Right across the aisle there’s a boy

(I wrote this back in 2014. You can find more blogs like these on my medium page.)

It’s saturday, late in the afternoon and together with two friends I’m in Alexandria, Egypt. I’m sure we’ve seen 50 percent of the ancient architecture the city offers. Catacombs like the ones you see in Spielberg movies, a citadel you’d expect in Disneyland and a big old lonely pillar. Right now we’re on the train back to our apartment. Right across the aisle there’s a boy. His feet are on his seat.

I smile at him. I think he is ten years old, maybe eleven or twelve. His face is a bit long, his eyes deep and dark and he has short curly hair. When he notices me he smiles back. Cautiously though.

He’s wearing a blue t-shirt with white stripes and shorts. No shoes. His bare feet are all dusty and dirty. There’s a big wound on his left leg, and it looks like it’s not healing too well. I ask him: ‘Kyf Halyk?’ [‘how are you?’] But he doesn’t seem to understand. Another passenger explains. He says he’s doing fine. He asks if I speak English. I reply I do. I point at my chest and say ‘Hollande’. He smiles, and repeats ‘Ah, Hollande’.

A man enters our compartment. He’s wearing a long brown robe and a white scarf is wrapped over the top of his head. He looks at the boy, then in our direction and back to the boy. A rigorous look appears on his face. He talks to the boy, raising his finger. I wonder what the problem is. The man points at us, still talking to the boy, and makes a gesture of cuffed hands. He walks away, leaving the boy with a sad look on his face.

The man probably thought the boy was begging for some coins. It’s not aloud for children to beg on the streets. They‘re often working for someone, and this is the governments way to prevent that. However; this boy wasn’t begging. I started talking. I smile at hime and shrug my shoulders. He does the same.

The train stops. Apparently we have to get into another train. I get up and make my way to the door. I say goodbye to the boy, but notice that he is following us. He’s asking for money. Knowing the trouble it may cause him I try to ignore him and walk to the next train. He does the same, and takes place on front of me, right across the aisle. I look at him, but he doesn’t seem to care anymore. He’s playing with his coins. One by one he places them on the seat next to him and arranges them on a napkin. And again. I bet he needs more than just money and food. A caring family. An occasional bedtime story.

He is gone. Our compartment got more crowded at each station. I didn’t see him leave.

We’re almost back at our station and I feel gross. I thought i’d be a better person in such situations. Someone who takes boys like that off the train to buy new shoes together, or a falafel sandwich. A juice maybe.

But I didn’t do anything. Nothing.

Have mercy.

isaiah 58:6–9

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