The Bazaar Boydlg
The Peshawar Koochi Bazar in the Cantonment near the stadium was my home for almost three years. I started off as a beggar and I loved to beg. I learnt many tricks and experimented with new improvisation to enhance my earning. When I had collected enough, I got into a bus and travelled in the direction it was going. I did not ask questions, I did not choose my destination. I was only seven years old and had no knowledge of the number of cities where I could go. I was overawed by the vastness of Peshawar and it’s busy streets overwhelmed me with fear. At home, back in Khyber, my world was a room, musty, dark and often smoke-filled. We four siblings and our mother had a small space to huddle together on wintry nights while my father, often in a drunken state, raved and yelled in the rest of the available space. He shouted at us, cursed us, called us a huge rock of burden that pulls him down and prevents him from enjoying the ‘colourful’ life of the big cities especially their bazars. Though I shivered from head to toe when he was around and in his nasty mood, I could not help falling in love with the expression, ‘colourful life of the cities’. My resolution to taste these colours grew each time he brought them up in his ravings and, one day, I mustered up courage to climb the Peshawar – bound bus. I had the few coins with which I had been tasked by my mother to buy okras for the family’s lunch. The bus conductor allowed me to travel after a few vile curses and roughly pinching my cheek for not paying the full fare.
I headed straight for the bazar because my little mind had registered the fact that the goodness of life was all concentrated there.
Boy! Was I thrilled to be there at last! I was ecstatic to see more than I had dreamed of! I wanted to touch everything, I wanted to hug everyone. I moved, stealthily at first, and more confidently a while later when I realised that everyone was too busy to notice me. I walked and walked until my feet protested and I stopped near a circle of children, a few my age, a couple older than I. They were eating what they had collected as food during the morning. They invited me to join them and offered me a quarter of a nan which I ate with relish dipping it in the watery beans soup. This was a kingly meal for me, famished and exhausted as I was. The group scattered after the meal and I lay down and fell asleep. When I woke up, I found the bazar deserted. A few cats scampered around but there was no human in sight.I waited for the bazar to come to life so I could eat something. I waited for eternity! Bazaars are slow to wake-up! That was the first shock I received which was to be followed by endless disappointments in the form of starvation, infections, and worst of all, loneliness. So passed my days. I longed for my mother, siblings and my home. I did make an attempt a couple of times but then the face of my father would come up and my ears would ring up with the string of abuse that he was wont to shower us with. I was desperate. I had lost all interest in life. I moved like a robot carrying the small tray with knick knacks to sell. Yesterday, I was feeling particularly low. I had not sold much the whole of last week so I had not much to eat either. I moved in trance hardly able to lift the next foot to move on but I kept pushing myself and turned a corner to find myself in a street I had not gone into before.
It was a dark street and the shops on either side were small and almost empty. The owners were idle so they had plenty of time to appraise me from head to feet. Some commented on my fair face, another was interested in my black hair. My feet, my arms, my eyes, my nose were all of great interest to them. I shivered and I turned back. I wanted to get back to light, to the busy street where I could see men and women and other children of my age. Here in this small space, I felt vulnerable. I could not define the fear I felt and I could not imagine what was possible to happen to me though I was brought up on stories and had seen beatings, bashing, abusive language, and molestation but my mind was too young to understand the implication of all that I heard. But today, somehow, all those stories rushed to my mind and I ran. I saw arms stretching out and men suddenly become active but I had the advantage of being light and swift. I could slip under an arm and in between legs. Fear gave me wings, I heard wild laughter and loud voices calling me to stop running and enjoy the tea they wanted to offer me. I kept on running with two legs of mine and two borrowed, as they say in my village, even when I came to the Main Street of the bazaar. I stopped only when a white pillar came in front and blocked my way. The pillar had hands which gripped my shoulders. Shivering, I looked up. It was a man all dressed in white from head to toe and with a flowing white beard reaching down to his chest. Without a word, he turned me around and made me walk with him to a waiting rickshaw. Fear had frozen my senses and all I could do was to follow. After driving for a very long time, we stopped at a building. He took me inside and handed me over to another person with instructions to take care of me. I found other boys, some my age, others older or younger. I tried to talk to them but they would not respond to me. The silence was eerie and the people appeared to me distant and aloof. However, I was happy to find a refuge from the genies of bazar life. Little did I know that I was in for another kind of trial. I was given a worn out mattress to sleep on and a bowl and a cup. Next morning, the boys woke me up when all around was still dark. Without speaking they nudged me to follow them. I found my ‘guardian’ outside and he explained, in not very friendly tone, that I had to wash up for prayers. I did what I was told.
My never – ending day began in darkness with prayers. Watery ‘daal’ broth and paper – thin ‘chapati were my breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maulvi Sahib taught with a stick and an oath! He was in a hurry to see me grow and become a Man to be able to enter a place called Jannat somewhere in the sky where a gorgeous fairy was waiting to cuddle and embrace me. I feared the lessons but I used to get very excited when he described Jannat, the heavenly abode where there are running streams of honey and wine and delicious fruit of all varieties. I longed to go to this place but often feared that Maulvi Sahib was fooling us just as my father had done when he described the excitements of Bazar life. So, my friends, here I am, in a Madrassa, protected from all evils whatever that means! I long for my mother. Even her scolding has assumed the form of a gentle caress. I want to be with my siblings enjoying life in our village streets and relishing the meager food my mother cooked for us. Should I run away? Maybe I will when I find a suitable time…
#runawaykids #streetchildren #childprotection #parenting #childmarriage #legislation #education