glanced at his earnest, green eyes that were filled with an evanescent joy, and that reflected on the promise of a good life that had long been broken. I imagined his little hands reaching out for young, innocent, dreams that had long escaped from his fingers and dwindled into the mist. I drew in a long breath.
As we silently waited for the bill, I decided to ask him, “where will you go from here?”
A dejected smile spread across his face. “Wherever I find shelter for the night. Probably, the shed of a closed shop,” he spoke.
Thoughts of all kinds rushed in my head, some assertive and some not so.
We walked out of the restaurant and were going to bid goodbye when I, once again, looked at those earnest eyes and that tattered smile and a protest of a sort tugged at my heart. I couldn’t help but say, reluctantly still, “You can stay at my house for the night.”
That was ten years ago. Oliver, the green, earnest-eyed child has been my adopted son for ten years now. After I finish writing this, I’ll put down my cup of coffee and call to check on Oliver. Today is his first day of college, studying astrophysics at the University of Cambridge.