With the lights out, it’s less dangerous.
Here we are now – ENTERTAIN US!
I spent my afternoon with some of my favourite people in the world.
Today we looked to the past. None of them could say with any degree of honesty that days past were good at home. But like most of us, they were sentimental. They miss old friends, football at dusk behind the mosque walls, the bounty to be had elbow deep in warm, festering trash – back when the trash was elbow deep, in the good old days, the days before the sand. Back when they knew a thousand escape routes from danger. Back when the danger was calculable, known, like the local gangsters : they wouldn’t hurt you so bad if they knew your brother was due out of jail soon, if they knew your dad had a temper worse than their own.
They see things. Things that grown men shouldn’t witness. Because like so many of the people we work with, they are invisible. They have no voice, at least not one that is paid any due attention. Their witness testimony is not feared because it will never be sought, part of their armour, part of why they still breathe, despite the things they have seen. They are invisible boys –at least to anyone who doesn’t know how to look. It reminds me of those 3d pictures – the kind you need to squint in the just the right way in order to see the hidden image, but once you have the hang of it, you wonder how you ever missed what was right before you all along, if only you had relaxed your focus, let down your guard.
Don’t worry though, you weren’t being rude. They weren’t trying to get your attention – the opposite is generally true. Their own attention was elsewhere. On the ground, in the bags of trash, in search of treasure. They only put their hand out, requesting the treasure in the pockets of others, when all else has failed, when it is time to go Home. And when Home isn’t interested in their company, at least not unless the safe entry toll has been paid, they go back to where they were: the streets, sometimes for weeks at a time, in search of the elusive safe entry toll. And maybe it’s best that you don’t see them. Because you can’t turn it off after that: the hidden image in the 3d picure. and there are boys just like them all over this city, all over this country, all over the world.
My dream for these boys has always been for them to not have to scour the ground in search of the means for their next meal, for the approval of their parents based on how much they earned that day scavenging. I want them to strut down streets, looking up and around at the goings on, admiring pretty girls, naming the make of the cool motorbike that just passed by, joking with their friends, wishing for regular things like a cool new pair of jeans or shoes. Little boys shouldn’t have problems that include rental payments, empty bellies, finding a dry/safe spot to sleep when the daily income quota hasn’t been met. They shouldn’t know about loan sharks, drug running, smoking ice, hiding from the re-education police, prostitution.
The dreams they have for themselves are similar but have a very different motivation. One wants to be a bank manager – because his father lost his land to a bank that had no business approving a loan to him (based on income that his children earned scavenging?! Secured or not, that loan was criminal.) Another wants to be a police officer. His two elder brothers are both serving lengthy sentences for violent offences. The boy who wants to be a doctor has siblings that have suffered serious illnesses. And the wannabe artist is an extremely talented artist, and it is the only thing his family tells him that he does well. I like to think their motivation is a sense of justice, if they had control, things would be different, their lives wouldn’t be what they are, that they want better for their future kids. But the simple truth is that they crave the approval of their parents so profoundly that it has bubbled to the surface through their future ambitions, when they dare to think ahead, past today, past dinner, past tonight.
Their parents aren’t the monsters that you might think I have suggested them to be. At least not on the whole. Although that is another tale. Please reserve your judgement, for now. It will make it easier to hear the truth later.
These boys are the beginning of the beginning. The reason for everything. I spent hundreds of afternoons looking out at the same space, my real life television, and from time to time they would flitter past, silently scouring the ground, the rubbish. Not the noisy kids vying to sell you a postcard, a book, a scarf. The silent ones were different. They don’t complain they need money for English school. They certainly don’t complain they need money to buy the meal they haven’t had for days. Silently, quickly, they secret the edible trash straight into their hungry, soundless mouths, hoping the noisy kids didn’t see their shame.
But I saw their shame. And nothing in my life has had a more profound effect on me. Which is why they are the beginning, why I refer to them as my boys, they are the reason for everything. So yet again, I will leave a story unfinished. Because it is unfinished. And it will remain so until I can say: “and they lived happily ever after.” There may be some chapters to get through in the meantime. And they deserve so much more than a thousand words or so.
Joy, funny, ridiculous.
Joy : spending time with these remarkable, independent, funny, secretly irrespressable young / old souls. Not many things make me happier. If their giggles could be bottled and sold, their futures would be secure. And the voices that they have should be heard at intense volume. Because their stories speak volumes about the world we live in, and hopefully one day, those stories will begin with “Once upon a time,” because surely their stories couldn’t have possibly ever been true. And then they all lived happily ever after.
Funny & Ridiculous. Sorry. I haven’t got either right now. I know too much to trivialize today.
Sidenote. There are girls. But I’m not talking about girls today. And it’s not sexism on my part. They have not been excluded. I’ll get around to telling you about girls in due course. It will make sense.
I have a theme song in my head for most things. For these boys it is “Smells like teen spirit” by Nirvana. If I ever take the time to learn how to use this medium more effectively, I will MAKE you listen to the theme songs that bounce around my brain as you read. Until then, you will have to sing along on your own. The louder the better: Load up on guns, bring your friends. It’s fun to lose and to pretend….