The Brief Life of a Street Child

“He can’t see much from his hiding spot but he is definitely sure whoever has been shot is as heavy as his father…” #SDG1 # NoPoverty #SDG2 #ZeroHunger

“Twa… twa… twa…” Three shots fired!

Today they sound much closer than ever before, so he crouches under the bed and seals the ‘entrance’ with the buckets of water he has just fetched. It’s never quiet around here, even when his ears are that far away from the door. There’re shouts and screaming – probably a woman whose cabbage has been stepped on by the police. Then he hears a loud bang on the door, like a water tank has been smashed into it.

“Twa.” One shot fired!

He can’t see much from his hiding spot but he is definitely sure whoever has been shot is as heavy as his father and must be outside the door. The shouts and screams get closer. He hears some women begin to wail, softly and in disbelief at first, then loudly and almost uncontrollably. Cooped up under the bed, he feels as though he is the center of all that gloomy attention. He has a half-mind to creep out and open the door but an overwhelming fear engulfs him.

“That could be papa,” his mind tells him.

With that thought now flooding his mind, his eyes slowly well up with tears. The commotion outside is intensifying, an intensity that finally brings the door down. Or it was already open, as the police will claim to the landlord later on. Whichever happens, all he knows is that a lot of noise follows, things are thrown every which way and consequently his buckets of water find themselves rolled away from his side. He is revealed.

He always tries not to remember the rest of what he saw once he got pulled from under the bed by a gaunt long-faced policeman that evening, the butt of his gun hitting his forehead during the pull. His father’s bloody frame lay limp at the door, his eyes open; lifeless, dead. There was a pool of blood underneath his head, splatters on his bright shirt and more splatters on the iron sheet door. That was the last he saw of his papa. And his mother too; she never showed up after the morning of that day. Papa had been shot dead as police chased a group of louts suspected of stealing from a supermarket the previous night. He may have been part of them, the police implied.

The disappearance of mother didn’t help matters; for papa’s case and for his. He was only six at the time, they had never visited any of his parent’s relatives (if there were any) and the people who resided in the shacks near theirs were impermanent; new faces came and went every other week. There was no one to take him up once the landlord kicked him out, the school uniform on his back the only worldly possession he could claim as his own.

***

He walks past this street every day, lugging his heavy sack full of empty bottles he hopes to trade for money. He passes old vendors with leathery faces and young ones with a youthful impatience, both gaze at him impassively behind pyramids of oranges and mounds of grapes.

Sometimes, he stands at the street corner and watches the passersby, unable to understand how they could be so indifferent to him and his barefoot friends; how unflinchingly they would blame them publicly for every theft or robbery. How the man in blue walking there beats and harasses him and his barefoot friends for real or imagined misdemeanors in the cover of darkness, as if the heavens above are blinded then.

Today he doesn’t stand. The pangs of hunger hitting at the sides of his stomach cannot allow him a moment of respite. Today, most of the rubbish bins are empty; probably the boys from the other turf got here before him. He is irked but cannot muster the energy to growl under his clenched teeth. There’s nothing more to do today other than wait near the cinema for Odijo*. Hopefully he’ll still be breathing by nightfall, in time for Odijo’s rations.

*

The next day, he isn’t one of them scrambling for the food packs; he doesn’t hear the car purring to a halt in front of the abandoned cinema doors, nor the shouts for Odijo or the rustling as his barefoot friends rip open the food packs, gobble up the bread and squeeze the packets of milk dry. It’s Odijo who notices him lying there, lifeless, his chest hardly going up or down. Odijo approaches him and sees that he is one of the boys who’d made him always come back. Odijo remembers their last conversation that ended with the boy saying to him:
“I want to go back to school one day. I’m hoping you can help with that. I don’t want to live here for the rest of my life.”

 

*Odijo is a nickname that was given to Clifford Oluoch, a primary school teacher in Nairobi who has been spending his evenings for the last three months feeding street children.

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About the Author:

MwanikiI’ve been reading an incredible amount; reading always, badly, without discipline; reading sometime for the sheer beauty of language. For the beauty of language; that is why I write. They named me Mwaniki and I am son of Nyaga, here to chronicle life in its many flavours, in its sweet and sour tastes and with all the good and bad we do on this planet, Earth. This here, are the marks we’ll leave behind.

 

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