Every night he cries. Every night and every morning. Each time his pained, piercing, guttural cry echoes against the walls of my ears, bouncing through to my mind and bleeding into my heart- begging to find a way out. He cries ceaselessly, mercilessly. He waddles back and forth, back and forth, through the empty concrete darkness. His shred of a shirt hugs his bloated tummy as his bottom peeks out from behind, bouncing under the weight of his tiny mass. His bare feet unconsciously step, matching the rhythm of his tormented soul, up, up, up the house-to-be towards the grey sky. His mother ignores his wail, his beg, his plead for help, for attention, for something, for someone, as she is busy building a home they will never live in.
It hurts. It’s the kind of pain that keeps ebbing, itching, permeating, slowly but surely it will take over your body and eat up your being but you aren’t sure you want to know what is actually wrong with you. You aren’t sure you can handle the pain of the truth, but this pain, the chronic daily pain that you feel, is bearable, as it too shall pass someday.
I want to hug him, I want to hold him, I want to cradle him in my arms, take his blood pressure, measure his heart beat, listen to his lungs. I want to understand what is wrong and help him be happy, help him live longer, help him get cured. But I’m left each night with a sense of unrest, a sense of guilt, a sense of confusion. What can I do for him? What should I do for him? What can I do that doesn’t portray pity or self righteousness? What would I do if he were my neighbor rather than a slum dweller? Is my impulse to change his life laden with superiority?
His mother has pride. I watch from my perched window high above the ground as she sweeps him up every now and then to take him inside the concrete abyss. She glances up at me and holds my stare, just for a moment, to remind me that she is doing what is necessary, she is handling her child the only way she can, she is his mother and she does not need any help.
What truly lies behind my desire to affect her life? If she were begging, how would my perspective have changed? If she were better off than me, would I still feel so responsible for her treachery? I am left feeling a fool, for I have mulled over this poor child for days now, never having simply acted on the impulse I feel to help. And yet, I am left wanting to run away because it would be easier than having to answer this persistent question of what my place is in this child’s life and what his place is in mine. I keep hushing myself by stating that we each live in our own worlds, and just as I ask not to be prodded and pursued without having sought it out, I should respect the same personal space he deserves in his life.
But do we always ask for the help that we undoubtedly need but cannot find solutions to? Is it our responsibility as human beings to seek out health and happiness for ourselves? Is it our responsibility to seek it out for others if we deem they are unable to find it on their own? When do morals, respect and pride give way in light of our presumptuous answers to happiness?