Open letter for parents

True stories about real people…

Dear parents,

What I’m about to tell you happened almost 15 years ago, on a rainy, chilly night of late November. It was getting late, nearly 9 o’clock in the evening. A white frost covered the city and all I wanted was to get home as quickly as possible. I can still remember the chill carving itself into my very bones. I’ve wrapped myself as best as I could in my cloth coat and hurried towards the subway station. The mere thought that I had to cross the town to get home made me want to burst into tears. I was tired and hungry almost to a faint… and cold; very, very cold. I managed to catch the train in time or I would have had to wait for at least another 10 minutes.

First station… second station… third station… on the sixth I got out and went to a different platform. I took the next train and once more: first station… second station… on the third I got out again and went to a different subway section; me and a few other dozen wanderers. Not even the brief warmth in the subway could make me relax for a bit. I knew that the moment I would have finally got my feet and hands to thaw, I would be forced to get out again.

I crossed the seemingly unending tunnel and finally took the third train. I huddled myself in a corner and closed my eyes, dreaming at the hot soup that would await me at home. I still smile at the memory of my grandmother who, although I wasn’t a child anymore, would wait for me with hot chicken soup…

And then something made me open my eyes. A humming akin to a soft breeze was making its way over the deafening moaning of the old subway train. Something more like an apparition; and like an apparition, I could feel the air in the carriage getting heavier and heavier. I looked around me with surprise and then I saw it: at the other end there they were, a little girl and a little boy. They could not have been more than 7 or 8. They were cowering into one another, looking down, obviously very frightened. They were gluing themselves to the door, as if all they ever wanted was that the door would open and they would disappear into the darkness of the tunnel. Near them, an unsavoury character pinning them down with his gaze, threateningly hovering like a hungry animal onto its prey, mumbling relentlessly. I couldn’t hear what, but by the mixed looks of the passengers nearby, it was nothing of a fairy-tale.

For a moment, I forgot the cold and fatigue, and I approach cautiously the unusual trio. The look on the man’s face and his sinister grin gave me the shivers for a brief second; and then I heard what the man was mumbling. A flood of horrible images rushed before my eyes and my skin got goose bumps. My blood started to boil furiously and, without giving a second thought at the man’s sheer size, the words rushed themselves out of my mouth: “Go. Get out of here! NOW!!!”

Something in my eyes probably surprised him long enough to take a step back; long enough for me to step between him and the children. He gestured towards me but changed his mind; I yelled at him loud enough that all the passengers, about 20, were now looking at us expectantly (don’t ask me for what, your guess is as good as mine; to this day I still don’t know if any of them would have helped me – they all just stood there, staring more or less angrily, yet without moving a muscle).

The doors opened and the man rushed outside the train, cursing and uttering foul words, yelling his way into the night, leaving behind a malodourous trace that you could almost touch.

If you’re still wondering what he wanted with the children, I think one word would suffice: paedophile. The rest of the horrors associated to it you can imagine for yourselves (maybe you will think this a harsh and hasty label, but I’ve heard and seen enough over the years working with people at risk; yet, I can’t get myself to reproduce the “monologue” of that… man).

I turned around towards the children; they were still cowering, looking down, pale, shivering, with round tears rolling silently down their cheeks. I took a closer look and I realised they were brother and sister – both with blondish hair, pink skin in better times, beautiful cheekbones. Although their clothes were shabby and worn out, they were clean. I didn’t ask them what they were doing alone in the subway at that hour; didn’t see the point, it was quite obvious – they were begging. But I did ask them if they were hungry. They didn’t dare to answer, but the unexpected grumbling in their little tummies was answer enough. I rummaged in my bottomless bag, filled with books and notes; I knew I still had a few biscuits – the cheapest on the market, some “things” hard enough to break your teeth in and with no discernable taste whatsoever. They chewed them without complaint. And a whispered “Thank you” left their lips…

Then I asked them where they live. And they answered truthfully. Good Gracious! The naivety of these children! All I wanted was to shake them and yell as loud as I could! They’ve barely just escaped a dirt bag, and still they were telling me, a complete stranger, where they lived… three blocks away from me. I took each by the hand, looked intently at them and said: “I will take you home”. They tried to refuse me politely, but I didn’t want to hear any of it. And, with a child at each side, got out of the train, took the tram for another 5 endless stops, crossed a few long, dark alleys, and finally arrived at their building. Not one single moment, all the way there, did I let go of their little hands; and they didn’t try to pull off. Not one moment; until their mother opened the door for us.

I told her in a few words what happened. She seemed somehow worried, but not too much. I didn’t waste any time trying to find out why. A quick glance around me told me everything I needed to know: every corner of the room, although clean and tidy, screamed poorness; a time forgotten granny was dozing off in a broken armchair; a bowl of fried potato chips ruled in solitude the table (and how many nights before, that week only?); and no father to be seen. Bottom line: this wasn’t going to be the last time these children would go begging after school hours.

I silently barked at the mother, telling here that although I’m not the one to presume to tell her how to raise her children, at least she could see to it so they wouldn’t wander alone anymore at late hours in a city with shady people and, especially, in a quite unfriendly neighbourhood. Her answer didn’t convince me, but there was nothing else I could do.

I turned around and walked home, with my heart cringing, bearing in mind the image of the two children walking alone the same road. In case you forgot, it was night, the alleys were dark, and the neighbourhood was full of those unsavoury characters. I was so cold and hungry…

But the soup was cold that evening; colder than if I have eaten it directly from de fridge; and tasteless…

As years passed by, I kept thinking about the children and asked myself what has become of them. They now must be 22 or 23 years old… I never saw them again; statistically speaking, the chances were pretty big – we did live in the same neighbourhood; and yet…

Often enough, whenever I was getting through rough times, when all I had for eating were potatoes (boiled, fried, baked in the oven, and then boiled again) and the cheapest biscuits on the market, my thoughts would wander back to the siblings; with the difference that I was an adult…

No, I never tried to find them again, although I knew where they lived. In a way, it felt like I would be intruding, my financial possibilities were very strict, and I thought that other means to help them were way too far from my grasp. Now I regret that, but alas! If I only knew at 20 at least half the things I know now…

Maybe you wonder how come I remembered them after all these years. No, not because I’m hungry, like you might have expected, but because we’ve just celebrated Children’s Day. A day when each and every one of us tried to mark the event according to one’s own possibilities: presents, cakes and sweets, good wishes and gift cards; the internet suddenly flooded with posts with/about/for children; the media was invaded by shows, movies and contests; the shops competed for the best offers and promotional programs; everywhere popped millions of colourful images, with children smiling happily…

Each and every one of us celebrated a child – our own, a neighbour’s, a student or simply the child within ourselves.

Yes, dear parents, in some countries we’ve just celebrated Children’s Day; in other countries they’ve started the preparations. Very good. How marvellous… Excellent! Hurray to us!!!

And yet, I cannot stop myself from asking: what about the rest of the days in a year? How do we celebrate those? Wouldn’t be nice to see children smiling happily every day of the year? What about those, hmmm?

Don’t bother trying to give me an answer – it was a rhetorical question – I already know it: the rest of the days in the year are NOT “Children’s Day”…

PS: A short animation created by Guillaume Arantes.


Ina Cassandra Halichias


2 thoughts on “Open letter for parents

  1. deannasallao says:

    hey there! i’m loving your recent posts!
    I also blogged about “An Open Letter to the Man Who Opened My Eyes To the World”. How can someone give the whole world to you and in a snap they’re gone?

    here’s what my recent post is all about…

    would be so nice to hear from you! 🙂

    cheers! xx

    deanna ( )

    • Hello, Deanna.
      It is good to hear from you. Thank you, I guess… It feels a little strange (in a very good way, mind you) that someone loves my posts. They’re not exactly about the cheerful part of life.
      As for your latest post – hm, talking about what lies beyond what meets the eye ;). When something hurtful comes our way, we are sad and angry, we don’t understand why and we search for answers that are not there – well, at least not the ones we want to be. We deem it a bad experience, one we wish to forget and feel ashamed that it ever happened to us. It takes a great deal to set regrets aside and see the good in it. And you just did that 🙂

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