There's an old man who "kinda" lives outside the back of our apartment building. He's always been here, mostly overlooked. He stinks. He wears very messy clothes. He is filled with sores that I cannot understand. And his feet. Oh, the feet. He seems to sleep nearby and always is fumbling around with sale papers from the trash. For a long time, I simply assumed he was crazy, in that street-person sort of way.
For the past year, we've started talking to him. I found out he can talk sensibly, if not a bit mumbly. We speak to each other, with me giving him a wave and a "domnul" (meaning "sir") and he returning with "sa traiesc" (long life). We give him food and a little friendship and he is very nice to us.
Lately, our interaction has increased. He likes to follow Lisa and Sofia over to the park and watch Sofia play. He never comes close,he just knows we're nice. A few days ago, Emma and a friend went out front of the building to wait on us. When I went down a few minutes later, they were gone. I started looking in the usual places.... the back, the park across the street, etc. Nothing. My heart raced, panic set in. Little blond girls, sex trafficking, untold horrors. A neighbor started helping us look. Finally, I found our "old man" out back and asked if he'd seen the little girls. He said he had and told me where they were! They were one building over, splashing in a water puddle, completely unaware they were lost. In tears, I grabbed Emma and hugged her.
Later, we took him bread and cheese, cold orange juice, and some of Sofia's birthday cake. He came through for us because we'd bothered to be nice to him. We'd bothered to buy him little treats at the store (he particularly likes bread rolls with yogurt). We bothered to smile and say hello.
Today, I was coming home from the grocery store carrying bags from the tram. There's a large elementary school next door and the kids were getting out. Several boys were outside screaming at our "old man," taunting him, calling him crazy. I was fuming. As I just stopped and watched they began to back away, aware of my eyes. The last boy looked at me. I know this school and we know a lot of the kids there, so I knew he had to know English. I asked him what he would do when he ended up old with no friends. We talked about how he had parents who loved him and he should help the man, not scream at him. The boy said the old man threw rocks at him and I told him I didn't blame him.... I'd do the same. I told him that the man wanted someone to smile at him, be nice, feed him.
I doubt the little boy will remember our talk, but I'm glad I had it.