Back at the drop-in centre Gill sat caressing the cover of the book that now represented all the kid’s stories to her. She still had lots to learn about Peter and that would come later but for today she was in Arusha, emotionally wired and still thinking of Joshua.
Joshua – her first link to the world of street kids; Joshua – sat on the dusty step at the centre smiling and laughing at her first day enthusiasm as she tried to pronounce the weird Swahili words with him. Joshua – curled tight in a ball asleep on the steps of the stadium, a hand curled protectively over his head. Joshua – waking with bleary, lacklustre eyes dulled by the glue he covertly sniffed at as he gazed round the stadium steps disoriented. Joshua – the desperate boy left to sleep on the streets whilst Gill and Mary left him behind as they headed for the comfort of their beds.
“God bless you Mary, and all of you,” she mused as she stood. “One thing I know. I could never do your job. Thank heavens you can.” She takes a deep breath and heads outside to find Mary and the boys.
There is no sign of Mary, so Gill wanders around to the laundry area where she stops, suddenly embarrassed as she realises that washing their clothes leaves the boy’s semi naked. They ignore her and continue their banter and chatter. Then one of the boys heads towards her, he is pulling his wet trousers on as he walks and the other boys are clearly cross with him in some way.
“Madam please, no possible washy washy.” He is pointing at his crotch and explaining something in Swahili.
Gill is frozen on the spot unsure what to say or do. She has no idea what he is saying other than he doesn’t want to wash his private parts, that much is graphically clear. She worries about the soaking trousers he has put on but is too confused to act. He gives up on her and returns to the crowd shouting and arms flying. To her relief Gill watches as takes off the wet trousers tying his hoodie around his midriff as he walks out to the front of the building and lays the trousers on the grass to dry. Gill follows him and relief floods over her as she sees Mary and watches the boy explain the issue to her.
Mary listens and the start of a grin keeps trying to escape her control and form on her lips. Her eyes reflect her amusement, but her body language is pure sympathy as she settles the clearly distressed youth. He turns to go back to the laundry area, scowling at Gill as he passes.
“He cannot wash himself down there Gill,” Mary explains, the mischievous grin now fully exposed. “He was telling you that he had his ritual circumcision last week. There was four or five of the boys from one of the larger tribes, they all went back to their village for the ceremony.”
Gill nods the words swirling in her head, circumcision, ritual, ceremony? To her circumcision was something that happened in the first few months of tiny baby boy’s life. Not in their teens? It happened in a hospital with clean white uniforms and sympathetic hands and eyes. Not the imagery of a ceremony or ritual somewhere out in the bush of this dry dusty land.
“Come on Gill, help me make chai,” Mary is laughing at her confusion good-naturedly. “I think you could do with it.”
The morning passes quickly, Gill sees that most of the boys from last night arrive at the centre, including Hamisi and Gill cringes inside when she sees he remembers her. Memories of his stark offers of sex and pleas for money ring in her ears and she avoids him.
The drop in centre tries to teach the boys skills and encourages them to draw or paint or make beaded jewellery. This latter is under the guidance of Godwilling, an older boy who trained at the vocational college after completing his primary school education at the centre but not having achieved the grades to continue education. He then went onto vocational college with the centre’s sponsorship and support. He now lives at home with his brother and leads a life away from the streets. He is trying to build enough stock of jewellery, hats and trinkets to furnish a shop or stall. This is his and the centre’s business plan for the future. He works quickly and skilfully, clearly taking pride in his craft, the boys respect him and copy him as he shows them how to make necklaces and bracelets.
Gill fumbles and struggles as she also tries to thread the tiny beads onto an invisible piece of thread! The boys laugh at her efforts, the mood is cheerful. But the unasked question hangs heavy in the air around Gill. Joshua …
Mary takes the boys individually or in pairs and talks to them about the dangers of casual sex, HIV and alcohol and glue. She is earnest and empathetic and Gill watches her as she works. In her thoughts Mary is troubled, she knows that Gill will ask about Joshua and she still carries the burden of the facts undisclosed so far.
The news this morning was that Joshua returned from the hospice outside town in the middle of the night with a bandage on his head and a fresh bottle of glue. It seems the skirmish of the night before had not relieved him of the money Mary had given him for food. He had refused to sleep with Peter and the crew. Instead he had settled close by but remained aloof. Peter had told Mary that this morning Joshua had risen early and was gone when he had woken. Peter had again emphasised that Joshua was falling under the spell of the glue quickly. Peter also bore the marks of the attack from the night before, his eye was swollen and black, and his skinny body bore the imprint of boot marks. Peter would not disclose the details but others had said Peter stayed and took the brunt of the beating letting the others take the few seconds to escape. Joshua had been the victim of a rock being thrown at the group in general.
“The Rapper takes care of us man, you know?”
Mary and Godwilling exchanged a few words in Swahili and the boys started to pack up their handicraft. Gill approached Mary looking at her watch.
“You are closing up?” she asked, knowing the answer.
“Yeah, that’s it for another week Gill.” Mary was smiling but her eyes were sad.
“Until next Wednesday, right?” Still Gill persisted in asking questions she knew the answer to. “ So, Saturday, Sunday, Monday …” she counted off the days. “Five nights on the streets without help or guidance. You must have to start all over again every week. Wow!”
Mary sighed and thrust a broom in Gill’s hand.
“We want to be open seven days a week,” she draws water from the tap into a bucket with bleach. “Money, always money.” She laughs and leaves it at that.
Gill sweeps and Mary follows behind mopping the rooms ready for next week. Suddenly there is a commotion outside and the two women look up from their chores. Gill drops the broom and goes to move forward then stops.
“Hey teacher,” the voice is confident and cheery but the eyes do not smile. they are veiled and dulled.
Joshua stands on the step his palm up waiting for a high-five.
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