He ambles along the narrow street. An oversized coat bundled around him. A coat that has passed many winters on others’ backs, before resting on his. The long sleeve reveals a small hand. A hand that grasps the edge of a small plastic container.
He comes upon a group of people outside a bar; comfortable, drinking, chatting, smiling. Happy. He knows what to do. An outstretched hand, a tap on a leg or an arm, one or two words: please, or help. Help. He is mostly ignored, unnoticed. If he is lucky someone may catch his eye, and shake their head. Someone may drop a coin or two into his pot, something much less than the cost of their drink. Finally he gets shooed away, he is used to it, and moves off.
He knows what he has to do, but he does not know why. He is just a child; too young to have lost his look of innocence, but bewildered by the adult world.
The next group are not locals, but are here for a few days of relaxation and enjoyment and have seen him a few times. They spot him as he approaches, and are pleased. Dressed up for the evening, and happy to have their photo taken, each poses in turn with their arm around his shoulders. He looks on with the same expression. They drop a few coins into his pot and totter off into the night.
He cannot feel nostalgia for a life he has not experienced, and knows nothing about. The only other children he knows are like him, young boys and girls in the shop front. More able to provoke pity, and less threatening, they become an attraction, a photo opportunity. Talked about but not talked to: “have you seen the boy who…”, “and the girl with…”.
Around the next corner are the police. They know him. They also know the man who moves in to divert him; to move him onto another patch. The man who maintains this display. Not his father, but he says he knows the family.
He glimpses children playing, but does not realise that should be an option for him. He does not know that someone has made this choice for him, perhaps he will never understand it. When he is older he may question why, and has the right to, but no-one will answer him. Forever ignored. A lost childhood, and always a boy lost in an oversized coat.
This post was written in response to this weeks writing challenge, which you can take part in here.