The 36 bus begins its route at the Forest Hills MBTA station every half-hour with a cloud of exhaust fumes and the rhythmic sounds of a revving engine. Last Wednesday night, it made a journey into the depths of hell.
The night wasn't just cold, but frigid. About half a dozen tired, shivering people climbed the steps and paid their fare - a bespectacled man in a suit, a pair of women, a male cancer researcher, a nondescript younger man. It was 10:30.
The bus rattled down Washington Street. About 10 minutes out, at a stop in Roslindale Square, a boy, maybe 8, got on board, dressed in a blue snowsuit with a woolen hat. He took a seat about a quarter of the way down the bus.
He was followed by an older man, about 45 years old, who wore a dark jacket and a wool hat splattered with paint. He was burly, with an unsteady way about him that suggested he had been drinking. He had a few days of stubble on his face. He settled down behind the driver, a few seats ahead of the young child.
At least one of the passengers, a medical researcher named Daniel Auclair who provided me with an eyewitness account, recalls thinking how strange it was that such a child would be traveling alone at this late hour. As the bus accelerated into the night, he saw the boy glancing nervously at the older man.
A few minutes later, Auclair noticed the boy staring at the unkempt man, a look of fear spreading across his innocent face. Auclair wondered if they were related, if they might be father and son, and why it was they weren't sitting together.
The man stood, steadied himself, and grabbed the boy's arm. He pulled him back toward his seat at the front of the bus.
The other passengers watched and wondered. They nervously darted glances at each other. The unkempt man broke the silence by yelling at the boy in a foreign language, possibly Greek.
Suddenly, as the other passengers watched, the man pulled his fist back and punched the boy in the face, his knuckles hitting the child's flesh and bone with a sickening thud unlike anything Auclair had ever heard before. The boy began to quiver and cry, his big eyes staring at the unkempt man with raw fright.
Still, there was silence on the bus. No one intervened. The vehicle rambled down the road.
By now, the man's rage had hit an uninterrupted crescendo. He wound up again, and this time his fist caught the boy directly on his nose, this time causing an explosion of blood.
The boy shuddered and sobbed. His blood flowed down his face and onto his jacket and pants. The man, irate, banged the window several times in an apparent attempt to get the blood off his hand. He pulled the boy's stocking hat off his head and pressed it against his nose.
The passengers just sat and watched. The driver, a woman in her 30s, quietly guided the bus through West Roxbury.
"I stood up and everyone looked away," Auclair, a PhD, said. "So I said to myself, `Maybe I'm out of place. Maybe it's just a family thing and I shouldn't intervene.' So I sat back down."
It's a decision he's regretted ever since. A young boy needed his help, needed someone's help, needed anyone's help, and nobody was willing to give it. Auclair acknowledges his mistake, and says he is coming forward now in a desperate hope that the child can be found.
A few minutes later, Auclair got off the bus at his usual stop. He said yesterday that he tried to signal the driver, but couldn't get her attention. When he got home, he figured it was too late to call the police. He barely slept.
The driver neither radioed for help nor activated the distress light on top of the bus. In a brief interview late Friday night, she sounded sincerely upset that something happened, but said she never saw anything violent.
Everyone has heard of Kitty Genovese, the Queens woman who was raped and stabbed to death in 1964 while neighbors watched from their windows but didn't want to get involved. We scoff at that in Boston, pride ourselves on our sense of community and humanity. And then this.
What must be running through a little boy's mind when nobody helps in his time of greatest need? Where is he now?
After questions were raised, the bus driver was told to file a written report by T officials bent on protecting themselves over a boy who received no protection at all. Officially, she said she saw nothing, but then told superiors she does recall something odd.
She recalls seeing a man and a boy get off her bus. She recalls looking in her rearview mirror as she pulled away and seeing the child standing at the curb in tears. In the frigid dark last Wednesday night, the boy was on his own.