We were about halfway through the line at the civil registry when Juan sat on the blue plastic seat next to me and calmly used his small spoon to dish out his vanilla and chocolate-flavored dessert in an unhurried manner.
A din of cell phones ringing, babies crying, and names being called surrounded us.
A sea of people from Africa, Asia, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, the United States and Spain, among others, waited, all of us silently willing the bureaucrats behind the desks to go faster so that our turn would come. (We were there to have our visa certified.)
How old are you, I asked him.
Nine, answered Juan, who was short, had thick black hair and wore a dark blue sweatsuit.
You look like you’re 10, I told him, using my standard line with children.
He shook his head. No, I’m nine.
What are you eating?
A little sweet, he said. Do you want some?
No, thank you. I said, touched. When did you move here?
The question required Juan to consult with his mother, a smiling woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing blue jeans.
Four months, he told me after he secured the information.
How do you like it?
A little, he said.
When our son was nine years old, we moved from a state called Massachusetts to a place called Chicago in Illinois that he liked a little after four months, I said. Have you heard of it?
I saw it in a film.
I don’t know if this will be your experience, but he decided years later that he liked it better where we had moved to than where we used to live.
I started to elaborate on this idea, but Juan’s mother beckoned him to come over to her. He trotted off obediently, and I turned my attention back to writing.
A few minutes Juan stood in front of me.
He extended his hand, a smile crossing his face.
I shook it and wished him luck.
“Ï believe in you,” I called after Juan’s retreating form.
I don’t know if he heard me.
He rejoined his mother and followed her as they waded through the sea of humanity in the impossibly crowded room.
They walked out of the door and into the rest of their lives.
The memory of Aidan at nine when we moved from the only place he had ever lived trailed behind them.