I was sitting alone at the bus stop and two young sisters joined me. The older one said hello and asked if she could sit down. I told her that the stuff (still warm, half-full cartons of Chinese take-out) piled on the far end of the bench wasn’t mine. Together we moved them to a nearby tree stump, not wanting to toss them away in case their owner returned.
The girl pointed at the poster of a missing person and wondered aloud how a grown up could just disappear. Then she told me a wild rumor about a man who is supposedly on this island going from school-to-school and checking kids out of their classrooms. She said after he takes them away they are found a couple of days later dead.
I told her that the story wasn’t true. I explained that it hadn’t been on the news. Besides, I said, I am a school teacher and it is very hard to just take a kid out of school. First, you have to know the kid’s name and the teacher’s name, you have to show your ID and the parents or legal guardians have to have given written permission — in person — to the school, as well. Not just anybody can walk in off the street and check a kid out of class.
I told the girl not to worry, that the office wouldn’t just give her to a stranger. The girl said she wasn’t worried for herself, but was concerned about her little sister. “I,” she said, “Am too smart for something like that to happen to me. I am very careful.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You seem to me to be the type of kid who would talk to a stranger.”
She looked shocked and exclaimed. “I wouldn’t!”
“I think you would,” I said, “You’re talking to me.”