I saw three street kids bickering on Session Road in downtown Baguio yesterday. One of them had something that the others also wanted. Money, food. Something. They were dirty, shoeless, frantic, laughing. None of them over puberty. Teeth yellow. Smiling, though. Their smiles vacated their faces when the arguing entered, but soon they were back. They carried their grins with the same relaxed ease as they did the tattered black sacks slung over their shoulders, miniature Santa Clauses with nothing but coal in their stockings. Almost identical to the way I used to lurch my hockey bag over my shoulder, on cold winter mornings as I raced the ten feet from the car to the rink. Eager to get out of December. Into some warmth.
I can imagine these same boys on the streets of St.Catharines, taking the bus to Bill Burgoyne arena. Toques on their heads, in the Leafs' blue and white. The white breath of winter steaming out from their mouths like small gentle puffs of cigarette smoke. Hockey sticks in their hands as they descend from the bus and delight in the hour on the ice that soon will be theirs. After practice will come some X-box and sweet cocoa, with math homework to dab at in front of the tube. They will slip into bed and soon snatch some sleep, while January's mad howl, juvenile and whining, seeps through their windows and resides in their dreams, a faint, haunting shout that will wake them and make them wonder what they just heard. A pillow flipped over, and they'll slide into sleep once again. Tomorrow morning: a history test and a lab, and some assembly or other. Pragmatic concerns that no night nor its wind can decipher or alter.
Those dirty street kids. Here. On these streets. Never touched ice. Back home a few weeks ago, on the outskirts of Ottawa, I saw a teenage boy wait for the orange bus that would take him away for the day. He looked bored, irritable. Sick of the winter snow and the wind, and the Christmas break that had yet to begin, and might never come. Highways and farmland, nowhere's domain. Anywhere but here, he seemed to be thinking. Take away his toque and his scarf, and his jacket and knapsack, and drop him right here with these boys straight from Baguio. Stinking, streaked with grunge, grime. Sockless. Walking on pavement, their toes sliced by stones. Pissing in alleys. Rummaging through tin cans for food, some scraps for a snack. The park as their home; a bush as pillow, with thorns in the ear for a late-night tickle or two. Getting cold at night, but not nearly frost.
I can hardly imagine them meeting -- that Canadian kid and these young Pinoy boys, in some realm of existence much kinder than ours. A collision of worlds. (Three meals a day, with chips and pop in between!) Stuck in a room, the smell would be strong, the stink of some skin that has never sought soap. Would that stench be the grounds for some kind of detente? Perhaps it could be used to break that strong ice, a conversation's sly start. Kids are kids, after all. They must have a link they might relate to together. Give them a desk, some chairs, forty minutes. A few Cokes. They have similar anxieties, hopes, disdains. Three are homeless, discarded, rummaging for food, a quick high, while the other is pissed at his high school's computers. (They're always logging off, crashing. Parking lot is always full, too.) The weather is different, the seasons inverted, mutated, but other than that: what a world of connection!
If I left them alone, flashed a large smile, gave them space, four kids the same age, something might shift. The malleability of youth, and all that. We are all one people, that deal. A dialogue might commence. Some downcast eyes, coughs, sighs, sure, but kids are kids. Eventually they'd connect. Might even bond over tall-tales they could tell of illicit booze they'd once snatched, the Canuck from his mom, the Pinoys from some gutter. They'd understand their commonalities. Realize that they are not so distinct from each other, as society insists. A bath and a comb, some shoes and fresh socks, boxers or briefs and a white-buttoned shirt -- given these gifts, who could tell them apart? Who?
(If you answer 'I could', then I suspect we are doomed.)