There was a little brown paper bag sitting on the white plastic seat.
Nobody noticed it. Except a 10-year-old girl named McKenna.
The paper bag had permanent creases in it like someone had gripped it ferociously for a good length of time. It was sitting on a train station seat in Paris, France. McKenna had traveled there with her parents and was waiting for her train to the airport to take her home to the United States.
McKenna's parents were bickering about carry-on luggage while McKenna stared at the brown paper bag beside her. What could be inside? she wondered.
She started guessing in her mind. Someone forgot their lunch... It's a piece of jewelry for a man's wife that he disguised in a simple bag... Maybe it's a bomb...
Her last thought startled her. Ever since she could remember, she had seen terrorism on the news. Whether actual terrorism or presumed terrorism, it was a constant threat to her society.
Maybe it was her duty to discover what was inside that paper bag. She reached her hand over to the bag, ignoring her parents' new argument about which of them should get a window or an aisle seat on the train.
She pulled at the rolled up paper bag a bit then stopped, having second thoughts about if she should be doing this at all. What if the owner came back and just really wanted her lost sandwich?
But suddenly, a boy of about 12 appeared in front of her. He immediately snatched the paper bag from her and held it close to his chest. McKenna glanced at her parents but they hadn't noticed.
"Did you look inside?" The boy inquired with a bitter tone.
"N-No," McKenna stuttered, not expecting the boy's hostility.
"You did, didn't you?" he said, taking her stuttered response as confirmation of his worst fear.
"I really didn't!" McKenna stood now and was pleased to find that she and the boy were roughly the same height. She stood up straighter and asked defiantly, "So what is in that bag?"
The boy jerked his head around and glanced at a man leaning nonchalantly by a soda machine with a newspaper on the other side of the train tracks. The man was staring openly at McKenna and this boy.
"I have to hurry," he said simply. "I shouldn't be talking to you."
A confused look crossed McKenna's face. "But wait, can't you just tell me what's inside?" she asked desperately.
The boy looked pained, clearly wanting to appease her but knowing he couldn't. "It's just something. I can't tell you." Then he started off toward the man leaning against the soda machine.
The cogs in McKenna's head started whirring as he walked away and she couldn't help but blurt out, "Is it a bomb?"
The boy whipped around and strode back over to her quickly. "This is not a bomb. I told you I cannot tell you what it is. This is important and this discussion is over."
But before the boy could run away from her again, he stopped to stare deeply into her eyes. McKenna saw a pleading look, one of desperation, in his dark brown eyes. But what could McKenna do to help him?
Then, as quickly as he had arrived, he backed away from her and turned, then swiftly loped across the station platform. Both he and the man disappeared into a new crowd of people walking into the station.
McKenna couldn't stand it. She had to know where they were going.
"Mom, Dad, bathroom before the train comes!" she yelled over her shoulder as she sprinted away.
She heard her mother yell behind her, "McKenna!!" She knew she'd be in trouble by the time she got back to her parents. But she couldn't care about that now. Glimpsing the boy's white t-shirt out near the taxi station, she dashed out the door toward him.
Once outside, she whipped her head from side to side. Then she pinpointed the two climbing into a taxi.
"Wait!" she cried. She ran in their direction and the boy saw her right as he was getting inside the taxi. That same pained look crossed his face as he saw her coming. However, he hurriedly slipped in, pulled the door shut and the taxi peeled out from the side of the road before she could get to them.
McKenna gasped for air by the curb, not knowing exactly what she'd just witnessed. But as she stood with her hands on her knees, watching the cab disappear, she knew that it would haunt her for the rest of her life.