Yesterday when I was in an ice-cream shop with my friends, I saw my young friend Yousuf again. I called out to him, “Yousuf!” He came over with a smile on his face.
Yousuf is a six-year-old boy who works all day and until late at night to earn some money for his poor family. His mom is disabled and his dad is sick. When I was a freshman at the university, I saw him often and we became friends.
I was happy to see Yousuf again because I worry about him and other children like him. When I asked how he was doing I was surprised to see he was not carrying his shoe polishing box. I asked him about it and he said that he gave it to his older brother to use. “Now he is working, too.”
I asked him, “What about you? Are you begging?”
He turned his face away and answered, “NO!”
I said, “So, what then?”
He showed me in his small hands he was carrying a tin spand box full of ashes and explained: “Now I’m working as spandi.” It means he blesses people with the smoke of the burning herb. “But unfortunately today my coals are moldy and can’t make smoke.”
I asked him not to beg and said, “The shoe polishing is safer for you.” He told me that when he earned more money he would buy a shoe color and brush and start shoe polishing again.
I asked about his father’s health, and he told me his father is still sick and has a backache.
While we were talking, a tall man about twenty years old with a cigarette in his hand entered the ice-cream shop and asked the shopkeeper for a glass of water. The shopkeeper ignored him, so he drank water from the water glass that was already on the table. Yousuf laughed and told me that the guy was addicted. The man’s odd behavior must have looked funny to Yousuf, but I worried about Yousuf knowing this kind of person at six years old and what that might mean for Yousuf’s future.
Yousuf had a plastic bag in his other hand with small pieces of cake. He said the shopkeeper from beside the candy shop gave it to him. Yousuf went near to the addicted guy and offered him the pieces of cake. The addicted guy touched Yousuf’s head fondly and said, “I know you are hungry. Eat it. Eat it. I know how hard it is to be hungry.” And he left the shop.
I left the shop, too, to go home, and said bye to Yousuf. I haven’t see him since, but I think about him and children like him. I am just worried about the future of these children. They are begging, working, sleeping on the streets where it is dangerous. I worry about the future of children like Yousuf, who are only six years old and in touch with addicts. I worry for his future.
Photo by Sgt. Katryn McCalment