Sunday, May 31, 2009
He came up to me on the street, this kid, all dirty and yellow-eyed and obviously sick. I took time to stop because he was so obviously in need of help, setting him apart from the usual array of panhandlers I encountered day-to-day. What caught my eye most, though, was his silk shirt. Not a normal silk shirt, but patterned, broken up into primary coloured squares like a board game. He grabbed onto my coat, hanging his weight off my lapels. It was only after I saw his feet—shod in soft leather calf-length boots—dangling a few inches off the ground, that I realised how little bodyweight he had. Please, he said with a tiny, scratchy voice. Please. Then he coughed out a cloud of what I could only assume was dust. They made me race, he said. So many races. I put him down on the ground, patted his back, made him cough until all the dust had been expelled from his lungs. I asked him very slowly and deliberately whether he was an escaped camel jockey and when he nodded I thought back to the public safety campaign. There was a rhyme, wasn’t there? A slogan we all had to remember. A number we had to call.