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The night slowly approached as the last dying rays of the sun were slowly disappearing below the skyline. He was eleven years old wearing shorts that reached below his knees that were kept from falling any further by his hips. His upper body was covered by a cotton T-shirt that must have been first worn at least a year ago. It like his shorts were fast coming to the end of their usefulness. He sat at the side of the road glassy eyed with a fixed faraway stare in his eyes the results of sniffing glue from a polythene bag. At this moment in time the boys' mind was far away from the everyday dangers of the street his mind clouded by the fumes that he'd inhaled earlier. His present state of mind had left him open to any of the would be city constabulary or vigilantes to apply whatever punishment they saw fit to these vermin, that was how the children of the street were looked upon. Gradually the effects of the glue that he'd been sniffing wore off and the boy returned to reality. He started to look around focusing on his immediate surroundings as his eyes lost their glassy appearance. As his awareness returned so he stood lifted the leg of his shorts and pissed in the gutter. When he finished he let his shorts drop back to their original position and walked away to join his companions on the waste ground about a hundred meters away. Joining his fellow street dwellers he chatted laughed and played with them till the pangs of hunger took hold and made them all think of filling their stomachs. It was the part of their life that at times was the hardest, finding food to sustain themselves.
Sometimes they could manage on handouts from charitable organizations but they were few and far between. The other alternatives were to steal the food, earn money from doing odd jobs or begging, the money earned being spent on which was the greater need at the time food or their glue sniffing. There was of course the age-old trade that if you were a willing girl or boy you could make a few extra Reals by selling yourself for sexual purposes. Julio like many of the boys he knew did exactly that when necessary and now was one of those times. With light brown hair streaked with blond his skin smooth and tanned to a golden brown and full pink lips his small slim figure was what a lot of men desired when they saw him. Now with his stomach rumbling his mind turned to food and how to obtain it. There were no cars cruising in the vicinity so picking up a customer that would pay for sexual favours was not possible in this locality. He decided to go closer to the more affluent section of Recife to try and find a customer knowing that to do so at this time of the day was dangerous. Jumping on the back of a passing truck that had slowed to take the corner the boy rode the vehicle till he was close enough to his destination. As the truck stopped at the lights Julio alighted and started to walk the pavement keeping a wary eye open for the constabulary at the same time giving an eye to what he thought might be prospective customers. He let his guard down for an instant not looking behind him when suddenly the city lights went out.
A vigilante paid by the local businesses had stepped out of a car and had come silently up behind him and delivered the blow that struck his head. With sadistic pleasure the man had taken the opportunity hoping to terminate the boys life with one swift blow but had not quite succeeded. As he raised his baton to deliver the coup de grace a shout and a hand seizing his arm stopped him. Turning to see who would interrupt him from performing his duty he froze and was instantly hurled into the street narrowly escaping from being hit by passing traffic. The vigilante rose his hand on the butt of his gun his assailant staring at him.
"Before you can pull that out and use it you'll die right here in the street so what do you want to do live or die the choice is yours."
The vigilante was hesitant he could see the man's hands were devoid of any weapons but his whole attitude and face conveyed that what he had just said would be dispatched with clinical precision.
He removed his hand from the butt of his gun picked up his hat that had fallen when he'd been hurled into the street and getting into his car drove of with tyres screeching.
The man turned his attention to the fallen boy; his hand went to the boy's neck feeling for a pulse and found a very faint beat. Lifting the boy into his arms he carried him into a car that was standing at the side of the road and climbed into the back.
"Make it to the hospital as fast as you can Luiz but get us there in one piece."
"Okay! Luiz said driving off, but that wasn't to clever what you did if he'd pulled that gun then what?"
"You'd have shot him that's what."
"How the shit do you know that for sure don't you ever think before you act."
"I knew what would happen if he'd pulled that gun why do you think you're driving this car and you talking to me like you do."
"Okay so you're my responsibility but that doesn't give you the right to put your life on the line. What would I have said to your father if something had happened to you."
"I'm sorry Luiz but I could not have let that piece of shit kill this boy would you have allowed it."
"No I wouldn't Miguel but please think before you act in future I'm not getting any younger and my reflexes aren't what they used to be. I would have done what was necessary to protect you not because I'm paid to but because I love you like a son. But when you do things like you just did Miguel you put a fear in my heart as if you care nothing for your life."
"I promise I will try and be more responsible in future Luiz."
A silence reigned as Luiz concentrated on getting them to the hospital while Miguel with the boy still in his arms looked with concern at the boy as he hadn't stirred since the blow had been struck. Luiz screeched to a halt outside the emergency section of the hospital. Miguel opened the door and with the boy in his arms entered the building. He explained the situation to a duty nurse who taking the boy from him and placing him on a bed in a cubicle she drew the curtains around the bed then left telling him she would get a doctor to see the boy. Miguel stood nervously beside the boy's bed not knowing what to do hoping that all would be well. The curtains were pulled aside and the doctor with the same nurse strode in at the same time asking Miguel to wait outside. Before going he told the doctor that he wanted the best medical attention for the boy and that all the bills would be met by him and his parting shot was "And I mean the Best."
Luiz looked at Miguel and said, "come, let me take you home so you can rest."
"No!" spat Miguel, "I'm waiting right here until I know how bad the child is."
Luiz replied "you don't even know his name or where he is from."
"Get my camera from the car, I'll take a picture of him and show it to some of the street kids. Maybe they will know him or where he lives. At least that will be a start."
"You don't know when to give up do you?" sighed Luiz. "You have a head like a burro, but a heart like gold."
"Si, my friend", Miguel replied, just like you do."
Luiz went out to the car to get Miguel's camera so that when the doctor allowed, Miguel would take a quick photo of the child to try to find out who this poor kid was. Several hours had passed when the doctor came out of the boy's room. "How is the boy?" Miguel asked.
"He is in a coma," the doctor replied. "I have had x-rays taken of his skull and there appears to be no fracture that I can see but we will just have to wait until he wakes up to know for sure if there is any brain damage. I know you probably want to see him and that's OK but just for a few minutes, he needs rest."
"Thank you doctor," Miguel said with tears welling up in his eyes, "thank you. I'll only stay for a minute or two. I want to take a photograph of the boy before I go."
The doctor nodded his head and left the area to continue with his other duties. Miguel entered the dimly lit room and saw a child that appeared to that of seven or eight but new he was older. Life on the streets had been hard on the boy and his growth, or lack there of showed. The glue sniffing and little food had taken a toll on the child. Miguel vowed that if this child survived, this would never happen again. But how, he thought to himself. He raised the camera to his eye and took two pictures of the sleeping child in hopes somebody would know who he was and how he could find his parents.
Suddenly, a wave of sleepiness came over Miguel. Once the pictures had turned out to his satisfaction, Miguel and Luiz left the hospital.
Luiz saw how tired Miguel looked and said, "Are you ready to go home now, my friend?"
"Si, Luiz" was all the exhausted Miguel could reply.