International Day for Street Children
To mark the International Day for Street Children I would like to share a short story, written by a close friend of mine, which has been greatly influenced by her experiences living and working with street children in Tanzania over the last 7 months. This story secured First Place in the 2013 Words with Jam, Shorter Short Story competition:
STREET KIDS DON’T HAVE BIRTHDAYS
Darkness drops from the skies suddenly and with it the boys of Arusha gather at their night spots. Easter stumbles across the busy road, his glue fogged brain unaware of traffic. He somehow makes it to the steps of the stadium. His bed. Most of his crowd are there already, some big, some small. The streets have no age bar.
“Yo Man, whadd’ya been doing today hey? You gotta shillings in dem pockets, I saw you hauling the metal today. Come on Easter show and share.” Jonah’s lanky frame jigs from side to side keeping a jerky rhythm with his words. He is The Rapper and possibly the oldest of this crew. No one knows for sure. Street kids don’t have birthdays.
Easter shuffles up the steps, one hand curled protectively around the sleeve of his grimy jacket which protects the plastic water bottle containing his glue, his other hand raises to The Rapper in a weak high five. His parched and cracked lips break to reveal a wide smile that tries to reach his filmy eyes but can’t quite make it. He slumps on the top step and is curled asleep in seconds, his free hand stretched up across his head protectively. If a kick from passing police should come his way, it may help. If the shunga/ vigilantes should come to this side of town tonight then nothing will protect him. He is small, an easy target.
The Rapper looks at Easter fleetingly remembering his younger self, his muddled memory stirs alive, deep inside his mind, where there is still a few wisps of hope to cling to. He wanted to be a doctor. But hope is like clouds, forever moving and breaking up, hard to catch hold of.
He leaves Easter to sleep and turns his attentions to the rest of the crew, his body twitching and jerking ceaselessly as a life time of marijuana, glue and alcohol course through his veins. He spots a hint of plastic as he watches Philomoni’s massive hand attempts to disappear into his pocket. The Rapper smiles and ambles over to him his fingers clicking in time to his staccato beat.
“Yo Philo, de Big Man. Share, you share wid de Rapper. You knows you can an you knows I’ll care!”
The small baggie containing the cheap local gin reappears clumsily out of the Big Man’s pocket, he grins foolishly as he hands it over. Philomoni’s brain is as slow as his hulking frame. He knows The Rapper will return it after taking a hearty slug and the others won’t bother him if he shares with The Rapper,
Teacher Mary, the Social Worker from the local children’s centre has arrived and she’s talking easily with the boys, she high fives and jostles with the best of them. Spotting the Rapper she playfully kick-boxes with him as he grins and highs fives her upheld hand. She spots Easter and is pleased, he was at the centre for three weeks but jumped the wall last weekend.
“Hey Easter, wake up little buddy, how’re you doing?”
Easter wakes instantly, alert to potential danger. You don’t sleep heavily on the streets, life is too cheap. His addled brain recognises Mary as a friend, she offers tea and bread but he shakes his head, mumbling incoherently. Glue is his sustenance. Teacher Mary sighs as she eases away, her heart is protected now, it simply cannot break anymore.
“Teacher, teacher,” The Rapper vies for her attention. “I wanna talk with you teacher.” They move away from the cluster of boys. Mary will always listen and Jonas keeps her informed of new boys on the streets.
“Easter wants to come back wid you Teacher, he good boy but the glue, it be getting him quick, so take him with you now Teacher.” The Rapper’s eyes seek Mary’s own and she reads the pain there, she sees the last tendrils of hope fading for this boy. As if sensing her thoughts he adds defensively. “I come next week Teacher, take Easter now.”
“Next week, Jonas,” she always uses his given name. “I’ll talk to Easter but you know the rules man. It’s an open door, it’s up to him.” She shrugs her shoulders.
Next week. She and he know, for Jonas the Rapper, next week never comes.
“Hey Big Man, how about we get you some chai and maybe old Theo can find you a bit of bread. What says you Philo?” She moves towards the solitary Philomoni, she knows she is close with him, he is severely retarded and she knows the gin he’s pocketing comes from the proceeds of passive sex, which he gives easily and mostly freely.
“When Easter wakes we’ll be in Theo’s, Jonas,” she grins widely and her eyes sparkle, she loves her job. “You know da rules man and I know you knows where Theo’s is.” She chuckles as she turns away from the steps, they all know Theo, God bless him, one of the few café’s happy to let her sit with the boys for hours over no more than a cup of sweet spicy chai. Her hand disappears into the warm giant cocoon of Philo’s.
The bus station is busy, same as always, Mary knows the score. She pushes her way through the crowd; she wants to get the fast bus. It’s going to be mighty crowded with Philo next to her and the Big Man’s not good in crowds. She knows without looking that his eyes are huge with terror, she can feel it as he crushes her hand in his.
Easter, unseen since last night, appears from nowhere and she smiles. Easter says nothing, grins and takes Philo’s free hand.
Two boys from the thousands on the streets of Tanzania go back with Mary, they’ll get cleaned up, counselling and start lessons. Easter’s bright; he could make graduation.
Or… he’ll jump the wall again and be lost to the short life that is the streets.
Published with the permission of Words with Jam competition organisers and the author, Gill Sainsbury.
Please take a moment in your day to think of the thousands of children living on the streets around the world, they have no place to call home, no security, no education and no extended family support.
Thank you for your time.