(I apologize I can't get the spacing to work properly today.)
He was nine, had an intellectual disability, and immediately took responsibility for me. He laid eyes on me when I entered the cafeteria. Joe had gone off to the toilet so I entered on my own. He burst away from his mother and her friend, making a bee line towards me. I don't much like being rushed, I get a little anxious - years of being bullied leaves a mark, but I could see by the look in his eyes that I had nothing to fear. He got up to me and instructed me not to crash into things. I assured him I wouldn't.
The two women with him, I'm guessing their relationship to him, came and tried to interest him in things like, um, lunch. He was having none of it. He wanted to walk in front of me, keeping his eyes ever wary for people who may cross my path and on my driving to ensure that I didn't hit anyone or anything, it was something he took seriously.
A couple times I had to ask him to move over a bit because I needed to get closer to something, he did so - reluctantly because he was worried I'd crash into things. But I didn't crash and he wasn't fully comfortable until I was at my seat and ready to have lunch.
I'm a shopper and Joe is not, so when we were nearly done lunch. I gulped the last of my tea and suggested Joe finish his at a leisurely pace so I could go upstairs to the gift shop and he could meet me there. Again, I headed off on my own.
I wasn't in the gift shop for a moment before he spotted me again. I could see the weariness on the faces of his mom and friend, I think they were worried about my patience. I truly didn't mind, though what he was doing was sometimes bothersome, and made getting around cumbersome, his heart was in the right place. I gathered from what I was told that there are kids with physical disabilities in his classroom and he's equally concerned about their safety.
By the end, yep he made it to the coat check with us, we managed a brief conversation. Very brief, conversation seems to be a skill that's only beginning to develop. He even made a little joke with me, that was entirely appropriate and quite funny. He glimpsed at me when I laughed, then he grinned. That grin meant the world to me.
He had spent every moment of our time together trying to keep me safe.
I guess, maybe, in there, he managed to feel safe too.
That's how it works, yeah, that's how it works.