The cold wind burst in my face and I woke with a start.
The warmth of late October mornings had turned to a nip as evening descended; the acceleration of the train only intensified the chill. I wrapped my scarf snugly around my ears and settled back for the remainder of the thirty-minute ride back home. It had been a long day at work and my realization that it was getting late had cut into the fun I had been having with my co-workers. I regretted the distance between my home and my friends, which seemed to get longer each time I thought about it.
These melancholy thoughts and a thousand others going on in my head, combined with the gentle rocking motion of the train and the steady rattle of the metal against the rails, started to lull me back to sleep...
Then I felt a tiny hand on my shoulder.
I had been hearing gurgling sounds off and on for a while, so I had already guessed that there was a small child in the seat adjoining the back of mine. I turned to look at the owner of the hand – and paused, startled.
Facing me was a baby girl with the biggest smile I had ever seen.
She was smiling so widely that her open mouth revealed her toothless gums and her eyes disappeared into deep lines. The joy in that little face seemed to shine a beam of light directly into my heart. I couldn’t help but smile widely back at her, and her face lit up even more as I did so. I held out my hand, and her tiny fingers clutched around one of mine.
She couldn’t have been more than a year old. Her hair was a mass of wild dark curls, and she had pierced ears. I don’t remember her eyes because they were completely eclipsed by that toothless smile, a smile as contagious as it was comforting.
The look on her face was one of complete, naked adoration. I don’t know what was it about my disheveled hair and sleep-laden face that delighted her so much, but in that instant I felt like this little person loved me more than anything else in the whole world.
We began to play peek-a-boo. Each time I would conceal my face with my scarf, and each time she would squeal with delight as I revealed myself. Each time I laughed as her eyes disappeared into the folds of her smile, and each time she seemed to radiate more joy than before. All around me, stone faces melted into smiles and tired eyes shone as this child filled the compartment with her vibrant energy.
In that train, late in the night, in the midst of pining for friends past and present, I had unwittingly made a new one, albeit one who would have forgotten me the instant she got off the train. She has been on this planet less than a year; I have no doubt that she will go on to live a wonderful life and make many more friends that she will remember and cherish, and who will cherish her in return. That cheerful demeanor and those adorable crinkly eyes will strike down more hearts than Cupid’s ever will. I hope she will have all the happiness she needs to keep her heart as pure and giving.
She will never remember the stranger whom she loved wholeheartedly for those thirty minutes. But I will never forget her. All young children give pure, unadulterated affection but few display it so openly, thus imparting it generously to those around - especially those in dire need of it. In that cold night, in the hum of the train’s rattle and the whir of a hurried, worried world too caught up in its problems, I came face to face with sunshine; and came away with the rays of a new morning already waking up my heart.