Chapter Three


 
 

 

bailing

It took four days to reach the city. First an open motor boat brought them down the coast. This was powered by two old outboard engines, one of which kept breaking down. A blue tarpaulin shaded off the sun, and cut-out plastic cans floated in the bottom for bailing. Water poured in at every seam, and Boy spent a lot of time bailing it out. They passed islands covered with jungle, deserted even of fishing boats. Sometimes the sea was so clear that Boy felt he could reach down and touch the bright corals that gleamed like gems far below.


In the late afternoon they reached the small port where boats left for the capital, and that same evening they boarded a slightly biger boat. They slept on the open deck as there was no other space available, and woke up covered with smuts from the smoking funnel. The next day was very hot. Boy struck up a friendship with the cook - a lad his own age, with a startling squint. Together they baited handlines over he stern and caught three large tuna fish which Boy gutted and fried with chillies, while the cook boiled a huge pot of rice to be shared between the crew and the half-dozen passengers.


Hand alee”

That night the cook, who also doubled as the helmsman, showed Boy how to steer. Fortunately nobody but the engine-room man was awake to witness his meandering course, and he took one disgusted look and retired to the sweltering heat of his engine room. The Captain was a grizzled old fellow who spent most of his time drinking in his hammock. The crew called him the Old Sea God’. By now Boy and the cook seemed to be running the ship between them.


In the afternoon storm clouds gathered, the wind got up, and heavy seas started to crash over the ‘deck. When Boy had the temerity to enquire about life-jackets, the Captain spat in contempt. “Life jackets! Bah! If you are going to drown, the quicker the better. Now ‘Man Overboard’ drills - that’s different.” “How different?” asked Boy. The Old Sea God gestured with a sweep of his hand. “Throw oranges over the side; so when we get this old tub turned around we have something to follow.” He gave a ghoulish wink. “Unless the sharks get there first.”


Ship of destiny

“I don’t see any oranges,” said Boy nervously as another huge wave broke over the bows. “And you don’t see any paper napkins or white-coated stewards, either,” replied the Captain. “We aren’t one of your fancy cruise ships. This is a ship of Destiny. Trust it to get us to safe haven.” He peered at Boy. “Don’t expect me to wave an enchanter’s wand and charm our future.” He shook his head. “In this voyage through the archipelago of life it is left to each of us to chart our own course. It is not for me to criticise anyone else’s navigation. Boy!” he growled. “You may think I’m asleep but my heart gazes out at the sea, and sky and stars. I may be nobody but I can become that which you need.” Still clutching his bottle the Old Sea God closed his eyes and fell back swaying in his hammock.


When night came on the seas grew wilder. The .old craft groaned and rolled and listed so far over Boy was convinced she could never right herself, but somehow she staggered up again. Sometimes after a particularly loud crash the more timid passengers screamed. The drunken Captain bellowed back, “What are they seeking, these souls of ours, travelling on rotten boats from one port to the next, squashed between shrieking women and bawling babies? What are they after?” He looked enquiringly at Boy who, with the cook, was struggling to control the helm.


Selling out

At one time Boy could hear the breakers booming on reefs close by. He alerted the snoring Captain who staggered out of his hammock and squinted into the rain-lashed dark. “This is a cruise of enlightenment,” he declared. “What!” cried Boy above the roar of the storm. The old man scratched his grizzled chin. “Sometimes sailing among islands in a storm the sky clears and just for a moment you catch a glimpse of the other life. The life that watches you from within you.” “And then?” asked Boy. “And then the storm roars round you again. And you see nothing.” “I tell you the sea is like your soul!” he yelled above the gale. “It’s like boiling oil - don’t mess with it. Sometimes you think it’s your friend. Sometimes you know it’s your enemy. And sometimes,” he leered at Boy, “We may just find a way across it and reach the other side.”


Boy merely begged him, “Will we get to port?” But the old ship laboured on, and before dawn the wind ‘and sea died down, as if finally to sleep. The Old Sea God thrust his grizzled face at Boy. “Don’t be in such a hurry,” he warned. “When you set out on a journey, take your time. Learn from whoever you meet. One day you will reach your destination. And if you find it disappointing, don’t complain. Don’t consider the outcome a failure but remember its best moments. Remember the excitement when your hopes were high. The exuberance of your ambitions as they soared like snowy mountains above the plains of dull days.”


 

Abandoned dreams

The Old Sea God nodded reflectively, adding, Your destination gave you the journey; without it you would never have taken the road. And if you feel cheated, remember the bird that travelled on the wind for years with a broken wing, or the dog that has forgotten how to bark when danger threatens. Think of how many kings ruled from thrones that time has turned to dust, how many ships lie anchored in ports long since dried up.” He turned to Boy with a smile, “And how sweet is the dew on the grass under your bare feet in the summer morning.”


In the clear early morning they passed between an endless procession of rusting hulks anchored each side of the shipping lane. The Old Sea God surveyed them morosely, and spat. “Abandoned dreams - who will rescue them?” He sighed with a hiccup, and climbed back into his hammock, leaving the cook to complete all the port formalities. One positive effect of this voyage was to drive the immediate past clear out of Boy’s mind, and make him eager for whatever the future might hold in store.


 

Pedal power


As they left the ship they were hailed on all sides by cyclos, taxis and overcrowded buses. They all squeezed into a cyclo and were pedalled slowly through the bustling streets to the central market. Here Boy’s mother made enquiries about renting a food stall. She soon found what she wanted - a trolley with a canopy, a paraffin pressure stove, a big cooking pot, and some plastic stools.

Not far away down a narrow, stinking alley, they were shown a room to rent. There were no windows, but when the front door was opened the trolley could be wheeled in, leaving just enough room for the sleeping mats to be spread out. The few utensils they needed were quickly purchased, and they moved into their new home the same day.


The food stall

Boy’s mother decided to sell bowls of chicken noodle soup. Each morning Boy helped push the laden trolley to the market. He pumped the paraffin stove, set out the stools, and washed the used plates. His mother chopped onions, vegetables and bits of chicken to add to the noodles. She was a good cook, and her food stall became very popular. But however hard she worked, and no matter how busy they were, if was difficult to make ends meet.

After years of living in the country, the capital seemed very expensive. Food prices spiralled. Each day was more costly than the one before. Boy’s younger brother went to school, but Boy, with time on his hands, started exploring the endless labyrinths of the capital. For someone who had lived all his life in the country the city held fatal attractions. The lights, the pace, the shop windows, cinemas, even the apparent chaos - all beckoned like some alluring enchantment.


Grab and run

Boy soon found a group of similarly aged boys to roam the streets with. Sometimes they kicked a ball about, but space was hard to find. The streets were full of traffic, and the alleys were crowded with families and washing lines. Usually they made their way to the video game parlours where, if they had money, they squandered it away, and if not they watched. These street kids were different from any children Boy had met before. They obeyed no rules and didn’t seem to care about anything or anyone. They swore, smoked, stole with carefree abandon; laughed, shared, fought, played, slept rough on the streets.


At first Boy disapproved, but slowly he found himself taking part. Soon he too was cadging money off strangers or distracting their attention for a moment while a friend ran off with their bag. There were any number of tricks. A popular saying in the city declared, if you have gold teeth - don’t smile!’ Sometimes they went to the train station where they looked out for a single passenger carefully sitting on his luggage. “Can you give me a light, please?” one would ask politely, holding an unlit cigarette. While the man stood up to look for a match, another would snatch his bag and run.


 

Home from home

Another trick was to lay a plank of wood with sharp nails in the street to rip a car’s tyre, then to wait ahead for the car to wobble to a halt. When the driver wound down his window or got out to look, one of the boys would be ready to reach in and grab anything he could find. Much of what they took they threw away, but often there were handbags or wrapped gifts, or even wristwatches. They shared out everything, but just as they shared they also stole from each other, and fights and threats were frequent.


Often Boy did not return home for days at a time, leaving his mother and younger brother to manage the food stall. The alley they lived in was a dark, fetid ‘place. Sunlight never penetrated. An open sewer ran down the middle. This was used as a communal lavatory and often blocked by excrement and garbage. Drinking water came from a single tap at the end of the alley. Always there was a long queue of people waiting with buckets and cans. At night the alley and all the huts swarmed with mosquitos, cockroaches and rats. All the alley-children had running noses, coughs, itchy rashes, and frequent fevers.


T . B .


Boy’s mother never complained about his coming and going. She always welcomed him home and tried to cook him something special. She never demanded his help, and always gave money when he asked for it. Boy felt guilty and ashamed at treating her so badly, but he seemed to be caught up in events over wiich he had no control.

Just when the food stall was going well and Boy’s mother was thinking of moving to a better house, she became sick and starting coughing up blood. A little at first, and then more and more frequently. She lost weight and looked pale and haggard. She struggled to keep the food stall going, but her coughing put customers off and numbers dwindled. The money she had saved for a better home would have to be spent on medicines and a visit to the hospital.


poker


Boy had started playing cards, and like a beginner lost a lot more times than he ever won. The trouble was that when he won no one ever paid him, and he was too good-natured to insist; but when he lost they demanded he pay up - or else! Sometimes knives were drawn. Boy got dragged deeper into debt and deeper into threats. One night he went home, and while the family was sleeping he stole all the money he could find and ran off. It was the money his mother had saved to see the doctor.

The whole episode sickened Boy to the core, and when he had paii the money the street kids claimed he owed, he ran off, hanging on to the back of buses just to get away. Boy only wanted to flee from the sordid mess he had made for himself, but he soon realised it wasn’t something he could escape from so easily. At nightfall he came to an open park lined with trees, and he found a bench to lie down and sleep on.


 

Alone?

As he lay there Boy noticed the shadow of someone nearby. The shadow came up to him. It was a girl older than him, but not much. She sat down on his bench. “Are you alone?” she asked him. “Yes,” he said. “Do you want to go with me?” She asked.


Boy knew the language of the street well enough to understand what she was suggesting, but didn’t know how to reply. He was lonely and alone. He desperately needed someone close to him, someone to touch, to caress, to find comfort with. Perhaps the girl sensed this. She put her hand on his.

“Have you got any money?” she asked. “No,” he said truthfully, for the kids had snatched nearly all his money, and what was left over he had spent on food. “I don’t have any money,” he explained. The girl was silent for a while. “I have a little” she said. “Enough for a room for the night. Do you want to come?” “Yes,” Boy agreed. He got up and followed the shadow of this girl he could barely see. He followed her from the park across a few streets to a small cheap hotel where rooms could be rented for a few hours at a time. The girl handed over the money, and the man at the desk silently gave her a key and two towels.


 

together

Boy had never slept in a hotel, and this cheap and tawdry place seemed to him as glamorous as anything he had imagined. For the first time in his life he slept on a bed and washed under a shower. The lavatory seat took some getting used to. First of all Boy tried standing on it, then he squatted over it, until the girl, laughing, demonstrated that he had to sit on it. Boy watched the girl. There was nothing new in seeing a girl naked. That was how they had always swum in the river. But this girl was different somehow, and bigger, and she excited him.


They lay together on the hard bed while the fan whirred noisily overhead. Boy gently stroked her. He imagined her as his mother, and he as a baby, stroking her long tresses of hair as he lay cradled in her shawl. Then he pretended to love her, and she pretended to love him. He supposed it was a game, although too serious to admit to. Boy wanted it to be more than that. He lay awake a long time, watching her silhouetted in the light from the street lamps outside, planning their future together. The city too stayed awakes as if to keep him company. Sometimes Boy stole a kiss from her sleeping face, or a caress from her limp, softly breathing body. “This is love,” he decided, although not entirely convinced.


dreams

Lying together in this tatty hotel, where doors slammed and footsteps ran down the corridors, Boy wanted to carry the girl away. Away from the city; away to the river and the rice-fields, and up the steep path into the forest. He wanted to take her to the stream and the waterfalls. He wanted to see her covered with yellow butterflies. He wanted to weave a garland of flowers for her hair. He wanted to introduce her to his old friends, the trees, and build a little house for them both, somewhere near the Green Man. And they would find peace there, surely, and be happy together for the rest of their lives.


When Boy woke up it was already morning and the girl had gone. She had vanished like a dream, Sand nothing of her remained except a memory. Boy moved about in a trance. As he washed in the basin he thought of her hands there. It was as if they had moored on shores full of night scents, with the singing of birds, and water which left on the hands the memory of a great happiness. All day long Boy wandered the crowded streets. He seemed to catch glimpses of her everywhere; but when he rushed closer she had disappeared.


hullo

Boy continued to search the streets hoping he might find her. And in the evening he returned to the park - to the same bench at the same time, and pleaded and prayed that the girl might come back. But no shadows flitted towards him through the trees, and he was woken up hours later by a security patrol who ordered him brusquely to leave. The next night, too, he returned, but she didn’t come. However, as he waited there a different shadow approached. A bulky foreigner walked past, eyed Boy, and came back.


“Hullo,” greeted the man cautiously. ‘Hullo,” Boy replied. The man paused, uncertain. “Are you looking for a friend?” he enquired. “Yes,” said Boy eagerly, thinking of the girl and wondering if the man had seen her. The man sat down beside Boy and touched him. “Do you want to go with me?” asked the man, just as the girl had. “Go where?” asked Boy. “There’s a hotel near here we can go to. There’ll be no problem. They know me there.” Boy agreed. He knew the girl wouldn’t come, and he liked the idea of sleeping again in the hotel. Perhaps this stranger would turn out to be like Doc, and help him.


cash


They walked to the same hotel Boy had been to before, but the man at the desk showed no sign of recognition. He took the stranger’s money and handed him a key. To Boy’s surprise it was the same room. “You have been here before,” smirked the stranger. “Yes,” said Boy, “just the other night.” “I often bring friends here,” said the stranger. “Do you want a shower?” “Yes,” said Boy, and washed himself. He lay on the bed and the man turned out the lights. He started to fondle him. The street kids had warned Boy about strangers. They often went with them to rob them, but Boy didn’t know what to do.

Boy thought of running out of the room. Perhaps the stranger realised this, for he sat up and switched on the light. He gave Boy some money. “If you stay with me I will give you more money in the morning,” he said. It seemed a lot of money to Boy, so he stayed, and in the morning the stranger gave him what he had promised. “Go and buy some clothes,” he advised Boy.


Hidden secrets

Boy didn’t buy any clothes. All day he thought about the money the man had given him. Boy thought if he met the man again and the man gave him more money, then he could go home and repay his mother. Boy spent just enough to buy a bowl of noodle soup, and in the evening he waited on the park bench. Sure enough the stranger came and took Boy back to the hotel. Afterwards the man asked Boy if he liked it, and gave him money. “I like the money,” said Boy truthfully. Then he asked the stranger, “But why do you want to go with me? Why me?” The man looked doubtful.


“Perhaps I never grew up,” he admitted, ‘and need a companion like you. Perhaps being with you helps fill some vacuum in me, something about you that if I share will make me complete. Perhaps I’m just chasing illusions.” “Illusions?” queried Boy. The man went

on, “We can achieve everything in our dreams. Perhaps being with you gives me something to dream about later.”

“That’s a lot of ‘perhaps’,” said Boy. “I wish I did know,” said the man, “So many things about ourselves are a mystery. It’s like a Pandora’s Box.” “A what?” “You open it and everything pops out. So it’s best to keep the lid on. The trouble is, I can’t stop. It’s like eating, except the more you eat the hungrier you get.” “There was a hermit,” said Boy. “He said one sort of love was like eating rice, but it wasn’t the best.”


demands

Sometimes,” said the man wistfully,” eating is the most sensual thing I know. The other is just a game.” “I know about cards,” said Boy. ‘But I never heard of love being called a game. Does someone win and someone lose?” The man nodded. “Except both players have separate rule-books. They are both looking for something different. What they find is rarely what they hoped for.” Boy nodded. He, too, seemed to have suffered a fair share of disappointments. The man looked at Boy. “I’ve never spoken to anyone like this before. You must be very unusual.” ‘No,” sighed Boy sadly. “If only you knew.”


The man’s parting advice, as he vanished into the busy morning crowds outside, was, “Listen, kid, if you want to stay sane in this crazy world, remember - it doesn’t matter what they do to your body; just don’t let them steal your soul.” It seemed to Boy as if the Hermit was shouting after him as he ran down the mountain in terror all those years ago.

There had been strikes in the capital, and no buses were running. Boy walked all the way to the market. It took several hours. Everywhere he passed groups of men shouting slogans and brandishing placards, and lines of police clutching batons and riot shields. At first Boy was overjoyed with the crisp bundle of money in his pocket, but gradually he became increasingly worried about what he might find when he got home.


I love you, boy.

Boy could hear his mother coughing before he entered the room. She lay on the mat white and wasted, her hair tangled, a bloody rag clutched in one hand. Boy broke down in a flood of tears. “I was waiting for you,” she said. “I knew you’d come.” Kneeling beside her, Boy sobbed and sobbed. He felt his mother place a weak hand on his head and stroke his hair. “Thank you for helping me, Boy,”


she whispered. Boy wept. ‘But I didn’t. I stole the money for the hospital. I let you down.” His mother kept on gently caressing his head. “I love you, Boy,” she whispered. “I love you.” “I love you too,” Boy cried through his tears, seeing on her wasted face a smile lovelier than he could believe.

Boy pulled the money from his pocket. “I’ve got the money,” he said miserably. “Now we can get you to hospital.” And she smiled at him. “Thank you, Boy,” she murmured. “Thank you for looking after me.” Boy got up and ran out of the house. He raced down the alley into the street to flag down a taxi. But there were no taxis. Everyone had stopped work to join the demonstrations. Even the cyclo drivers were too scared of being stoned to ply their trade. Boy ran on in the direction.of the hospital. It took him an hour to get there, but no one would pay him any attention. The ambulances were parked and the drivers were sitting in them, but none of them would move.


please

Finally one driver condescended to explain. “Can’t you see we’re on strike - the ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, everyone. Even if you got your mum here, they wouldn’t let her in.” Boy pleaded and pleaded. He couldn’t hold back his tears. He thrust out his money to try to persuade someone to help, but it was no good. No one would listen. Finally, in desperation, he ran to a medicine shop. “My mother is very sick. She coughs up blood.” He put money on the counter, but the shopkeeper shook his head. “You need a doctor,” he told Boy. “I can’t give you medicines. You need a prescription.” The shopkeeper started to haul down the shutters. “I’m closing,” he told Boy, ‘before the looters get here.”


As an afterthought the shopkeeper kindly handed Boy some tablets. “These will ease the coughing.” Boy ran home as hard as he could. He ran until he felt his heart would burst, but as he reached the alley he slowed down. He was suddenly scared to go in. The neighbours watched him in silence. Boy entered the room and saw his brothers kneeling beside his mother on the mat. They were weeping. “She just died.” they told him. “What did she say?” Boy begged, kneeling with them, clutching the tresses of her hair, brushing his hand softly over her wasted face. “She said, ‘Tell Boy I love him’,” said his brother. Then he added in a grief-stricken whisper, “Just before she died she looked at us and said, ‘Remember me’.”


People power


Doubled up with grief and remorse Boy staggered out of the alley to be borne away by the protesting crowds. Thousands of demonstrators were on the move, shouting, waving placards, chanting slogans. Boy, paralysed by his sadness, was swept along, neither willing nor unwilling. He simply didn’t care any more. His guilt was too great; there were no amends he could ever make now. He alone was responsible for his mother’s death. Nothing could wash that away. He didn’t care what happened to him.

As the demonstrators advanced, the crowds grew bigger and more violent. Cars were turned over and set on fire, shop windows were smashed and the contents looted. People tore up railings, pulled down traffic lights - nothing seemed safe from the pent-up desire to destroy. The demonstrators turned into a mad mob that surged like a torrent through the city towards the high-rises and shopping malls of the business centre.


Street justice

The police appeared to have fled. There was nothing to bar or control the progress of the crowd. Suddenly a cry rose from the mob, “Police spies!” Their fury was directed at some men with cameras who were instantly surrounded and clubbed down. Boy found himself in the forefront, forced along by the mass behind. He witnessed the murder of the cameramen, but he was so locked up inside by his own suffering it meant no more to him than a press button video game.


Ahead of the mob lay the fancy shopping malls, the expensive restaurants, the designer-fashion clothes stores. The mob went wild, surging into the covered walkways, smashing and looting. Suddenly a new cry went up. “Fire! Fire!” Clouds of billowing black smoke started to pour out. Boy, choking, struggled to find safety. As he couldn’t go back because of the panic behind, he ran up the stairways to upper landings, only to find the fires were following him, driven by draughts, scouring the entire building with scorching flame.


loot


There was utter pandemonium. Looters loaded with television sets and furniture suddenly found themselves overtaken by a wall of fire. The heat was intense. Things seemed to just burst into flames. Boy saw people screaming as they tried to beat out flames from their clothes, or running terrified until they fell in a ball of fire. Boy found himself near a stone stairway - a sort of fire escape that the flames had not reached, but as he dived down a volley of shooting halted him.

From the stairwell window Boy could see into the street outside. A line of tanks blocked the main road, while advancing soldiers were firing into the crowd. As Boy hesitated he heard a cry and saw a child close to him suddenly clutch at his chest and double up. Another shot whistled past Boy’s head, ricocheting off the walls. Boy crouched beside the wounded child. There was blood all over his front. Boy gathered him up and tried to help him down the steps to the street level.


power


Outside, the mob had melted away. Above and behind him the multi-storey shopping mall was a blazing pyre. People were jumping from ledges and windows in a suicidal attempt to escape. Some even clutched what they had looted. The street was littered with bodies and smoking debris. All the while with slow relentless power the tanks and the soldiers came closer, volley upon volley of shots sweeping the road.

The injured child suddenly stiffened and went limp. Boy laid him on the ground. He hesitated. He started to drag him away and then, seeing the tanks rumbling towards him, he got up to run, only to find he couldn’t. All the effort of the day had finally affected his damaged leg. It seemed paralysed. He couldn’t move; he couldn’t even hobble. He fell on the ground and watched in numb terror the tracks of the tanks squealing and grinding as they crushed the road beneath them.


prison


A blow on his back sent Boy rolling one way, a kick to his head pushed him another. Burly arms picked him up. A fist smashed into his face. He felt himself manhandled away between soldiers. His hands were pulled behind his back and manacled. He was tossed on the ground amid a heap of other arrested people. Later they were thrown into the back of a truck and driven off to a police barracks.

Boy lay face down on the floor of a cell stinking of excrement and vomit. He could barely move. There was no fan. The heat was stifling. He lay there for hours, fainting with thirst and suffocated by heat. Finally the door was pulled open and he was dragged out, hauled up some stairs, and thrown into a room. There was music playing and voices crackling over a radio. A fan whirred overhead. Policemen stood grouped around a TV screen.


court


Seated behind a table an officer smoked a cigarette. “What do we do with this one?” the guard asked. The officer regarded Boy with complete indifference. “Take him into the yard and shoot him,” he said. One of the policemen turned round. ‘But he’s only a kid.” The officer dismissed this remark. “Of course he’s only a kid, but it’s kids like him who are the most dangerous - looting, wrecking: it’s all just a glorified video game to them.”

The officer turned back to the guard. “We can’t waste time holding him. Take him out and shoot him. He’s an ignorant little urchin, probably can’t even read or write his name. No use to anyone. Clear the streets of them - it’s the only solution. I don’t care how you do it.” By now Boy had become the centre of interest, One of the policemen studied him. “I know this one. He’s a member of that gang of street kids who terrorise the train station. I’ve tried to catch him before.”


listen


“So what did [tell you?” added the officer. He looked at Boy. ‘Listen, kid, there are two schools of justice: one is that you are innocent until you are proved guilty, which can be a tedious and time-consuming process; the other is that you are guilty unless you can prove your innocence to us. So what have you got to say for yourself? Speak up and be quick.”

Boy couldn’t speak up. He couldn’t speak at all. Any words he wanted to say seemed frozen deep inside him. His thoughts were too numb. All he saw were still images - the dead child, the burning building, his mother lying on the mat. The officer nodded solemnly. “Son, you’ve had your chance,” he declared. “And you have the right to remain silent. Justice has taken its course.” A ripple of laughter went through the watching policemen, but one continued to speak out. “I still say he’s only a kid.”


Sir!

‘Kids grow up,” rebuked the officer, “If you have an unwanted puppy, do you wait until it is a full-grown hound terrorising the neighborhood, or do you drown it quickly in a bucket of water?” He appealed to the policeman. “If we put him on trial one of those damned Human Rights organisations will pop up to defend him - make a hero out of him. If we let him go he’ll be at the head of the next gang of looters, or the next revolutionary cell. if we don’t eliminate him now he’ll be the next generation of terrorists. Why, he might even become a leader!”


The officer got up, pushed back his chair, advanced on Boy, and fitted his own cap rakishly on Boy’s head. The officer gave Boy a mock salute. “Perhaps even our future President!” He took back his cap. “Sorry, son, but that’s just not to be. Any aspirations you may be entertaining to that high office of state will have to be abandoned forthwith. Son,” he continued, “it is the verdict of this court that you’ll have to be sacrificed for the sake of peace and security. Take him out,” he snarled. As the guards dragged Boy away he heard the officer call out, “All of you shoot him. Then none of you need feel responsible.”


Help me!


Boy had no strength in his legs or his body. He sagged between the two guards as they pulled him along a corridor, down some steps, and into an open yard. One of the guards tied him roughly to a post. The other pulled out a rag and tied it over his eyes. But beneath the rag Boy could see the boots of the firing-squad lining up opposite, and he waited with a terror that seemed to shriek out of every pore in his body and yet stay silent.

Boy was bound too tightly to move or even to flinch. Instead he tried to find some room within himself, some space to adjust, to make amends, to pray. “Help me, God,” he pleaded. “Help me.” Not to escape, for he knew that would not happen. “Hold me, please hold me.” And Boy, bereft of words, suddenly remembered what his mother had told him that day in the market when he was very small - that God dwelled in him, and Boy had wondered where.


Remember me


“Dear God” Boy prayed, “if there is some place in me that you can enter - please come in now. I know it is a mess for it has been empty a long time, but you can sweep it out. Only you, God, can clean out my soul. Please come into me now and stay with me.”

And Boy thought of his mother, and he wanted so much to say to her that he loved her and to thank her for looking after him - and to say he was sorry. He thought of her last words - “Remember me” - and he wanted to say it back to her and his father and .the Green Man and Doc and... But he heard an order given, and the rifles snapped for action. Boy closed his eyes tight shut and just begged one word, “Please”. Suddenly he felt a blinding flash hit him, and himself all falling down.


Thank you

Boy opened his eyes and saw his father and mother bending over him and smiling. There was a dull throbbing pain down the back of his head and neck. Boy looked up enquiringly. “A coconut fell on your head,” explained his father. “A coconut!” Boy gasped. He reached out to touch his father, and then his mother. “So none of it ever happened?” “What happened?” asked his mother anxiously, placing another wet rag on his head. Boy struggled to look outside the hut. “And there’ll be no golf course?” “Funny,”

remarked his father, “we thought you were unconscious.” He chuckled. “We sent them packing. Golf course,” he laughed. “We told them if they tried we’d plough up the greens and plant rice anyway.”


Boy looked at them, wondering. “So I can go out and ride the water buffalo?” “Of course you can.” “And go up the mountain?” “Certainly.” “And go fishing with you, and go to the market with mother? - oh, thank you, thank you!” And Boy reached up and hugged them both, with tears of sheer joy. And to his mother he whispered, “Thank you for looking after me.”

Boy reached down nervously to touch his leg. But he needn’t have worried. There was no lump, no scar anywhere.

 

… The End …

 

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

 

 
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