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.