Sunday, July 27, 2008

Innocence Robbed

It’s a Monday evening and I just got back from a job interview. I tried to nap but I was feeling restless, so I sneaked out of the house before the kids will notice (leaving them with Malika, my indispensable “servant”). I decided to go for a brisk walk by the sea shore close to the apartment block where we live.

Before I could reach my destination, I was followed by an elderly man toward the train tracks just beside the shores.
“Hello” he said, and I replied politely, “hello”.
The next obvious question I get a lot from three wheel drivers and others here came
“You’re from ?”,
and I complete the sentence with my response…
“ you here for studies?” he inquires further, I don’t want to be rude, but I was hoping for a quiet walk to unwind, not be chatted up by a bored stranger. I nodded yes and walked briskly away. “it rains a lot this time of year in Srilanka” he continues unperturbed, I waved my umbrella in the mid air, still walking without looking directly at him. I cross the train tracks carefully and I hear and respond coldly to his good bye.
Climbing down from a pile of sand bags, I walk towards the sea; I let the waves soak my feet, and the edges of my skirt. The clouds darken, the sea is restless. The angry waves suit my mood; warm sandy foams of water soothe my feet. It’s a perfect moment. The beach is not crowded, a few young men sit,
drinking in the wooden shacks with signs like “breeze bar” and “ocean hotel” ……I stroll on, enjoying the lonesome walk, relishing the gentle wind and endless horizon. Another group of boys laugh and play seemingly innocous.

My leisure is short lived, as a beach ball bounces on the shallow water towards my feet,
“kick it madam kick”, a scrawny young man in black underwear grins, and I smile politely and move on. But he keeps following me, soon they are three of them, and they keep following me, cajoling me to kick the ball, I move away from the edge of the sea and towards the concrete benches placed a few meters from the sea shore. I sit for a short while I breath in and try to regain my composure. A police post is near by and a few beachside bar owners are even nearer. "Its safe enough" i reassure myself.
As i sit, and try to comtinue my romance with the sight of the sea, slowly it dawns on me, obstructing my watery scene are a bunch of blackened scrawny teenage boys in panties playing on the sea shore, so I get up to continue my walk.
But not before another tattooed sun baked creature comes and asks “you’re from?”, this time I look away and ignore the question, he gets the message and leaves me alone.

Its starts to drizzle, so I turn back towards the train tracks towards home, the same boys run past me, then turn and start following me, asking me “what’s your name…what’s your name madame?” I wave my banded fingers at them, and move on speechless. I would have been scared, if I didn’t remember walking along Lagos bar beach on my own and fending of Indian hemp hawkers.
I had read alot about child prostitution in Srilanka, and my stomach churned at the thought of massive sexual expoitation of children. I wasnt ignorant of the fact that for as little as $5, one could buy a child male or female. Child pornography and pedeophilia was the gift from the perverted tourists that abounded third world beach resorts.

I still wasnt quite sure what the boys were up to, till I heard them ask “you want, only 500 rupees,? You want… only 500", one of them walked beside me while the others walked behind me, it gradually occurred to me that they where soliciting me.
The shock was momentary, I continued to walk, refusing to show fear or any form of being disconcerted, I used my umbrella to block their faces from my view. Yet they persisted so I said, “I will call the police if you don’t stop following me”. This seemed to scare the older ones, but a child just slightly older than my own son, rode on a bicycle and asked me the same question “you want…. only 500rupees madam”? I was appalled, "he is just a baby" i thought, ignoring the worldly glint in his eyes as he rode on and followed me till the edge of the train tracks...

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