Thursday, September 02, 2004

I'm the stranger your mom told you not to talk to

I was sitting on the subway today when a group of young children [probably in the 6-8 year age range] got on the train, together with the teenager supervising them. A little boy sat down next to me and started looking at the newspaper I was reading ["Newspaper" is a bit too fancy a name -- it's a rag called "Metro" that's distributed for free on the subway and has sound-bite news] and asked whether he could have it. Wanting to be friendly, I asked him where he and the other kids were going, in response to which he just put his finger to his lips and shook his head; there was also a little girl sitting across from me who told him "You're not allowed to talk". I didn't really understand what was going on, so I just shrugged and went back to reading the paper.

A couple of minutes later, I gave him the paper, in response to which he first said "Thank you" and then turned to the teenager supervising them and said "The stranger just gave me the paper". Hearing myself referred to as "the stranger" was when the penny finally dropped for me: he, and all the other kids, had been told not to talk to strangers on the subway, and that's why he couldn't tell me where they were going.

The screwed-up thing about it was that I almost felt like I'd done something wrong by talking to the little boy, as if I was actually trying to figure out where they were going so I could kidnap him or do something equally vile. A disturbing reminder of the fact that there are enough twisted people out there that kids have to be careful who they talk to, and that they have no way of telling who means them harm, so they just have to assume that anybody who talks to them has evil intentions, even if it's somebody as utterly harmless as me. Pretty sad.


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