Sunday, March 01, 2009


The following Saturday, at Jakarta’s Pasar Mayestic, I searched the dimly lit concrete corridors of the market buildings for Hamid, the runaway with the rich granny and alcoholic bus-driving stepfather. I sniffed the cloves, nutmeg, and mace, listened to the flies dancing on bits of chicken, and eyed the fake designer sunglasses and watches.

"Shoe shine please," I said to a schoolboy carrying a wooden box.

I sat on the box and handed over my brown suede shoes.

"Have you seen this kid?" I said, handing him a photo of Hamid.

"He’s in the next building," he said, as he began applying the black polish.

"How much do you earn shining shoes?"

"About a dollar a day if I’m lucky. It’s to pay for school and help my mum."

After my shoes had been transformed, the shoeshine boy led me across a concrete bridge into the next building. Hamid was sitting outside a grocery stall.

"Hi. You’re living here again?" I said.

"Yes," he replied, tensing his brow.

"Why did you leave your granny’s house?"

"They say I’m stupid because I don’t like school."

"Do you want to go back?"


"How about some fried chicken?"

We sat in a little cafe and talked and ate. He wasn’t going to be persuaded to return home.


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