I remember the day the Police came. That was the day my mum caught me dressing up in her Sunday best. There was a fire. There was always a fire. Usually accommodated in a makeshift brazier, fed by the various combustible garbage enduringly available at street level. A body lay to the side of the small fire. The body had been as sitting only moments earlier, before it toppled over. Nobody looked. Nobody cared. There was always a body. The police were attracted by the fire because it meant there would be a small mob of people they could beat or arrest. Out of the Land Rover jumped half a dozen navy-blue uniforms to dispatch their truncheons, on the slower, stoned boys. Sometimes they would arrest the victims and haul them down to the Police Station – to sell them for sexual abuse, or, more leniently, make the boys clean the cells and the living quarters.
When I saw the police van. I legged it and scurried home.
Soon afterwards, on the dirt path outside my little shanty home, my bare feet were aimlessly fondling my deflated plastic ball. Just another skinny, teenage African kid, in a replica Barcelona shirt, the eminent name ‘MESSI’ printed on the back; dribbling and dreaming futile fairy-tales. Youth cannot live without hope.
Light rain falling. The sky dull and grey, the path dark and damp. Then I felt my urge. Idiotically confident that my working mum would not be back until just before dark, I pulled back the shabby, brown, blanket that served as a door, kicked my ball in, and entered – lured by my need. An untamed animal craving, that still arouses and entices me, and while not a full-sized beast then, it remained a creature that had to be fed. Changing quickly into my mother’s clothes, I posed, deliciously in front of the mirror.
I lightly dabbed my lips with a fat, red River Berry. A gentle squeeze to spread the juice, a pout and a lick. Smiling into the a chipped, oval mirror. In my mother’s best Sunday dress and her blue, wide-brim fedora hat. Another squeeze of the berry, too hard this time and I needed, quickly, to lick up the trail of tacky juice before it ran onto my chin. I swallowed the berry. Poisonous if you eat too many and very, very red.
I turned sideways, adjusted the hat and admired the reflection. Smiled. Took the hat off. Tossed my hair. Turned to the other side and smiled again, until the blanket in the doorway was pulled back unexpectedly.