A friend in need and deed

He doesn’t have a jersey and when it gets really cold he wears a T-shirt underneath, a handout he got at some rally of an enthusiastic aspiring politician. He stays with his parents and he is forced to share a room with his two sisters and younger brother. If you were to ask Tom what he would have wanted he would probably tell you that he would love to live in the suburb, get dropped at some fancy school by his father and have his mother pick him up by the gate in a different car. He would love to wear the most expensive school uniform, with a blazer and carry a bag of his sports gear. Most of all I think he would tell you that he would want to make a choice whether to buy food or eat his packed lunch. He would probably tell you that he would stay in the ghetto, go to this, far from posh school, wear half school uniform as long as his stomach is well taken care of. He is always hungry and who is not at this age.

Tom is ambitious, he thinks he is smart and he thinks the only way to show that you are smart is by going with the flow. Do what the others are doing and do not ask too many questions. Too many questions will just make appear daft, not up to the minute, so ten-minutes-ago and above of all you will the greatest bore of the crowd. He knows his limitations and when he faced with situation where things beyond his understanding come into play he pretends to know. Faced with a problem Tom will do anything to solve it. Though he might not be aware of it at his age his policy will forever be, ‘the end justify the means.’

So you can imagine what came to Tom’s mind when he was approached by three senior boys for a deal. First, Tom was asked to cut up a loaf of bread they had in their bag and make sandwiches with cold meat. He too was to partake in the feast. The boys had hit a jackpot somewhere and there is this tendency among the poor and ambitious to overstep every time fortune smiles at them. The boys were having a Christmas party in June. There was no drink for Tom though but the sandwiches were just enough he could get free water. Tom was then taken into the gum plantation that borders the school-yard to the east. The area is swampy and as if that is not enough raw sewage runs freely here. No teacher wants anything to do with this area and that is the perfect place for any not so legal activities for students. Once in the woods a strange looking potato was produced, a two litre plastic filled with water and a tin were taken out of one of the boys’ bags. Tom wanted to know what it was and an equally strange name was mumbled ‘.. “I beg your pardon’?” “My friend, we don’t owe you any explanation, you owe us something. Go and make fire behind that anthill.” A box of matches was thrown at him. So Tom busied himself with the fire and now and then he would steal a glance at what was happening with the big brothers. The strange looking potato with a strange name was carefully peeled and then sliced. “Boil this thing, drain the water, boil again, drain and do it for the third. Call us then and if any confused teacher wonders around stamp out the fire and hide the tin somewhere. Tom was not expected to object to anything but his mind was also wondering if the sandwiches were all he was to get for his trouble. “We will pay you don’t worry'” And the big brothers were gone. Tom had to let go of a few lessons. He was going to get some duff maybe enough for a drink and some buns for the next few days and who knows if he did a good job he might get another contract. Besides, for someone who was always hungry and never got a coin to take to school opportunities like this were worth missing lessons for. He had to do his patrols now and then and whenever a fellow student seemed like he or she was coming Tom’s way, the boy had to cover the fire with a cardboard box so that the smoke would not go far. In no time the big brothers were back and the strange potato was ready. They added something to the water but here Tom was not sure because he had been asked to step a little back. They shared the water among themselves and in a few minutes they seemed more relaxed and happier than when they came. By the time they handed Tom the few coins for his trouble they were laughing. Tom would have expected more but there was no signed agreement he couldn’t complain. He counted the money and did his budget, it was enough to keep the afternoon hunger at bay for a good five days. It was not really bad. Tom was about to walk away when he just thought of destroying the whole evidence. He stamped out the fire but the potato was not easy to throw away because the happy brothers’ faces kept flashing back. Tom slowly went back to the tin and sniffed at the contents, the smell was not bad. He found himself rekindling the fire and pouring more water into the tin. The taste was not bad too. Tom wondered into the woods already smiling’…

Tom was expected home by 2pm and by 7pm what started as anger had boiled to rage then concern. All of Tom’s friends had not seen him, in fact Tom had not come back for class after his 10 o’clock break. Tom’s father after a hard day in the industry had to go to school which was a waste of time. When the two parents together with concerned and gossip-fishing neighbours were considering going to the police Tom wondered into the house wearing his trousers on his head. “Someone stole my trousers’.I have lost my trousers.” The boy said as he squinted at a chair trying to make out whether it was there or not. The mother started wailing’.somebody had bewitched her sweet little boy! The father was not amused, he had been there before. “I will teach you a lesson!” He shouted as he reached for his belt.

July 2006
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