I went to the bowling alley with some friends. While we were there, a small boy - only two or three years old - came up to me and took my hand.
"Where's your mum? Show me where your mum is," I said to him. I looked around, but couldn't see any adults who seemed to be missing a kid. "How about your daddy? Is your daddy here?"
He dragged me by the hand, but only to the pinball machine and pointed to it. Then he dragged me to the basketball ring and pointed at that, then the row of little yellow ducks, and the crocodiles that pop up so you can hit them on the head with a mallet. He walked me around all the sideshows, smiling and pointing, and all the while I was looking around for his parents and asking him where they were.
Suddenly a wrathful mother charged over to me and snached him out of my hands, her eyes flashing.
"Thank God!" I said. "He grabbed me and I kept asking him where..." She didn't stop to listen. She dragged him away from me, and over her shoulder shot me a look of pure venom.
I felt dirty. I wanted to explain to her what had happened, but she wasn't interested. I can understand the fear parents have of child abduction. I wasn't doing anything wrong. But I know I would be horrified to see a stranger hand in hand with my child. For five minutes this kid was latched onto me before his mother noticed he was missing. It wasn't a case of me letting him go - I wasn't holding him. I hated knowing that his mother was suspicious of me, and I felt really bad. I couldn't have convinced her that I wasn't about to steal her child.
Then I remembered something that happened when I was a kid myself. My mum was driving me somewhere. Near the end of our road, she noticed a very small child lurking by the side of the road. We lived out in the sticks, so the properties were quite large. There was no one else around.
She stopped the car and asked the kid where he lived, but he didn't answer her. So she said to me, "I'm not leaving this child to get run over. I'll take him to the police station." She took the kid by the hand and started walking him to our car.
Just then a car came around the corner, and screeched to a halt. His mother jumped out. It turned out he lived just behind where we found him, and obviously had been sent outside to wait for his mother who was on her way home (a bloody stupid thing to do, leaving a child who's only about three or four to wait alone by the side of the road). The woman looked at my mother like she was a child abducter, snatched the kid away and hurried inside.
My mother felt bad. She knew the woman would have thought the worst of her. But she said to me, "No matter what she thought, no matter how I feel now, I couldn't have lived with myself if I saw a child that young alone on the street and didn't try to help him."
And that's how I feel now. If there's a child who is alone, who looks lost or frightened, I will stop and try to help. I know I'm a good person. But I can't guarantee that the next person who comes along will be so good. Even if to the parents I'm a frightening stranger, I couldn't live with myself if I ignored a child in need.