Sometimes when you do the right thing, it doesn’t feel as good as it should.
There we were the five of us in the elevator coming off of work when a boy who was no older than six or seven stepped inside and rode all the way to the first floor with us from the sixth floor. We proceeded to walk out and notice that this young boy darts out of the elevator and makes a bee line to the outside doors. Outside of what might be safe, what might be comfort and familiar to this small child who was alone.
We watched him make a run for who we were all hoping for were his parents only to see the two passerbys not to blink an eyelash for this wandering kid in the streets.
Just at that moment he took a turn up a flight of stairs. Something in me screamed to go find him and make sure he was reunited with his parents. With every step I felt like I was somehow running to some sort of red alarm. And soon enough saw the boy contemplate whether or not he should keep running until I yelled “wait” in Korean loud enough for every person in the near four block radius could hear.
During moments of panic, English seemed to have escaped me. I searched and searched for the right words to get him to stop and blurted, “little boy, where is your mom? Is she close by? Let’s go find your mom” as my coworker who speaks a fair amount of Korean stood in his tracks and waited for something to happen, a reaction, a white flag surrender moment.
All we got was, “she’s upstairs” as the boy stared at me with questioning eyes.
So I asked him in Korean, “can you take me to your mom? I’m a teacher, you should go to your mom” to which he yelled, “no!” and started running in the opposite direction.
Fortunately, the opposite direction was in fact towards the building where we just walked out of. So I ran until I could see him only to see half of the elevator start to close. And if anyone has ever been in a Korean elevator, they would be the first to tell you, the doors eat you alive! No sensors, no room to squeeze in, just nothing. Chomps down. I can attest to those moments as I’ve fell victim to have the heavy doors slam against my arm until it was forced to open back up. (It can’t go up or down with me hanging out of it can it, now?)
So I screamed, probably some nonsense string of words that was a blend of English, Korean and probably some Spanish too. Anything to get the girl who was riding up to keep it open.
I was lucky, I was able to get on.
She got off on the fourth floor and here I was in an elevator with a boy who had no interest in talking to me and sudden panic set in. What if he thought I was trying to take him away? Sure, I had my shirt on with the name of my school on it, but he was six. I was a strange adult that he was in an elevator with trying to chase him up and down the street into an elevator.
The door finally opens after what felt like years trying to get information about where his mother was. As soon as the doors opened, he ran and ran to the end of the hall and yelled for his mom. When I walked in the doors however, what I saw was startling. A lady was tutoring two middle school aged students in an open office space. As soon as she saw her son rush in, she pushed him away and said in Korean “go find something to do.”
She probably wouldn’t have noticed me if I hadn’t said, “Excuse me.”
I proceeded to explain in my broken English after introducing myself that “I saw your son run outside of the building and into the streets wandering alone and wanted to make sure he was safe and brought him back to you, please keep an eye out.”
Most parents would either scold the child for running away or thank you for bringing them back. I received neither of those things. I wasn’t expecting gratitude, but maybe some reaction to indicate she cared and was worried.
What I received instead was…dismissive attitude. And could not believe her. Yes, this neighborhood is very safe, and yes there are many young children on a scooter playing outside after school or as their mothers are picking up dinner orders. But NEVER have I ever seen too young child get on an elevator and dart out into the public streets and NOT have any adult question that.
If that wasn’t reason enough to be heartbroken, these were the words that were uttered to me when I met back up with a coworker: “That’ll show the next time anyone decides to help in this situation again.”
Utter disbelief. Am I crazy? I know we’re in a foreign country, but shouldn’t parents have parental worries no matter how SAFE an area can be?
My heart is still races thinking about it.
Foolish Foreigner? Maybe, but I couldn’t take that chance and worry all night about whether or not this child as safe. I’m sure he would have played around for a bit and eventually get back to his mom, but what if something had happened and she had no idea where he was? We would have been the last group of people that saw him roaming around.