Wherever we walked through old Quito we were swarmed by very young unsmiling children desperate to sell trinkets or to shine a shoe or two to get a little cash. These kids were sweet (mostly), unwashed, and very persistent. When we spotted the hardened young adult pressuring them to sell more, we understood their twin desperation of poverty and safety.
The gently aggressive shoe shiners were the equivalent of unwanted windshield washers for pedestrians. When one of the youngest shoe shiners pleaded with Cheryl to accept a shine, she turned the tables on this adorable boy and offered to shine his filthy shoes — and pay him to do it. He couldn’t have been more than four years old. No one had ever shined his shoes before. As Cheryl sat on the ground at his feet, and lifted his tiny shoe onto the box to shine, his face lit up. Swarms of young shoe shiners surrounded them, smiling, laughing — a moment of joy in a long work day. To be noticed, to be treated as an equal, to be pampered — if only for a moment — was a special gift, easy to give, that will be long-remembered by that crowd of kids and by all of us adults who were touched by Cheryl’s simple act of kindness.