“Bonjou Jedline, koman ou ye?”
I turn to greet Jedline, my one arm cradling Justin’s car seat and the other a backpack full of swimming lesson paraphernalia.
“Mwen pa byen (I’m not well),” the thirteen year old neighborhood boy mumbles, looking down.
“Pouki sa? (Why)” “Paske mwen pa't mange, (Because I haven’t eaten)” he replies, his eyes dull.
“Ou konnen ou ka vini a een er? (You know you can come at 1:00?)”
“Wi (Yes). He nods, than pulls a small plastic gecko out of his pocket. I watch as a slight smile curves over his lips as he makes the gecko run over a nearby cement wall.
Bidding him goodbye, I unlock the gate of the pool house and head inside for my weekly swimming lesson classes.
Bang, bang, bang. I’m back home and hear sharp rapping on the front gate. The boys must be here. Justin who normally sleeps at this time is wide awake and clinging onto me tightly. Opening the kitchen door I ask Anoud to open the gate for the boys. Then with Jayden’s help I fill a tray of buns with peanut butter, a tall pitcher of ice water and some candies and crackers.
By the time I get it all outside the boys are waiting on the front patio. Both of them are holding empty cereal boxes. I motion for them to grab chairs and make a circle and then go back inside to get money to pay them for the boxes. Denise can use them for beads and it’s an opportunity for them to earn money without begging.
Once I’ve paid them, we pray together and eat lunch. Once lunch is finished, I ask the boys about their families. Jedline tells me that neither his father, a mason, or his mother, a merchant, have any work. The last time he ate was the day before yesterday.
“If your parents aren’t working how did you eat on Thursday?” I ask in Creole. “Madam Liz gave us a bag of bread.” He replies. “My parents used to go out looking for work but day after day they would come home without finding anything. Now that we aren’t eating much they don’t have much energy left, except to sit there.” Listening to him my heart breaks. There is just such hopelessness about him.
Not knowing what to say, I hand out the Creole Bible Story Books and together we read the story about Noah and the Ark. Palo, who is basically illiterate, isn’t here today. Wilson who is slightly better off due to an uncle who has a job can read the words slowly if we do it together. Jedline stumbles through the words and often loses his place, but tries his best.
When we finish I tell the boys to wait for a moment. Almost instantaneously two plastic geckos jump out of their pockets. While the boys play and Jayden watches, I fill up two bags with potatoes, carrots, onions, crackers and bread. Knowing their circumstances it doesn’t feel like much at all, but both their faces light up when they see the bags of food for their families. To free their hands, the plastic geckos quickly disappear back into their pockets.
Then I watch in wonder as the two boys look at each other, reach back into their pockets and each hand their well-loved, plastic gecko friend to my son. Then turning to me, they thank me for the food and skip out through the front gate.
Still trying to comprehend what just happened, I absently wave goodbye.
Mulling the scenario over in my mind, I keep coming back to one thing. Both those boys just handed over what most likely was their only toy, an obviously prized possession, without a moments hesitation! Not only that, they gave it to a boy they knew already had a variety of toys!