“The hope they came with”

Sunset meant many things to different people. Some saw in it beauty and magnificence, while for others, it was a daily event that felt different each time it happened. Had time not been the scarce resource that it was, many would have been found to bask in the evening sun and watch the sun sink below the horizon. But with the busy schedules that were the order of days, most people were left to nurse a longing to enjoy the sunset.

For most people, sunset brought with it hope; hope for many things. It came with hope for a better tomorrow for the many working class people who streamed in to evening classes after work. They were tired alright, but they knew it would only be a while till they got the extra certificate and got that promotion. Soon enough, they hoped they would get to be home earlier to cook dinner, check their kids’ homework or at the very least, read them a bedtime story. They longed to do the little things that made all the difference in the lives of those around them and with every setting sun, they knew it would only be a matter of time.

As one group left work for home, there was this group that walked into town. For them, the setting sun symbolized a start to their day. If their days had not yielded much, they hoped to earn their evening meal after sunset, at the very least.

Sunsets were approached with optimism. On one end of the street, for instance, was a young man presumably in his late twenties, clearing his space on the sidewalk so he could display his wares. There was a twinkle in his eyes, a clear expression of the hope he had come with. He didn’t have a broom but that was the least of his worries. The little piece of wood worked just fine, because all he needed to do was clear away a few sticks and stones. He had reached his place of work a little earlier today, hoping to serve a few more people before the day ended. He wasn’t sure that more people would buy, but he hoped they would. Yes, hope. Hope encouraged him to be diligent and punctual and hardworking. That hope he came to the streets with kept him going.

A few minutes later, several women arrived and joined in the clean-up routine. They walked in groups, these women, because there was safety in numbers in the night. Strapped to their backs or chests were the youngest of the children. The older ones helped their mothers set up and when business started, they were there shouting the prices of goods out loud for all who cared to listen. They worked hard and hoped to help their mothers earn an extra coin. It wasn’t easy but they knew it would make them proud so they gave it their all. An extra coin meant there would be enough to get them a decent supper and have a little left for breakfast or lunch the following day. On extremely good days, they would get a chance to have all three meals and on even better days, they would rest their heels and use buses instead. On tough days, they left the streets worse than they had come. They were hungrier, fatigued and the only hope they carried away was the hope for a better tomorrow. It was a farfetched hope but they knew better than to give up. They had survived worse situations by God’s grace so they kept hope alive.

Occasionally, a mother would ask the older boy to go out and look for his siblings. Such an instruction meant that the boy had to know of the whereabouts of all the children of his group that were younger than him. It was no mean task because the younger ones would hardly stick to one place, but the boy would follow instructions to the letter. A few times the youngsters would get lost in the crowds and it would take the whole evening to get them back to the group.

Across the road, on the cement slabs outside a supermarket, sat three young girls. They had chosen that spot because there, they would watch their mothers’ with little interference to their businesses. It was also strategic, seeing that it was outside a supermarket. Thanks to the sympathy of shoppers, they would have a little to nibble over even on days when their mothers’ didn’t earn much. The streets were a second home for such girls. They spent most of their evenings there and were as hopeful as any other person. On these streets they found shelters and food and made friends and playmates. They did not know any other life after sunset besides this one, though they hoped that things would get better when they grew up. The youngest amongst them probably hoped to drive the cars and work in those skyscrapers they saw. They too, came in hopeful, and nurturing that hope kept them going.

A friend and I passed by the three girls and dropped a snack, asking them to share since there wasn’t enough for each. One of the girls enthusiastically took the small bag while expressing her gratitude on their behalf. There was great sincerity in the appreciation and it kind of left us wishing we had offered more. In the midst of the conversation, we asked where ‘Mummy’ was, to which one of the kids replied: “Ako pale”, while pointing to a place across the street. That was consoling because it meant that there was someone to call mother, but sad because of the hustles the kids were put through. On asking if they attended school, they replied with the affirmative, with one of them mentioning a school whose name we didn’t quite get. Next we asked if they’d done their homework which was logical seeing that the school day had only ended a few days ago. Part of me even toyed with images of kids doing their homework in the streetlight instead of having to buy kerosene to light lamps at home. One of them replied that she had, while another gave an answer that made all those listening in to our conversation giggle. “Walimu wetu wamestrike.

For a moment we didn’t know what to say or who to blame. It was sad that the kids were out on the streets and even worse that they couldn’t look forward to better days in school because teachers were on strike. That answer left us hoping for a better life for them and after encouraging them to work hard when learning in schools resumed, we took our leave.

Maybe if the teachers weren’t on strike, the little girls would be busy with homework to do. Imagine if you walked down the street and overheard kids reciting the multiplication table, while stopping to argue what, for instance, 6*7 was. If the girls asked you to kindly buy them a pencil, I bet many of us would buy them a set, and maybe even buy them a meal for the evening. Maybe if the teachers were not on strike, the kids would have more to look forward in their days, and they would know that every evening spent on the street meant they were getting closer to their dream.  Maybe I’m over thinking this, or I’m taking life too seriously. But can we really be too serious if it’s children’s dreams and futures involved?

As streetlight replaced daylight, business boomed and the youngsters played like never before. Maybe some people were more hopeful than others and a few were closer to their dreams, but it didn’t cross out the fact that evening was met with hope for a better tomorrow. I don’t know about you, but maybe that pencil you can afford is what the boy/girl needs to dream, or at the very least, to hope for a better tomorrow. Or maybe those encouraging words you would give would help nurture the hope they came with.

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