The knock on any car window is commonplace around the Sarit Centre in the Westlands area of Nairobi. Street children, each sniffing PVC glue fumes from a bottle, roam around the area begging for money and sometimes, grabbing it. Like other motorists caught up in that Thursday afternoon traffic jam, our doors where locked and windows rolled up. It’s a wonder no one sizzled in that sweltering heat.
A few young street boys, while kicking each other and dashing around cars, came by a few times. When their hope of getting money was dashed, mumbled a few words and moved onto the next car.
Our three children and their friends at the backseat of the car all wanted to know why those children where out there in tattered clothes, some staggering, some sleeping on the walkway and others, just staring in space. “Didn’t they have parents, how about food and blankets?” They fired off questions. “Can we lower the windows and chat with them?” These and a barrage of other innocent questions flew off from the back. To some, there where obvious answers, while others where baffling as much.
The sweltering heat didn’t help much and cries of “Will I really live to see another day? I am hot, I am thirsty, I am hungry, my heart is boiling, my sweat is sour,” was interrupted by one fellow. Like all the others, he wore tattered clothes, had a few flies jogging around his face and of course the bottle. He extended his hand out to beg for money, his lips hanging so low it threatened to abandon his face.
When he saw the book our kids where craning their necks to read, he joined them from outside the window. With his dirty, soil covered little finger, he slowing started to trace across the window as he followed the story. A smile replaced the sullen face he had presented earlier for money. His teeth shone through his bloodied lips as he conquered every single new word.
The squabble among the five children at the backseat was how to position the book so the little fellow could read with ease. “Should we open the next page?” They asked him. With a nod of his lice laden head, a reply came, and it was immediately acted upon. Often, he would signal for patience.
When traffic finally opened up, a new debate emerged from the back. “Should we give him the book?” This is a favorite to some at the back. “We might never see him again?” Others reasoned. “How will he know what lays beyond his bottle if we don’t share our book with him? What about hope, this might give him a glimmer of it?” The debate raged on until the mamas where brought into it.
With the book clasped tightly between his dirty hands, his treasured bottle abandoned by the shrub, the little fellow sat down on the walkway, oblivious to the foot traffic around him. With his stubby fingers, he followed the story as a whole new world seemed to open, right there on the spot associated with theft.
To the five at the back, making their way home after a fun packed day at the Writer’s club, the smile on the face of another child was the cherry on their cake. The gift of a book made the little fellow peep into a world of possibilities. He shifted his focus from the bottle to the horizon.