Thursday, June 10, 2010

'i can't go home without five of these'

I hear noise behind me as I walk up the road. Akram, 10, appears at my side. He is handsome in a pair of dark blue combat trousers and a grubby tucked-in khaki shirt. He frowns and pouts, and lifts pinched fingers to his mouth in the universal gesture that means "food." He keeps up the pace next to me and repeats the charade until I stop.

"What do you want?" I ask, slowly opening my bag. "Money for lunch?" Recognition flashes through his face. In a perfectly normal voice, he says, "However much you want."

With a little more in his pocket, he overtakes me and continues proudly up the road. He makes no effort to escape me. We pass a restaurant and he pauses, but then carries on. "Where are you going?" I ask.

"Aaaall the way up Hadda Street," he says, waving towards its end a good 4 km away.

He holds up a YR 100 note, less than USD 0.50. "Every day, my mother wants me to come home with five of these." He says his father died and he is an only child. His mother does not work, so she depends on him to pay the rent.

He works in the afternoon until sunset. "But I can't go home without five of these. It's my mother. It would be shameful. And it takes a while, because people give me YR 10, YR 10, YR 10…"

I leave him to cross the road. He walks up to a parked car and speaks to the driver. Up the street comes hurtling a black 4WD, weaving dangerously between the heavy lunch-time traffic. As it passes, packed with young men, some leer out the window. "Hello!" they shout.

Akram says that in the morning he stays at home. Sometimes he watches television.

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