In that intermediate, in-between time connecting sunset and dark, I came up behind them on a congested street in the Koukaki section of Athens. Even without the ostensibly mandatory red tail light, I could tell that it was a handmade, small truck-like vehicle, wired and spot-welded together. The two tiny, rear wheels sagged helplessly; I think I heard them cry out, beneath their far-too-heavy load.
Looking at the used auto batteries, bathroom porcelain and various shapes and sizes of metal piled haphazardly (and dangerously) into the tiny truck bed, I knew that the immigrant driving the thing was collecting recyclable junk from the public trash containers. I was neither surprised nor disappointed when, at the last minute, he pulled-in beside the next dumpster and began to poke around in it. A homesteader in Athens’ underground economy, who probably lives in one of the cardboard shanty-towns, he was planing to collect some needed cash from the assortment of cast-off items he had so perilously scavenged from the streets.
When I happily passed by this makeshift contraption, on to what I assumed to be my much more important business, I noticed that the front end of the thing was a motor scooter. The mini-truck bed had been affixed to the front wheel and handlebars of what my Albanian friends refer to as a motori. Compounding my surprise, I noticed that the driver was holding an infant on his lap. The baby couldn’t have been more than 12 months old! In my rear view mirror now, the happy-as-a-clam father was laughing and talking with the baby, while simultaneously steering, braking and preparing to dismount from the motor scooter-cum-pickup truck.
My first reaction was to let loose a generous dose of righteous indignation. How could any responsible father risk this tender infant by precariously placing him on a bony knee, while navigating the busy city streets in that contraption?! Then, my holier than thou resentment morphed into practical curiosity. How could the man shift gears, apply the hand brakes and steer that thing while cradling with his left forearm, elbow and palm, this squiggly, child?
And then, in a swift, mini synaptic passage, I became slightly more reflective. I began to imagine how this unique “take-your-child-to-work” scenario could have happened. What forces, social, familial, economic and political, contrived to create such a scene? What does a man feel when, through what is patently a multiplicity of causal factors, he is called upon to babysit a child while simultaneously doing the “trash run”? Where is Mama? Big sis? Big brother?
I spent most of my drive time thinking about the father’s attitude. How does a father arrive at the place where he can celebrate the child, even despite these less than ideal conditions? What messages does that father want to send to his most recent newborn? In a world that is likely to communicate to that child that s/he is a worthless inconvenience, that the struggle to survive would have been better off without him or her, how does a father laugh and embrace the precious infantile presence? What spiritual dexterity is required to authenticate humanity and to demonstrate a positive receptivity in close proximity to a trash dumpster?