Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bob, Nora, and Ella

I know this may come as a shock to some, but I love to watch babies and little kids experience the world.  They are blatantly curious; they don't bother to hide when they're investigating--unless you've already told them not to investigate something.  I love their guilelessness (Wow, that word looks ugly; let's say lack of guile instead.).  Regardless of word choice though, children are such charming sleuths.

One day I was riding the bus home from running some errands, and there was a man sitting in the seat diagonally in front of me.  His ears were gauged and pierced, and he had a short mohawk.  The sunlight glinted on his blond armhair and accentuated his tatoo sleeves.  His expression could at best be termed neutral, though some might have dubbed it scary.  I'm going to name this man Bob . . . because I can.

A few stops later, a youngish mother boarded, carrying her daughter in one arm, cell phone held to her ear with the other.  The conversation didn't sound fun for the mother; she was venting to the person on the other end of the line.  Most everyone on the bus heard her words too, as she took her seat in front of me, across the aisle from Bob.  I'm going to name the mother Nora and the little girl Ella, just because I want to.

It didn't take long for Nora to make a negative impression on practically everyone present.  She was vocal about how jerky the ride was, how crowded it was, etc.  Ella, however, seemed pretty unphased.  She was busy checking out Bob.  Full-on staring.  Well, she was about 16 months old, and she hadn't caught on to the anti-staring policy yet.  While Nora seemed oblivious to everything except her phone, Ella was perfectly happy to go exploring while held in the confines of her mother's arms.  So she reached out and touched the hair on Bob's arm, big round eyes trained on his face to see his reaction.

Bob appeared pretty detached from the scene to this point.  He was a well-seasoned passenger, but when Mr. Neutral Expression turned to look at Ella, he was wearing the most beatific smile.  She didn't smile back though.  Instead, she retrieved her hand to her mother's supporting arm in preparation for her next mission.  This time, she reached out and rested the full length of her chubby hand on Bob's tattooed arm.  His expression was no different this time:  smile directed right into Ella's beautiful brown eyes.

Ella was delighted.

But Nora was still preoccupied with haranguing the bus driver and tossing out diatribes against everyone she knew.

Within a few more stops, it was time for Nora and Ella to disembark.  Ella was contentedly silent the entire ride, but Nora cursed the driver even as she marched off the bus.  And it made me sad.  Does she realize what her daughter sees and hears?  Does she spend time in the night planning her daughter's life?  How long before Ella adopts a similar attitude and aborts her current demeanor?  How long do we have with the guileless investigator before she potentially transforms into a fault-finder?

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