The touch of the skinny but strong hand on my shoulder shattered my reverie. Not brutally as you would think, it simply crashed in on my far away thoughts and dreams and placed me in the now. That’s the crazy part, the now, 3pm on a bright sunny afternoon with the smell of freshness in the air after the morning rains. 3pm as I walked along the wide dirt path that was the best representation of a pavement that Moshi, has to offer, already sun-baked and dry.
Trees and scrubland to my right and the main tarmacked road to my left. The road was busy for this part of the world (Tanzania, East Africa) which means a regular passing of single cars on either side. I walked against the traffic as I should and my bag was snug on my shoulder where it always sits, secure and comfortable. My left hand clasped the short shoulder strap thus creating further security for the bag with my forearm diagonally across the main bulk of the bag. As it always was.
I needed to walk, I love to walk. Walking clears my mind, walking allows me to focus on my thoughts and takes me away into the worlds within my head. Today walking was a happy place with thoughts full of excitement and anticipation and the thrum of the headache I had was fading fast, chased away by the fresh air, the motion of walking and the clear positive excitement in my head as I considered my future. The one and a half hour telephone interview had gone well, I thought. My strides along the pathway were fuelled by my secret happiness that I may remain in this peaceful country I love so much. Yes, it is a possibility the job could well be mine. My flight back to Europe next week could be missed and I may remain here in Tanzania, not in Moshi, no the job is many kilometres away in the south of the country but in Tanzania, among the people I have come to love and respect.
The touch of the skinny but strong hand on my shoulder shattered her reverie as it snagged under the strap of my bag and pulled it off my shoulder. I may have made a noise, not a scream, it was all too gentle and slow for that, but I think I may have uttered a “hey”. Not in anger, not in pain, just “hey, come on, really?” that sort of hey. The motorbike was visible now and the tug on the strap of bag had caused her to stumble and I slowly and gently went down onto my knees in the dirt.
How long was that moment?
The time it takes for a motorbike with a pillion passenger to come up along beside me and grab at my bag as they passed, they were not stopping it was a pass by theft and so the moment was mere seconds, maybe five at the most.
No. That moment was a lifetime.
A five second lifetime where I had total and complete eye-ball to eye-ball contact with the fledgling thief sat behind the bulkier frame of his companion and driver. A kid, any kid, one of many kids, just a kid. In that fleeting lifetime I looked into his eyes without anger and I swear I know him. No we hadn’t met before but in that five second lifetime his story was plain to me.
“Hey, really, come on?” my eyes silently asked the boy as my mind filled with his pain and she saw the poverty and the ramshackle home with a bloated and tired Mama shooing him out of the house with one baby slung over her ever feeding chest and another tugging at her kanga with a filthy mud laden thumb in his mouth. I saw it all and knew he was striving to make a place for himself with the gangs on the streets, boredom and hunger forcing him away from the goodness that he was born with.
“Yo, man. You gotta do it, you hear what I saying?” In my heart and my heard I heard the driver’s words to the kid just minutes before the robbery. “You wanna be in with the crew, you gotta provide man. See her, she’s just a white bibi with lots of goodies in that bag. I seen her before, she gotta super cool phone for sure. Come on now kid, you gotta do it.”
A five second lifetime. Eye ball to eyeball. I saw his life and I was sad. So sad.
Life should not push kids out away from the safety and security of love and home, life should treat all kids with some basic respect.
But life is tough and life is about survival and so here we were eyes locked, the last remnants of goodness and understanding of right and wrong clear in his eyes, nothing but sadness in mine.
Maybe I tugged and yanked my bag back, maybe that’s why he let go.
That five second lifetime made an impression on his young mind and maybe he changed his mind.
I hope and pray with all my heart that I am right and it was the latter.