Down & Out
I ventured through the cobbled streets desperately gasping for breath as the acrid stench of stale urine lingered in the air, apparently you get used to the smell but in the blistering heat it was magnified to beyond bearable. Unable to take anymore of the rancid stink, I found solace in a local store and whilst giving my senses a much needed break I browsed through the shelves that were jam-packed with all sorts of worldly goods.
As I reached for a loaf of bread, a family of cockroaches scurried towards me probably angry that I had disturbed them. I quickly decided to leave the bread where it was and picked up three bottles of water, a newspaper and a packet of foreign cigarettes. The shopkeeper didn’t speak a word to me, instead he held out his hand for an automatic payment while gesturing with his other hand to keep on paying. Finally content that I had paid him enough, he raised a slight smile and I took that as my cue to leave.
I wandered aimlessly for another hour or so before turning into an alleyway that provided a quicker if slightly dodgier route to my hotel. Dusk was setting in and I desperately wanted to be in the comfort of my hotel room.
Despite my relaxed stroll up until this point, I hastily made my way down the alley but stopped when I saw a young boy slumped in the doorway of a disused warehouse. He looked no older than 14 and was clothed in what can only be described as rags.
Beside him was a small tin with a few odds and bobs of money thrown in and a half-empty bottle of whiskey. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at him, his sleeping face looked so innocent, surely his parents must be worried about him. My mind raced full of reasons as to why he was here, on the streets, alone. As I watched him, he opened his eyes and stared at me. His eyebrows arched down and he let out a disgruntled sigh, I was suddenly aware that he didn’t know me and yet here I was, a complete stranger, standing over him like he was on show.
Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a handful of money and offered it to him but he didn’t accept it, instead he glared at me with a look of confusion. I slowly put the money into his tin and backed away from him. He stared at the money and then stared back at me. His face had a distinct lack of emotion.
Unsure as to what I should do, I started to walk away. As I neared the end of the alley, I turned and saw him counting the money I had left. He stood up and faced me for a few seconds before picking up his things and walking in the opposite direction. I watched him for a few moments until he disappeared out of sight then I carried on with my original journey and didn’t look back.
She walked through the haze towards us, moving slowly, timidly. She was a young child with big brown eyes and no smile. Dirt covered her face and her hair was knotted.
We knew why she was approaching us but we couldn’t move, we were entranced by her slow ascent.
As she got closer we saw the explosives that had been tied to her waist by her radical father. They were live and ready to destroy.
We were armed and ready for combat but her face made us stop; our duty would mean hurting an innocent child with no place in war but our emotions meant letting her father hurt her, us and the civilians around us. When an adult threatens humanity, we know what we must do and we rarely give them a second thought before pulling the trigger; an adult can make their own mind up, they are choosing to enter a war, they know the risks. But she, she looked so innocent, so unwilling.
Some 30 meters from us, her father stood on a rooftop jeering and shouting for her to keep moving forward.
Seconds passed whilst we simply stared at her, the surrounding noises were muted and passer's by became blurs. She had our attention and seeing our guns, we certainly had hers.
She stared at us silently begging for help, hoping for us to take her away from somewhere she didn’t want to belong but as her teary eyes met ours she knew it was too late.
Bio: Sarah Smith is 27 and lives in Manchester. Occasionally she will write something happy, but only occasionally. She blogs here: www.sarah-smith-online.blogspot.com
Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017
5 months ago