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Here is a story written by a girl after her visit to Conakry:

The Little Man

An almost true story by Susanne Bachelier

My name is Little Man. A funny name, you’ll say. Well, I don’t remember my real name, or the name that my Mom or my Dad gave me. Or again, maybe I don’t want to remember. For when I think of my parents, I get upset. And I don’t want to be sad. I want to be happy, I want to smile and dance, just like the other children. And I do it. I sing and dance all day long, and then I notice how people turn around and look at me, and how they laugh about me, or with me. But at least I know that they have spared one of their myriad thoughts for me. That makes me happy, for who else thinks of me?

I live under a table on the big, colorful market. It’s not really comfortable, but since I’ve lived here for a long time, I’m not bothered by the sharp stones anymore, which keep spiking my skin night after night, leaving gruesome little wounds. An old woman in the marketplace gave me a blanket, which she used for advertising her wares. The blanket is dirty and ragged, but I don’t mind. I am glad that I have something with which to cover myself. That protects me against the mosquitoes, those irritating little insects which leave nasty stitches on my skin. I sleep under the table, because it protects me from the rain, which annually drains the fields for weeks. That can be pretty nasty, especially when the masses of water drill large holes into the soil, in which all the dirt keeps accumulating. Because of the heat, the waste begins decomposing and smelling.

But it is also good that it rains so much, because it makes all the precious fruits like papayas, bananas and oranges grow. The rice, too, needs a lot of water to grow. It makes sense, for if I never had enough to eat, I wouldn’t want to serve anybody either. But I usually get the leftovers from the market woman. Of course I need to help her in return. I attract the people who are passing by to buy something. I tell them that the braided baskets which that woman makes are the best ones in the market. Sometimes, they become convinced and come closer. Often they even buy something. Then, I get a little rice and fish from the market woman. I am very grateful, for if she didn’t let me work for her, I might be starving. 

I am not the only boy in the market: a whole group lives here.
Some of them are driven away by the merchants. But it’s their fault. They do bad things, steal from the women in the market and buy drugs with the money. I know exactly that that’s not good. Just a few days ago a friend of mine wanted to try that stuff.

My friends and I always meet in the evening, when the market place is empty. The scattered plastic bottles, cans, mashed melons and orange peels indicate how much goes on here during the day. When it gets dark, we light candles that we collected from the street. We use empty plastic containers to drum on them. That makes so much noise that we attract also the children from the surrounding areas. Then we are all a big unit, singing and dancing together. Everybody participates, for the music fills us all with a lot of joy.

Sometimes I go strolling in the city. By chance, I pass by the big house of the customs director. I don’t like him, he is a bragger. He has a lot of children and a wife, but he never misses a chance to meet other women. Of course, his wife pretends that she does not notice, even though her neighbors already gossip. She is afraid of her husband. And she is not dumb; she knows very well that she will have to suffer the same hardships as many of her acquaintances if she leaves her husband. The customs director is very wealthy. He does not have to work a lot; he has a large office with a computer in it. But it is never turned on, and his desk is always empty. Only on the shelves there are some folders. But they don’t look like they are being consulted frequently.

When I pass by the customs director’s office, I stroll by extremely slowly for him to notice me. Then he comes outside, calling from far away: “Hey, small man, it’s very nice that I happen to see you again…“ And then I pretend that I am surprised to see him. As he wants everybody to admire him, he wears clothes that create the impression that he is an influential man. He looks a bit foolish in his scarlet silk suit with white spots. But you cannot tell him. You should not let yourself be caught trying desperately to suppress a laugh, for he gets mad and does not come out of his office the next time.
He always invites me into his living room. The living room is very big, bigger than the house in which I lived together with my parents and my seven brothers and sisters.

There are a lot of sofas and chairs in the living room, for a known man like him must always reckon with getting a lot of visitors.
In the living room, there is also a big TV. Naturally it is always turned on, for if someone can afford a TV, he has to demonstrate that it is working. However, it does not function properly because of the problems with electricity. He asks me what I want to drink. I don’t feel well among all these luxure goods that I’m not used to, but I don’t show it.
“I’d like some lemonade,“ I say. 

And then I get it served ice-cold; the customs director has got a refrigerator. I drink very slowly, and I enjoy every single gulp; it is an indulgence compared to the always same-tasting lukewarm water from the well. I drink even more slowly and I try to feign an unimpressed look. But it won’t work; I recognize how I’m almost twisting my toes out of inner tension. And then, finally, he speaks out for what I’ve been waiting for so long: “You need new shoes. Those won’t do any longer.” He presses 2000 guineas into may hand. Politely, I thank him, get off the couch and out of the huge room.

Tonight I can’t sleep. Many things are going through my head. For example, I think about what I’ll do if the woman in the marketplace won’t let me work for her any longer. She might die or her husband might forbid her to use a small brat like me for help. To change to another woman in the marketplace would not be that easy. For the most part, they already have other children who help them. Apart from the boys who live in the marketplace, there are a lot of children in the neighbourhood who want to help their parents by earning some small change in the marketplace. The market-women who don’t have any helpers usually don’t want any; they have made negative experiences. If I could not work in the market anymore, I might also buy some chewing gum, cigarettes and cookies with the money that I’ve earned, and everything it for a little more money to the car drivers in the street. Many children do that. I think I might like running next to the cars, offering my goods through the car windows.

Sometimes I also imagine what it would be like if I could go to school again. I always loved going to school. Maths was always easy for me, and I could also read very fast. When I don’t have anything to do, I get an old newspaper, into which the market-women wrap their goods, and I try to spell the words. It’s getting harder and harder for me, because the language used in the media is French. And I’ve almost forgotten it. It’s no wonder…in the market place, several African languages are spoken together, like Sousous or Malinke. I know them all; altogether, I speak five different languages. But unfortunately that knowledge doesn’t help me when I want to read. Here, you can only read French.

I would love to go to school, but who would pay my books? All the notebooks and pencils? And who would work for me in the market place, so that the market-women would give me something to eat? I could catch fish. I’m good at fishing, I’ve often tried that. I get a branch from a tree and tie some rope to it which I find in the street. Then I make a barbed hook out of a small wire and fasten it to the rope. Then I march into the sea and hold the hook into the water. My feet sink into the grey mud on the shore, but I don’t mind. I see nothing but the stick with the rope, and I wait for a fish to bite.

My friends and I always go fishing together. When we have caught enough small fish, we make a fire and barbecue them. That’s like a feast for us. I think of the delicious meal and finally I fall asleep. The call for prayer from the mosque wakes me up. It’s a loud, resounding dirge, trying to attract people. I turn around and sleep on.

I have found a new friend. It’s a little dog which has never left my side since I took him in and gave him some food. He waits patiently with his wide-open brown eyes for me to give him his share of my hard-earned food. So I get only half of the food, but I don’t mind because it’s nice having a friend to share one’s sorrows. The little dog has abscesses behind his ears. He has scratched them open so that the bloody flesh on his scalp becomes visible. But he keeps on, he doesn’t show his pain. That makes me bold. I feel that together we are strong.

Today my friends asked me if I wanted to go to the cinema with them. Of course I want to. I have also saved enough money; I have been saving it for weeks. The cinema holds about 20 children; they file onto the hard wooden benches, the smaller ones sit on laps so that everyone can see the tiny TV in the front. I don’t understand a lot about the Japanese war movie. They shout a lot and the main actors fight from time to time.
I think that’s great. I would also love to be so strong. Then suddenly you hear shots, a building is blown up, everything is bright with flames, but the heroes have survived. What a movie! Why can`t it be real and bring a little excitement into the boring every-day life?

As all children are thrilled, another movie is shown. But this time we don’t get to see a lot of it. First, the power went off. As it goes on again, it starts raining outside. It’s pouring so hard on the tin roof above our heads that we fear it’s going to give in. Of the words buzzing from the TV you understand only a dim rumble. The roof is leaking and immediately it starts raining in. We don’t mind whether we get wet in the house or outside; therefore we dart out onto the street to stop a passing minivan.

The van is crammed. Apart from us there are 19 adults, 5 small children and 2 chicken on their way back to town. I have to stand in the narrow gangway. This is not easy for me, as the driver wants to keep up his speed in spite of the dense water curtain. From time to time he slams on the brakes when he has noticed one of the gaping road holes too late.

Sometimes one of the bigger boys treats me to a ride in a cab. That’s pretty expensive and I can’t afford it. The cabs are ordinary cars. They are from France, but they are imported only when nobody in France would drive them any longer. They are dented and rusted. Sometimes whole parts of the car are missing and you can take a look at the African soil through the gaping hole in the car’s floor. Often they don’t even work. At some point, in the middle of nowhere, they stop suddenly and everybody needs to get out and wait until another cab comes by with some room to pick someone up. At least 7 people fit into such a cab. Two are crammed in the front passenger’s seat, and at least 4 people sit in the back. Children generally sit on laps. People afraid of closed spaces should not get into such a cab. The cab driver is ready to go only when his car is crammed; he wants to earn enough money, after all. But for the people who go with him it is annoying, especially if you get in first. Sometimes you need to wait for two hours until the trip starts.

Once I got a real fright when I was going in a cab and we were taking a break. During the drive I was wondering why the driver was braking so abruptly, but I didn’t take it seriously as everyone drives like that here. But when the driver got out of the car to refuel, I saw that he had only one leg! How can he drive with only one leg?! I get a bit sick, but the ride goes on and I stay seated in the back with a hellish trust in God. Otherwise I never get to where I want.

There my brother is coming. Certainly he’ll deliver some news about my parents and my brothers and sisters. If I’m lucky, I can go home with him again. Wish me luck! And thank you for patiently listening. See you! And then you’ll have to tell me about your homes.
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