11/11/2014 12:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Boy on The Bus Who Changed My Perspective

angela conway

This might be the most important picture I took on my trip to Brazil and yet it's the one with the worst quality. I blame the bumpy ride, both literally and figuratively, that led me to take this picture. I suppose let me start at the beginning.

After spending the day touring the favelas of Rio, my friends and I had worked up quite an appetite. We headed to a restaurant and I ordered my favorite dish, feijoada. After dinner we took a few steps over to a frozen yogurt shop next door to satisfy our sweet tooth. We joked about how we were going to get fat but fought over who got more toppings on their ice cream and therefore, who the cashier liked better. Soon we needed to head back since it was getting dark and the bus ride was going to take 45 minutes to get home. We stood at the bus stop, enjoying our ice cream and our one friend joked that we looked like little kids who were happy as can be. I suppose at that time it was just what I thought I needed.

My friends found a seat in the back row of the bus and a young boy, about 14-years-old, got up from his seat, wiped it off and let me sit down. I was surprised that this young boy had such manners and I wondered why he was so courteous to wipe off the seat. I looked at him, while I scooped a spoon full of my ice cream, and realized he was a bit sandy. He must have spent the day at the beach, I thought to myself. He then proceeded to talk a little bit with a few other boys on the bus, which I put together were his brothers. I started to pay more attention to my surroundings than to my ice cream -- which I decided I didn't really need to eat anymore even though I had plenty left since I got a large size.

That's when I noticed the details. The boy's shirt was a little ripped on the shoulder and I looked down to see that he didn't have any shoes on. The boy's brothers were holding up two large, garbage bags that were filled with something. That is when the wind blew through the bus window and I could smell the contents of the bags -- cans. Soda and beer cans that the boys probably spent all day picking up along Copacabana Beach as the tourists enjoyed their vacation in a drunken stupor, watching the World Cup games and cheering on their teams while making a mess. I suddenly was sick to my stomach.

I started to remind myself of how I had spent the last few hours stuffing my face with food that I was soon going to complain that I had to work off. I started to think that I had spent a decent amount of money on this trip so that I could have a good time and learn about another country. And here was a boy that had to spend all day collecting garbage so his family could make a few bucks. The guilt set in and many thoughts ran through my mind. I did all that I could to not start crying.

The bus hit a bump and everyone was slightly jostled. At that moment the boy turned around. He looked with interest as to whether or not I was going to finish my bowl of ice cream. I offered him my leftovers and he replied with the most genuine thank you I have ever received and gobbled up every drop of what was left. I sat in shame as I thought if I could have offered him the ice cream sooner, or if there was something more I could do.

Then the bus stopped and the back doors opened. A man who must have been a street performer got on and brought on all of his props. The most distinguished and troublesome of them all were large angel wings. That's right, angel wings. He put them in the center aisle and the boy and I held them into place. I thought to myself at that moment, if I ever needed a sign, this was it.

There are some things that are very meaningful and happen when you least expect it. I guess, like angels, some people just sweep into your life and leave imprints that give you a little bit of understanding, and it is for us to learn from it, and pass it along. I know there wasn't much that I did for the boy on the bus but there was a lot that he did for me.

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