Scene (or, Seen) at a Stoplight

Favela

He couldn’t have been more than ten years old. It was our last night in Rio, and we had just begun one final terrifying taxi ride to Santa Teresa when I saw him. We were stopped at a light just off Copacabana Beach with the typical zillion cars zigged and zagged together in automotive contortion and this young boy weaved in between to wash windshields. He wielded a spray bottle and a brush and used his shirt for a towel—a typical Friday night it seemed for this ten-year-old. He took pride in his work with great attention to detail, finished and collected the change from the disembodied arm of the driver and glided with a swagger between the bumpers to the shoulder of the road exactly on cue as the light turned from Flamengo red to Brazilian green.

He made a strong impression on me, although I suspect the dirty little kid from the favela would prefer R$5 than an essay from an American about an impression he made in the span of a traffic signal.

I am officially a lawyer and live in a land and work at a school that celebrates and promotes the rule of law. I am not ashamed of this in the least. And I do not prefer to live in a world where ten-year-old boys have to work in the middle of a dangerous road in a dangerous city for loose change on a Friday night for God knows what purpose. Hopefully it was for his personal needs, although that alone would be tragic.

And yet . . .

That ten-year-old boy appeared in that brief scene to be more of a man than I am right now what with my petty fears and complaints and indulgences. I cannot say that I wanted to exchange places with him in that instant, but I did consider that I might hope to be like him when I grow up.

Fearless.
Industrious.
Skilled.
Swagger.
No excuses and no complaints.

I hope people will look through those spotless windshields and see that incredible kid.

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