Do good things really happen to good people? If so, why was Seth, a young boy who helped everyone and never hurt a soul, kidnapped?
When my younger son, Seth, first saw the movie, Pay It Forward, he was very much affected and inspired by it. He would get up early and make sandwiches for everyone, he would do the laundry, he would take a large lunch to school so that he could share it with the other boys, and sometimes, he would bring a beggar home to feed him and give him clothes. All this was well and good but when he started doing other kids’ homework and came home one day with the news that he had given his bicycle to a person who really needed it, I decided to put my foot down.
I walked into the kitchen and found a plate of sandwich on the table. The little note beside it read – like it always read – ‘pay it forward’. I sighed and turned around to glance out of the window. Seth stood in the front yard, waiting for the school bus. His hand gripped a large bag of goodies for his friends. I debated going out to talk to him. I had been wondering how I would broach the subject of paying it forward and what I would say to him that would make him stop giving his possessions to other people but still be helpful to others when in need.
The school bus arrived and I watched him hop on in glee. Maybe I would talk to him after he got back from school…
Except, he never got back. I waited and waited but he didn’t return. I drove to the school and talked to his teachers. I called a few of his friends whom he usually hung out with. I checked with the neighbours. He wasn’t to be found anywhere. I started to panic. When my husband returned from work and found out Seth was missing, he immediately called the police. We were told that a complaint couldn’t be registered until a person was missing for 24 hours. But how could we explain to them that it was Seth, it was our little boy and he hadn’t just gotten sidetracked while coming home from school. Seth wasn’t that careless. He kept us informed of his whereabouts.
And if he hadn’t called, then he really was missing!
My husband and I stayed up all night, our emotions switching from anger to concern to fear for our child. Where could he be? What could have happened to him? Had he been kidnapped? Was he even alive? No, he couldn’t be dead. He just couldn’t be. The thought made me weep and I buried myself into my husband’s warmth. Seth would be okay. He was a good boy. I remembered he had once said to me, “Mom, good things happen to good people. So let’s be good, okay?” If he was right, then he would be okay. We would find him.
I fell into a fitful sleep, and after waking up from a sleep filled with nightmares, I wept again. I tried to be strong for my older son and daughter, but by evening when there was still no news of Seth, my parents and in-laws arrived and I couldn’t hold myself together when I saw my mother. I kept thinking about how Seth must be feeling right that moment, alone without his mother to comfort him and shield him from the obvious nightmare he must be going through.
For the next two days, I tried to keep myself busy. Word about Seth’s disappearance had spread and throughout the day, neighbours and relatives kept visiting, hoping to soothe and motivate us into thinking that everything would be all right in the end. Their words did not help me in the least but I took pleasure in making them tea and serving them biscuits as these trivial things distracted me from constantly worrying about Seth.
“Jane, dear.” It was my mother, lightly knocking the bedroom door. “May I come in?”
She walked in and sat on the bed, facing me. She didn’t say anything and just sat there silently, looking at nothing in particular. Minutes passed and I eventually burst into tears. “Oh, Jane,” my mom sighed and scooted closer to give me a hug. I clung to her like a little girl.
“I never thought something like this would ever happen to us,” I said between sobs. My mother ran a gentle hand up and down my back. “This happens only in movies. Why did Seth have to be the one?”
I couldn’t let her speak. I wanted to talk about Seth. I wanted to say everything that was on my mind, eating away at my insides. “He is always helping others. Did I tell you he gave away his bicycle to a total stranger?”
“He did?” My mother was surprised, just like my husband had been when I had shared the news with him that fateful day.
I nodded. “He makes a sandwich-breakfast for everyone every morning, he does our laundry,” I sniffed. “And I saw him mowing Mrs. Foster’s lawn the other day.” From our window, I had spied on him refusing the money Mrs. Foster was trying to force into his hands for helping her. He had said something that had confused and amused old Mrs. Foster at the same time and I am fairly certain he had told her to pay it forward. Tears filled my eyes and I roughly swiped at them. “He’s such a good boy, mother. Why did this happen to him?”
“Dear, you don’t know what’s going on with him,” my mom said gently. “He could be safe and uninjured for all we know.”
I shook my head. Somehow I could only imagine him huddled scared in the dark, screaming out my name again and again. I opened my mouth to tell her as much when we heard commotion from downstairs. Both of us shared a bewildered look and hurried to get off the bed and check out what was going on.
“Jane!” I could hear my husband shouting. He was standing by the phone, looking excited.
“What happened? Is it about Seth? Did they find him?”
Our entire family had gathered around us, everyone asking questions at the same time. My husband said a few words into the phone and ended the call with, “We’ll be right over.” He put the phone down and nodded.
“He’s at the police station, he’s fine.” His voice caught in his throat and I threw myself at him. Oh, thank God!
Since no one wanted to be left behind, the entire family – my parents and in-laws, my son and daughter – accompanied the two of us to the police station. When we reached, I tightly held onto my husband’s hand. Seth was in there, waiting for us. Had he missed us as much as we had missed him? Was he hurt?
We immediately spotted him talking to an officer. Beside him stood another boy his age but I couldn’t recall ever seeing him before. I called out Seth’s name and he turned, his face splitting into a big smile. I saw him mouth the word ‘mom’ and I literally flew to him, wrapping my arms around his skinny shoulders and kissing him everywhere. Oh my boy, my little boy!
“Hi mom,” he said when I finally pulled back to look at him properly. There were a couple of bruises and scratches on his face and elbow but other than that, he was completely unhurt. “Hi dad,” he said, looking behind me. I let him go hug his father and siblings.
The officer was still standing there, watching us with a slight smile on his face. “Can you tell us how you found him, officer?” I asked.
To my surprise, the man pointed to the boy who had been standing next to Seth when we had arrived. He was still standing in the same place, trying not to be noticed. “Jack found him. He informed us and we staged a rescue.” He looked to Jack. “You want to tell them your story, young man?”
“Uh…,” he said and hesitated a bit. He was wearing soiled clothes and had no shoes on. My heart immediately went out to him. Seth came to stand by his side and said loudly, “I’ll tell you the story.”
We all nodded and he began speaking. “That day, I had missed the school bus home. I was walking back when a man came up to me and told me that he needed help, so I went with him,” here, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and laugh at the same time because that is just how Seth was. I couldn’t be angry anymore, “and he took me to his house and locked me in a room. He was… he is a bad man, maa.” Seth fell silent and looked sadly at Jack.
I reached for his hand and asked gently, “What did he do to you, dear?”
Seth shook his head and wouldn’t elaborate. Jack wouldn’t meet our eyes either. My husband and I turned our gazes to the police officer. “He was a pedophile, ma’am,” he informed us and a gasp escaped my lips.
“Oh my!” I could hear my mother-in-law whisper behind me.
“Did he… did he –,” It seemed my husband couldn’t form the proper words to ask what was on everyone’s mind.
“No, sir, your son might have taken a punch or two to his face but he’s fine,” the officer said. My shoulders sagged with relief and I squeezed Seth’s hand. “Jack, on the other hand…” he trailed off and I turned to look at Jack. So small, so innocent, he looked younger than Seth, and yet, so brave. Sure, he looked sad but he did not look broken in any way. I had the sudden urge to hug him.
“Were you also locked in with Seth?” I asked him gently.
He shook his head. “I go to school,” he said shyly.
“He let you go to school?” This did not make much sense. Why had Jack been allowed to roam free?
Seth decided that moment to break his silence. “Jack is his son, mom. He lived there, in that house.”
“What a sick, sick man!” my father exclaimed.
“Please tell me you got him, officer,” my husband said, looking equally disgusted with this new information.
“We sure did,” the officer replied solemnly.
I couldn’t help it. I asked softly, “May I hug you, Jack?”
He looked up at me in surprise, and then turned to look at Seth as if asking for permission. When Seth just smiled, he came forward and gave me a quick hug. I chuckled, completely charmed by the little guy.
“What made you help Seth, Jack?” I asked him out of curiosity.
“He helped me once,” Jack said immediately, somehow eager to tell this story. “I walk almost twenty blocks from my school every day. I go to a public school, we don’t have school buses. So when I was walking home from school one day, Seth came to me and told me he saw me walk home every day. He gave me his bicycle,” my eyes widened, so this was the kid, “and told me I should ride it to my school every day.”
“Well, it is rather far,” Seth piped up.
“He told me to pay it forward. I don’t really know what that means, I don’t have a lot of money,” mumbled Jack, looking down in embarrassment.
My husband and I were shocked at this revelation. Jack was the boy Seth had given his bicycle to. Jack had saved Seth by managing to contact the police before anything untoward happened. Jack had been abused. Jack was all alone now.
I did a good job of holding back my tears but my voice shook when I thanked Jack for saving my son and asked him if he wanted to come home with us. I still had to explain to Seth that it was not right to talk to strangers but…
My son was right. Good things do happen to good people.