The clothes are a river turning against boy, he almost drowns in them and not because they are big, in fact, they may be a size too small. Words tumbling from the cracked lips, wanting for lip balm, are bubbles. Some cling to each other and others separate too soon. And so they become a series of little accidents.
He simply is consumed by nervousness that I imagine he feels held hostage. And so how can one mock the need felt to protect the little boy they see when they look at him. Never mind that he is almost fifteen. But then what does age matter anymore? It means so little now when children become adults too soon.
On one untainted day they are little bundles of joy running around, looking up to their heroes that come home after long days at work. Wanting for the comfort their mothers’ glorious arms provide just before bed and the sweet voice of bedtime stories and lullabies. Hating bedtime because it means they can’t watch more catoons.
Then one day it happens. The child is shoved aside by an adult not belonging in this body of a child. They have no hero to look up to or maybe they do but it’s just not the same. Their mother’s arms are not comfort enough. They stay up past what used to be bedtime worrying about things they shouldn’t have to worry about.
That afternoon while all the other little girls and boys still children, race out from under the church asbestos, happy they need not suffer the heat radiating from the sun any longer, he remains. Slowly he makes his way to his spot. A little hidden, not wanting too much attention and a little exposed, just enough to attract a few customers.
There’s a slight tremor to his hands when he gets the boxes of three leaves tea out of the recycled plastic bag. He brushes off invisible specks of dust off his torn and worn jacket. His trousers barely touches his ankles. My heart breaks just a little at the sight of him. Thrice now, I have seen him try to keep his head up and smile at a person he hopes just might turn back and buy the boxes of tea.
I must stare for too long because he turns to look at me. Unable to hold his gaze, I look away. Then I turn back and wonder, would it be alright if I bought all the boxes of tea? It would mean all my savings spent on him. I smile in his direction but his eyes on me are unseeing. I think of grandfather.
Later I will learn that he was hawking for his school fees, his father unable to raise it. And early that evening he will walk home, a distance too far to walk. Only one box of tea will have been bought. BoPapa will drive my siblings and I home and all the way I’ll think of his brother’s son hawking for his school fees. I will say a prayer for my cousin and a lone tear will drop.