The Parking Boy

When I was 11 or 12, I walked with my friends along the dusty road between my house in Nairobi and the Sarit Center mall where video games could be played. The other inhabitants of the path were the typical Nairobi mix, people of various fortunes. There were the wealthy Indians, smartly dressed men and women in luxurious, colorful fabrics. More simply dressed, working Africans, the more rural stock wearing traditional waist and head wraps. And then there were the street children; running or loafing, furtively or defiantly; packs of feral eyed and bony young citizens almost more dog than human. One such child walked along Rhapta Road with an outstretched hand and a wild desperate look as pedestrians avoided him with skilled deftness. A few paces in front of me he collapsed and fell on the ground, breathing heavily. He was so skinny he was almost a skeleton. That was the first time I had seen someone in such dire straits and the question popped into my head that maybe I should help him, but no one else acknowledged the dying boy and I did like the others. I looked deeply into his face, gasping and struggling for life as I walked by. I didn’t see him die, but I always imagine that he stopped breathing shortly after my back was to him. I think it’s a very realistic possibility.

I spent twenty shillings on two games of Virtua Fighter that day, a bag of fried potatoes costs 5. I’ve been haunted by that day for a long time. Why didn’t I stop to buy him some food?

Was it my selfishness in wanting to play the new game? My embarrassment of being the only one to stop? A feeling of helplessness knowing he would probably be starving again tomorrow? Knowing how many starving kids there were?

None of these explanations make sense to me now. I don’t know why I didn’t help that boy that day but I have been him a thousand times since and I will continue to be him until I forgive myself.

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