FIVE BUCKS PROMISE
His head was too big for his body. His big hollow eyes stark and his cheekbones tight against his dusty pale skin. Crouched on the ground covered with yellow dust, this 10-year-old waited for the puppy to crawl out from under the low raised platform of his neighbor’s home. He smiled as he watched the puppy eat the gravel. How fun it would be to let it fight with the puppies of the other kids on the ground he thought. He was pretty sure his would wallop the daylight out of every other.
“Looking for dust?” Bailey said.
He looked up to see Bailey, her hair oiled and braided into two with her distinct fluorescent green bag hanging low on her back. The books must be heavy he thought.
“Mama! Andy is looking for dust at our house.” She picked up a small pebble and threw at him.
Andy sprang to his feet and kicked some dust towards her.
“Don’t fight!” Bailey’s mom dragged her into the house.
“Wait till I get the dog,” Andy said, “I bet you will not pick on me.”
Andy crouched down on the ground again and started to snap his fingers towards the dog.
“Come here!” he said to the dog and snapped his finger.
Suddenly the signal drum of the Southern side of the city began to echo. Da-dum-da-dum!
Andy’s mother rushes out of their house with too many buckets for her own good. Shrill voices could be heard from all around. The clanking of iron buckets and steel pots sounded too familiar, the melancholy of it all. Andy’s mother kicked up dust behind her as she rushed along the narrow lane lined with tin walled shelters, some barely hanging to its bamboo poles. A bucket slips out of her hand but she didn’t stop rushing.
“Andy!” she looked over her shoulder as she ran, “Andy!”
Andy glanced at the puppy then at his mother. He sprinted at once, his frail body almost falling over from the weight of his head, then picks up the bucket to follow his mother. His mother slowed down on reaching the public hydrant.
“Only four people.” She released a sigh on seeing the wait line.
“There is dirt and sand in the water again!” the lady at the front said.
“Don’t waste time,” the hydrant watcher said, “the water will stop in 4 hours, many people will start coming.”
“Eh! Will our complaints be even heard?” the lady said.
“Only three buckets today,” the watcher said looking at us, “everyone has to get water.”
“Andy,” his mother handed him a bucket, “take this and go home.”
With a glum face Andy walked home with two iron buckets dangling from each of his hand. A little ahead, the sun above his head shone on a shiny round metal lying on the dusty ground. He looked around to make sure nobody was around before putting the buckets on the ground then rushes towards the piece of metal.
The corner of his lip curled up, he dusted off the coin and rubbed the coin against his palm to feel the coin turn slightly warm.
“Its real!” He chuckled.
Later that night his mother offered to keep the money for him, saying he was too young to keep it safe.
“I am not a kid anymore.” He had said to her.
Cramped up in between his parents on their small mattress, Andy fidgeted all night with the thought of all the things he could do with the money.
Soon after his father had left for work, Andy put on his best cloths; his red shorts with a stained white vest, one too large for him. He rubbed the coin in between his left palm and his right fingers before placing it into the corner of his pocket.
“Where are you going?” his mother said.
“Something important.” He said fixing his hair with some water.
“Andy,” she looked at him pointedly, “are you going to the city?”
“No…,” his spine ran cold, “I am not…”
Tap! He dropped the comb and ran. He rushed through the narrow lane until his mother’s frantic shouts faded into the dusty lane.
“Hello Andy,” a kid said when he walked past the ground(playground).
“Hello.” Andy said.
Andy looked over his shoulder to watch his friends fight their puppies on the ground. Bailey must be in school, he thought. This dusty ground was the only paradise for the kids who could never dream of sitting in a classroom.
In a few moments he was out of the lanes of the dwelling. Then he climbed up the head of nothingness lined all along the dwelling, almost four times as tall as him. The heap had all sorts of things; rotten food and rags, metal boxes, glass beads and concrete bits and things he couldn’t quite guess. Once he reached the top, he could finally see the highway. It’s been long, he thought to himself.
He climbed down the heap of garbage and was now trying to cross the highway to the other side. Getting past the speeding cars and trucks was no easy feat but it was all worth it the moment he reached the market lane, a few minutes’ walk down the other side of the highway. This was the Northern side of the city. No drums could be heard, only horns. The market lanes were bustling with people dressed in yellows and reds for the festive season.
Andy stood right outside a stationary store fumbling in his pockets. He watched as kids walked out with books and crayons.
“Are you not going in?” Someone said.
Andy looked beside him to see a young lad dressed in shirts and pants. He thought the man was handsome.
“What are you buying?” the man said.
“Books.” Andy took out his coin and showed it to the man.
“No,” Andy put back his coin, “for me and my friends.”
“Where are you from?” the man tilted his head.
“From the other side of the road.” Andy lifted his head a little.
The man looked at him quietly for a moment before he said, “Let’s go in then.”
Andy led the way into the stationary and he looked around. On entering the man winked at the lady behind the counter from behind Andy. Noticing the gesture, she nodded with a smile.
“What do you want to buy?” the man leaned towards Andy.
“I have not decided yet.” Andy looked around.
He had never been this confused. He thought he could buy in a moment but he dared not.
“What is your name?” the man said.
“Andy.” He looked up to the man and glanced at the counter lady.
“Hello Andy, my name is Jody.”
“Well, guess what I have been shopping here for years,” Jody said, “and I happen to know what is the best they can offer.”
“Yes,” Jody nodded, “would you like to take my suggestion?”
After a thought Andy nodded. Jody helped pick out elementary items for him and his friends. When they reached the counter and placed all the stuff, Andy had asked for the price.
“Five bucks.” Jody said after looking at the receipt and winked at the lady behind the counter.
“Five bucks.” The lady smiled and nodded.
“You can read?” Andy said to Jody.
“Yes,” Jody said, “I am a teacher.”
“Then would you like to come and teach my friends?” Andy said
Jody looked at him for a moment and nodded, “Sure.”
“How about tomorrow?” Andy’s eyes beamed.
Andy handed the lady his coin and got back his change.
“Don’t worry,” Andy handed him five bucks, “I will pay you.”
“No, no,” Jody said, “I will take it when I come.”
“Okay, when you come just ask anyone on the other side of the road
,” he said, “they all know Andy.”
With the five bucks tucked away in the corner of his pocket, he crossed the road and climbed over the heap with a bounce in his steps.
“We will go to school tomorrow!” he said to his friends on the ground.
The kids rejoiced at the news, jumping and screaming. The elders just walk past their fleeting joy.
“A teacher is coming tomorrow.” Andy said
“Here?” another kid asked.
“Yes, he promised me.” He takes out the five bucks, “I promised to pay him.”
“What if he does not come?” another kid said.
“He will,” Andy said, “Whoever comes tomorrow morning will get books and crayons.”
He got up earlier than his father that morning. He wore his best clothes again, stood in front of the yellow tinted mirror and combed his hair with water to make it sleek.
“I am leaving,” Andy said.
“What a day!” His father smiled, “My son is leaving before me.”
“I have a class.” Andy said over his shoulder before he walked down the narrow lane.
His mother released a deep sigh and shook her head.
Three other kids were already seated at the ground, including his best friend Dey.
“Good morning.” Dey said to Andy.
“Good morning.” Andy said and sat down beside him.
With a big smile Andy reaches his tiny hand into the corner of his pocket to feel the coin. Once he was sure it was intact, he removed his hand and flattened his pocket.
“Someone is coming!” Dey sprang to his feet.
“Someone is approaching!” another boy jumped up on his feet to watch the approaching man.