NY. 1951. It was Saturday
morning, and I was heading out to visit my auntie in Harlem.
In the suburbs we had no
subways, so I walked the quarter mile to the main highway, looked both ways,
then dashed across the four lanes to catch the bus. About fifteen minutes
later, having crossed the city line, I got off the bus, ran down the subway
steps, and followed the signs: D train, downtown. As long as I heeded the rules—walk
with confidence, don’t look strangers in the eye—my safety was assured.
An eleven year-old girl
making her way alone through the city.
Getting off at 145th
Street, I walked the ten minutes down the hill. One guy whistled. I smiled
inwardly, but kept my gaze fixed ahead. There was a vagrant slumped by the
I turned the corner and
looked up toward my auntie’s apartment, a third-floor walkup above the
neighborhood barber shop. Mr. Alvarez, the owner, had first chair by the
window. I saw him look outside and I waved as I arrived on the stoop. He
interrupted his customer’s haircut and came out to join me.
I entered the foyer, rang
Auntie’s bell, then came back outside, to wait for the intercom: my
auntie leaning out her third-floor window and calling, “Come on up!”
As usual, Mr. Alvarez
remained on the stoop as I disappeared into the building. In a few moments,
Auntie and I leaned out her window.
“All clear,” we called
protector went back inside to continue trimming his customer’s hair.
Gardens many decades later. My husband and I were enjoying an all-day outing,
when I noticed a little girl standing alone and looking all around. She
appeared to be about eight years old.
Just then, another woman walked up and approached the child.
you lost, honey? Where’s your mommy?”
can’t find her,” the child replied, and began to cry.
were no security guards in sight. By this time about five other people joined
us. Natural instinct would be to put a comforting arm around the child, or take
her by the hand and try to help find her mom. But we all kept our distance. In
this day and age, no one dared touch her, lest we be accused of abduction or
go look for a security guard,” one man volunteered. We still watch after our
children, but the rules are different.
we waited for help to arrive, we formed a circle around the little girl to
prevent her wandering off. A community of strangers enfolding a child in safety.