Walking to work today and happened on a boy crouched down on the sidewalk, surrounded by candy. He was staring at the candy, and in his hand was one of those white, ceramic cooking knives. I offered to help pick up the candy, but he refused. I was going to walk on by (August wanted to eat the candy) but I couldn’t leave him alone with the knife. I flagged down two other boys who were running by and they helped pick up the candy. They ran off, and I asked the candy boy where he was going, thinking I would walk him home and try to talk to his mother about the knife.

“I’m going to Orleans” he said. Orleans is a city about three hours drive from here, and the boy was heading away from the train station, so I asked how he planned to get there. “I’ll make a sign and hitchhike. I know what street I’m going to. My mother live there.” Well, by now I’d figured the boy was a runaway, but what to do with him? Luckily, a little boy and his mother arrived on the scene, and as it happened, the boys were in the same class. The mother knew the boy, but she also knew his father would make trouble if the boy didn’t go home. She convinced the boy to give her the knife, and then we started trying to persuade him to go home, but he burst into tears again and ran off.

The woman yelled for him to stop, but he disappeared into the alleys behind the street. I unhooked Auguste from his leash and sent him after the boy. Auguste loves chasing things, so of course he dashed after the boy. The poor kid hadn’t gone too far. Two blocks away, he’d stopped, and he was astonished to see Auguste bouncing after him. I shouted to him, “Can you bring him back? He ran after you!” He came back with Auguste, and kept petting him. He was still crying, and he said that he had two red marks against him from school, and that his father would beat him for every red mark he had. He also didn’t have his mother’s phone number, when I offered to call her for him. The boy was 12, he told me, and he’d been in trouble in school and now didn’t dare go home. His older sister, he said, was living in a “foyer”, which is where children are sent when they are being abused. I told him he was too young to sort out his problems by himself. The other lady told him that sorting out problems with a knife would only lead to more problems, then she hugged him. That only made him cry harder, but at least he agreed not to run away.

The lady and I managed to convince him to go to the children’s social services up the street, so we took him there. His classmate kept an arm around his shoulders, and both boys were in tears. The woman at social services was very kind. She took him in, listened to his story, and told us she’d take care of getting the boy to the proper authorities. Auguste and I went on to the office, and the boy went with the woman at social services, and I’m just glad I stopped to talk to a boy with a knife and spilled candy, because if I hadn’t, he’d be on his way to Orleans right now, hitch hiking, in the cold. He didn’t even have a proper jacket, and his ears stuck out like handles on a jug. They were already scarlet with cold when I saw him, tear-streaked and angry sitting in front of his candy, his knife clutched in his hand. I hope he’s all right. I’ll stop in and talk to the lady at social services next week to see what’s happened.