The other day, I spotted a young boy climbing on the back of a pickup truck in a grocery store parking lot. He appeared to be about three years old, and he was alone. He played around the vehicle, sticking within a couple of feet of it. A woman walked by carrying a bag of groceries, and I asked her if the child was hers. Surprised, she replied, “No, he’s not mine.” Another woman responded the same way. This annoyed and worried me, that a boy so young would be left by himself.
“Where is your Mom?” I asked. The boy looked at me and said nothing. “What’s your name?” No reply. Soon two employees wearing orange store aprons came out and tried to find out who he was. “¿Quiere es su nombre?” they tried in Spanish. Nada.
I called 911 on my cell phone, and there was no answer after about twenty rings. Now that was disturbing. I hung up and tried again, this time reaching a 911 operator. She asked detailed questions, and I volunteered the plate number of the vehicle. A police cruiser would arrive soon, she promised.
Meanwhile, another boy showed up, a plump fellow aged eight or so. He cheerfully talked. “He’s my brother,” he said. “His name is Joaquin. I’m Miguel.”
“Are you boys alone?”
“No, my Dad’s in the store, shopping.”
“Is your Mom there too?”
“No. She’s in jail.”
“Oh. You know, Joaquin is much too young to be left alone.”
“He’s not alone. I’m watching him.”
“You weren’t. He was alone for quite a while.”
Miguel shrugged. “I just went inside to the bathroom. I was only a minute.” He’d taken a lot longer than that, and he looked too young to be responsible anyway.
A couple of us adults stayed with them until their father came out with his groceries. He was a burly man with a smile, but I sensed it unwise to provoke him. “Gee, we were worried about this boy,” I said, nodding toward Joaquin. “He was all alone for a good while.”
“No, he wasn’t. Miguel was watching him.” Clearly they were both too young, but it seemed time for me to stop talking. They drove away, and about five minutes later a patrol car showed up. The officer and I chatted and said he would visit the man’s home to make sure the boys were okay.