|Melissa Gaggiano Photography|
The wind wasn’t simply blowing. It was blasting gusts of air making it difficult for my six year old self to walk. It was the end of the school day and everyone was homeward bound. Most of the kids rode a bus to and from school – many of us lived too far to be walking the distance. The school was built onto a slope so walking downward toward the buses would have been easy enough on a still day. But today the weather was fiercely against anyone walking down the hill toward the buses.
I felt certain the wind would blow me away and the only thing keeping me earthed was my back pack. Even so I had to lean forward and could only take tiny steps as the wind was trying its darnedest to drag me back.
Eventually I made it to the long line of buses positioned near the front of the school wall. The wind still wasn’t letting up. It seemed more powerful at the base of the hill. I felt stuck. I couldn’t move forward. I still had a way to go as my bus was at the back of the line.
One of the teachers on duty approached, told me to hurry up, but then asked which bus I need to get on. I pointed and told her it was the bus at the far end. She told me the buses were about to leave and that I had no time to reach my bus. The woman urged me toward the bus before us. This is not my bus, I told her. She pushed me onto the bus and said not to worry, and that this bus will probably get me home. I didn’t know what to say. I was just a kid and the teacher was a responsible adult. I wasn’t taught to second guess an adult’s logic, but I was scared all the same.
Soon the bus doors close and I am searching for a spare seat on an unfamiliar bus, with a driver I have never seen before and surrounded by equally unfamiliar children. I sat near the front, keeping a vigil of the bus’s journey. I kept hoping that the teacher would be right about the bus getting me home though I couldn’t ease the sick feeling rising from the pit of my stomach.
So far, so good! The bus did appear to be following the same course that my regular bus would take. The bus left the town centre in the right direction. It was going to be okay, I thought. But then the horror of it all came back as the bus took a left turn. The path was unfamiliar. It was definitely time to worry. What was I to do? What would the driver do at the end of the journey? Would he kick me off? Would I have to stay at the bus depot overnight? Where ever that may be. I was already sick with anxiety, but now I was terrified. I tried not to cry, but my eyes welled up despite my efforts. How could one afternoon go so horribly wrong?
On the other side of the bus a boy and girl sat. They must have been watching me for a while. The boy spoke to me, “You don’t belong on this bus do you.” I thought I was in trouble. Maybe these kids will out me to the driver and have me kicked off between stops. I nodded to the boy. I told him which bus I was meant to take and that a teacher pushed me onto this bus. The boy and girl gave each other a look - knowing what to do. I saw the momentary connection. It was decided, I was coming home with them.
It was very likely that once the two children brought me to their home, further necessary and adult steps were taken. Their mama called the school to inform them of the mishap and my whereabouts. Many kilometres away my dad, who was waiting to collect me at the bus stop, was distressed to find I was not on the bus. He too called the school to report me missing. Two and two was put together and it wasn’t long before my dad collected me. Those were the facts but hardly the most important aspect of my memory, at least, not from the perspective of a six year old.
What was important was the warmth and safety I felt once the boy and girl took charge of my immediate destiny. Once I was planted in their home a lot was done to make me feel comfortable. It wasn’t long before it began to feel like a very nice babysitting experience. A after school snack was provided, though I cannot recall what I ate. One of the children read to me a picture book with stills from Steven Spielberg’s E.T. I was shown origami for the first time in my life. I pretended that this was my family and these kids were my older siblings. I was happy. I was cared for. I was safe, which is all a six year old wants to feel.
It was a traumatic experience turned on its head. Decades later when I think about that day, particularly the family that took care of me I recall the warmth and protection that these kind strangers provided. I have such profound feelings regarding that day. I only wish I could remember their names.