The Lost Student

My phone was buzzing and the name said “I’s Mom” so I pulled off my glove and answered.

“Hola?”

Sobbing. “Ay dios mio,” the mom cried into the phone. My heart skipped a beat but I tried to stay calm. I took a deep a breath and asked her what was going on.

The story came spilling out in heaving sobs – her little baby girl was on the wrong bus, hurtling towards some unknown destination getting further away from her every second.

“Ok, I’m going to hang up and call her to see where she is. Hang on and take a deep breath,” I responded in Spanish.

“I? This is Ms. A-P. Do you know what bus you’re on?” I rushed, still trying to maintain a calm tone of voice.

Luckily she did, and she even knew what direction it was going. So I told her I’d figure out how to get her home if she could just hang on. As I tried to type the route into my transit app, I dropped the call. Shit. Now this girl is speeding deeper into Boston still with no plan for how to get out. I kept pounding furiously on the app, trying to get it to tell me the best way to get her home that wouldn’t risk too much further confusion and wouldn’t necessitate  retracing all of her steps from the terminus of the bus line. Finally, I decided that with the seconds ticking away I had to go with the best option I saw. Armed with a plan, I called her back.

No answer.

So I tried her mom.

No answer.

For a moment I took this as a good sign — maybe they were talking to each other. This thought disappeared once I answered the next phone call, from I’s mom.

“Ella no esta respondiendo.” Great, I thought, she’s not answering her mom’s calls either?? Immediately my mind leapt to horror stories. In the intervening minute or two she had been kidnapped from the bus, never to be seen again. Or maybe her phone had died. Either way, there was no hope of reaching her directly.

“Ok,” still trying to sound calm, “I’ll try to call her back with instructions and I’ll let you know what happens.”

At which point I did not try to call her back. Instead, I called my boss for his two-cents on calling the police. His suggestion was to get in touch with the T police (who knew they even had such a thing?).

After a quick google search, my phone was dialing the T police.

“So I’m calling because a mother just informed me that her student is on the ** instead of her correct bus and she isn’t answering her phone so I’m not sure what to do other than ask if you could have a bus driver find her and explain to her how to get home or something? I’d have the mom call you but she doesn’t speak English at all and the kid is only 13 and is only learning English and is a tiny girl.” It all came spilling out at once.

“Ok well let’s see what I can do, though honestly if it were my kid I’d jump in a car and head to the terminus.”

“Yeah but I’m not sure they own a car…” I was just relieved to have someone else problem solving. He got her description and told me he’d put out the word to keep an eye out for her and to have her wait at the terminus. So I tried her again.

This time, she answered.

“I!! So once you get to the end of the line you need to take the train back. Are you ready for the instructions?”

“Yeah Ms., but I know because the bus driver told me.”

“The bus driver told you?! So you know to take the Red Line and then transfer to the Green Line and get off at your stop?” She seemed to have the details worked out so I called her mom back. I’m not sure if she was still crying or if she had stopped crying and started again when I told her that her daughter knew how to get back. Either way, as appreciative as she was, she wanted to hang up and call her daughter.

I took this opportunity to call the T police back and let them know the kid had been found and was back to answering her phone.

Twenty minutes later I got another phone call from the mom, this time without tears. She let me know that her daughter was about to walk off the train to meet her and thanked me for my help. In the moment I didn’t have the language skills or the wherewithal to express this, but I could totally empathize with the mom’s panic. Having your daughter hurtle through the darkening city on a bus highlights the tenuous nature of the daily commute that middle school students take on the T every day;the incident ripped to shreds the thin layer of protection with which parents try to shield their students. But I also understand why the events elicited more panic for the mom than the daughter. The student always knew where she was — on the bus. The next day at school she thanked me when I saw her in the cafeteria but she looked a bit sheepish, as though she had misbehaved even though I was just relieved to find that no residual panic remained.

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