Meanwhile, I have to tell this story.
I was on a 7:35 p.m. train out of New York last night. I was scheduled to take the Acela at 8:15 and the switch was going to improve my arrival time in Baltimore by only 20 minutes, but it meant 40 minutes fewer in Penn Station, which is insanely overheated. So I switched to a business class ticket on the regional (this is the only way to ensure a seat) and jumped on board.
There was a woman with two children in business class, a little unusual, but not extraordinary. The smaller child was fussy, keeping up a steady whimper, but it wasn’t particular noticeable. In some ways, I think it was the absence of the sound that I first noticed, shortly after we pulled into the Trenton station.
The woman, who had tickets to Baltimore, had gotten up, said something unintellgibile and strange, and bolted, taking one child, leaving the other.
The child left behind had fluffy brown curls and wide-but-sleepy eyes. Maybe 2, maybe younger. Maybe older. He didn’t speak to any of us, never made a sound. It was the other child, a girl, who had been fussing. Another woman and I crouched by him, holding his hand, and telling him that we were his “train friends,” and we would watch him until his mother came back. In trying to establish his age, we felt around the back of his waistband; he wasn’t wearing a diaper. Then, on a hunch, I felt the seat beneath him. The boy had wet himself at some point.
Meanwhile, the rest of the train was told we had a “mechanical problem” requiring a brief delay. One very young man, perhaps in his 20s, seemed worried about the delay and asked a little peevishly if we were sure the boy was traveling with the woman who disembarked. (Um, yeah, we’re pretty sure he didn’t get on the train at Penn on his own.) Transpo cops came, then a city police officer. They found the mother in the station, where she had abandoned the other child and was insisting that she had no children. We put the little boy’s jacket on him and handed him to the police officer. What else could we do?
Ninety minutes later, as the other woman and I waited in the vestibule for the train to come into Baltimore Penn Station — later, as it turned out, than the Acela I might have taken — we asked the conductor what he knew. He said the woman had been a little off since she boarded, but had purchased her seat upgrades with cash, alternating between pleasant and strange. (At one point IIRC, she had tried to block the conductor’s path into the cafe car.) It was only because he was keeping an eye on her that he noticed she had jumped off the train in Trenton.
I asked him if there was any way we might ever know the rest of the story. He didn’t think so. I’ve since e-mailed a friend at a New Jersey newspaper, but I can’t stop thinking about that little boy.