Little boys

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on November 15, 2019 Published on November 15, 2019

On a sunny afternoon last week, I accompany my sister to watch her grandson practise basketball. He’s only six but already has the springing gait of a tall race horse. We get to the sports centre where he joins a dozen other little race horses, each one already so focussed and so keen, even at this tender age.

Two grown men are coaching them. Like dancers in an ensemble, the little figures practise crouching, swivelling, flexing their knees and ankles, then running while bouncing the orange ball. The coaches make it seem so inevitable that the heavy orb WILL leap up and meet their open palms! Soon the young students are crouching, then aiming and flinging the ball into the waiting net. Two of them are better than the rest but eventually they are each performing the winning manoeuvres.

We can almost hear their young tendons and muscles growing, glowing, stretching and strengthening. Their voices are fluting bird calls now, their faces still sweet and smooth — but in their fierce concentration and bright determination, already we can see future board members and CEOs, inventors and space travellers. Or is that just my overheated imagination? I grin and tick myself off. Perhaps they’ll grow up to be contented sheep farmers, beach-combers or quiet mountain climbers! Perhaps they’ll look back on these early competitive years with a rueful shrug.

Days later, I am in Providence, waiting to board a bus to Elsewhere. A pale-skinned whippet-thin young woman brings her young son to the stop. He wears a grimy puffy jacket and his toy is a battered Coke can. He bangs it with manic energy on every surface he can find. She warns him not to cut himself on it and tries to take it away, but of course he will not let it go. We are joined by other passengers. A tall black man brings a skinny young boy to the stop. The boy wears a shiny orange jacket with a hoodie. The way he peers from under the hood with wide nervous eyes reminds me of a very young camel.

The father talks to him in a soft, reassuring voice, “Don’t worry now. It’s your first time travelling alone, your aunt will meet you...” Then the bus arrives and the father gets on, he talks to the driver, asking him to look out for “my little boy — you know, he’s never been on his own before, it’s his firs’ time”. And as he’s talking the thin-faced mother with her overactive son steps forward and says, “That’s my stop too. I’ll see he gets down.”

The bus fills up and roars off. It’s dark by the time the boy’s stop approaches. The driver turns to him just as the mother and son come over. “C’mon,” she says. The driver says to the boy as he gets down, “You all right?” The boy answers, “Thank you, sir. Yes. I’m good.”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on November 15, 2019
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor