The street kid knocked on the driver’s window on the car in front of me. The traffic light was red, and we were all his captives, if just for a few minutes. He wore Messi’s football jersey, in the Argentinian light blue stripes. It hung greedily over his scrawny shoulders, trying to engulf him and make him disappear. He must have been ten.
He acted like a world-weary adult, though. A dead look filtered from his face, even as he flipped through his ware for the day, a magic book of motion, to the passengers in the car. Look, he said, silently, here’s a tiger running fast. Not impressed? Here’s an elephant raising and lowering his trunk. What about this bicycle, racing forward? See how it moves as I flip the pages? He made eye contact with the mother, holding her toddler in her lap. He looked away, scouring the cars for his next customer. He looked back, as if a last chance to score a sale.
Just then, a young girl called out to him from the side of the road. A fellow street urchin, she held an infant on her hips. He left the car and moved towards them, a smile spreading on his face as he neared. He patted the baby’s cheeks, making faces at it until it started gurgling in delight. His face was transformed as he laughed back. The girl had a big smile too. For a few moments, the harsh world around them melted away. We no longer existed for them. I could see they were in a different world, playing like kids, in an imaginary vast field, making up games for amusement. There were no toys, he did not show the magic book to the little infant. They relied on themselves, using faces, sounds and touch, senses that still belonged to them.
The girl said something to him, and he came back into the world of cold cars, uncaring customers and the pressure to earn enough to eat for that day. He moved briskly down the road, in a business-like fashion, taking on his adult persona with each step.