The Boy was used to waking up with a smile. Often he’d been told it was a gift. Not everyone had it, the ability to smile and shine through any crisis. A smile adorned his face, as he went to the nearest water puddle to wash his face.
He was still smiling as he put on the torn, ragged shirt, putting his thin arm through the wrong hole, laughing and correcting himself.
He’d been offered clean clothes by The Familiar Face, but he refused to take charity.
He could’ve sat and cried about the torn patches on his shirt, like the other boys, but that wasn’t what he was. He was made of a different metal altogether.
With his small hands, untidy fingernails, he smoothed his unruly hair sideways using the same puddle, smiling at his reflection.
Walking down the road he woke up on almost every single day since he could remember, he smiled at all the familiar faces, waving as he sauntered past them.
They called him to them, gave him a sweet, a biscuit, a bread slice, any food they could. They loved seeing his friendly face every morning.
He is a good lad, they said to each other. Never did he ever steal, never did he ever lie, never did he ever beg.
He would ask them if he could do a few odd jobs. He’d earn a few rupees and go eat the smallest packet of biscuits he could buy. The left over change, he would go and spend on one-rupee-snacks and distribute them among the other kids on the street.
They didn’t deserve his kindness, the bloody brutes, he’d heard the shopkeepers say often. But he couldn’t bring himself to watch them scamper around garbage bins, or steal food from the shops. So, he’d give them the honest way out.
They’d thank him, some wouldn’t steal for almost as long as three days after that, but they would ultimately end up making a shopkeeper run after them for snatching the toffees or the bread packets.
He would just smile, shake his head, and ask for extra work at that store, as a payback.
“You’re a fool”, they’d say. “They will never change”, they’d say.
He’d smile calmly and say, “well, I can hope. That’s what keeps us all alive, doesn’t it? Hope?”
After his walk down that road, after delivering a few packages for the shopkeepers, as payback for the food, he started going his way, up to the end of the road, where the bridges intersected.
He saw The Familiar Face waving at him from across the road. He rushed across the street, panting, reached The Familiar Face. Smoothing his ruffled shirt down, wiping his face clean, he smiled brilliantly at The Familiar Face and said “Good marning.”
“Good MORNING.” The Familiar Face corrected him.
The Familiar Face patted his head, handing him a slate and some chalk and asked him to take his seat.
The Boy kept muttering “morning” repeatedly under his breath as he took his seat, trying to commit it to his memory.
“So, today, I’ll teach you numbers! I know you love numbers. So, here goes. This time, subtraction… 3-1=2…” The Familiar Face started.
The Boy was ever grateful for The Familiar Face. With the help, he was going to be a big man, make an honest life, make honest boys out of the scampering thieves on the street. He was going to make it all good.
For now, he had numbers to play with…