Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Street Boy

I walked down a busy market street with my kid-cousin. We were looking to buy something for him, though at this moment I cannot remember what. On one of the pavements, leaning against the wall and squatting with his knees bunched up to his chest was a little boy. He couldn't have been older than my cousin. He had dirty blonde hair and skin that seemed to have been burnt a permanent shade of brown by the sun. He wore a dirty green jumper with holes in it and his trousers looked like they used to have some colour, but which now seemed uniformly grey. He was wearing those cheap plastic slippers that were sold on the pavements by the street hawkers. I wondered how odd it was that such a hair colour could be so prevalent here, in a land where most people had a darker complexion. What distant land did the ancestor who passed him the blonde gene come from? And how was it that this unfortunate descendant of his could have ended up on the streets like the detritus of a shipwreck. Maybe his ancestor had been a crusader? Or perhaps a Roman or a Greek? Could he have been the unfortunate result of some long forgotten love story? Or the living proof of some ancient violation? Who knew? I just remember that he looked utterly miserable, and I knew so because at that moment he wasn't trying to beg from anybody, and wasn't trying to attract pity; the annoying street urchin trying to sell you cheap chewing gum, tissues, or just beg was nowhere to be seen and instead there was this boy just sitting there. For that unguarded moment, he was only himself. Oh, and he had beautiful eyes, they were a greyish-green colour.

There was something in his hand and I didn't notice what it was at first. At that moment a woman walked by with her daintily dressed daughter. The contrast between the children couldn't have been greater, and the young girl appeared to have already learnt that those children on the street were to be ignored and not spoken to or given any attention whatsoever, which was probably a good idea for such a little girl. The boy couldn't care less. He would close his indifferent eyes and sometimes lower his head wearily, resting them on his knees. Then he would look up, staring at the world without seeing the passers-by. It was then that I saw what his brown hands were clasping. It was a plastic bottle of some sort, dirty, and it contained what appeared to be a yellowish-green paste. I realised that what the boy would do was to put the bottle to his lips and inhale. When he did that I could almost see the pain drain from his face. He didn't want to live and neither did he care to. The world could go to hell as far as he was concerned.

I walked on with my kid-cousin, and bought him what he wanted to buy. I then looked at my cousin's clean clothes, at his innocent expression and fresh young face and thought how glad I was that he was not like that boy. I wanted to take him as far away from there as possible, somewhere where such horrid things could not happen to children, and where he would not have to see it. By then the other boy had gotten up, and the street urchin was back. He yelled something to a group of similarly scruffy boys, and one girl, and they moved off between the parked cars and the walking crowds. The cars in the street honked at each other to get moving, the people flitted in and out of the shops, and the sound of different music players melded into the general cacophony of a busy thoroughfare.

To this day I still wonder about the fate of the boy with the beautiful eyes and the tired face, and often I try to guess what his sad story is. I wonder if he is even still alive.

1 comment:

annie said...

When I went the first time to Haiti, I still had principles like don't encourage begging; it goes against people's dignity. A Haitian friend corrected that by saying that giving those kids some money allowed them to eat a meal or more, then someone else gives for the following meal or clothes and it is like a solidarity chain in hopes that something better will happen, like a decent Regime and until then these kids will have survived and still be alive.