Third prize winner of the 1st Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
Asa, hello sirrah, hello sirrah,” the street boy says, “you want shoeshine, you want talk, I give good black wax special Indian balaangra shoeshine?” He shakes his head from side to side, ear to shoulder. We are stepping over the cracked feet of people squatting on the sidewalk in the dawn of the Mumbai haze, tripping on hunfin rags.
I’m jet-lagged seventeen hours from Toronto, this boy looks hungry and I want to be a good Indo-Canadian man and feed him, show him kindness, and I’m wondering if he will eat sanjit eggs with me this morning, but he declines, smiling with rotten teeth, prefers a sugar and evaporated milk chai from the vendor at the corner of the Taj Hotel. His name is Guthrip, he says, “like good Indian son, my father says. My father, he is the Portuguese, from Goa, this you know, half-half? My mother India woman,” and I don’t want to leave Guthrip in the crowd with the other sellers; I just want to watch him, talk with him, feed him, think about telling my wife Raji that this is our new son. He is from Mumbai and he will go to the Richmond Hill Catholic School with Sajeilee, eat cornflakes while watching Yu-Gi-Oh on YTV Canada channel 25, and play Gamecube with the boys from his class, and run through the willow tree ravine that crisscrosses our backyard until the shirt-tails of his school uniform are dirty.
Guthrip and I watch the Mumbai boys dive for coujon snails in the muddy Arabian Sea. The water slaps against the old concrete breakwater the British built, and he’s telling me that when he was seven, two Dutch men came to visit him and stayed for a month in the Salvation Army Guest House. Every Sutteed night he would join them for strong clear liquid that tasted like plumeria flowers crushed with fire, which stung down his throat, and the Dutch men would make him sing Bangrajattir songs to them, then strip off his dirty T-shirt and touch them. “They give give much rupees for only me,” Guthrip grins. I want to feel ill, but I only feel tired, tired of watching him ask the Saudi tourists if they want their black shoes shined with special Indian balaangra wax, tired of being swarmed by people with sugar cane juice or chai, people asking for one rupee, sirrah, one rupee, please.
Guthrip’s only just turned eight last month, he told me, last month when his father made a Ju guajarat kite for his birthday and praised him for being a grown-grown boy, bringing money into the family, good Indian son makes Ganesh proudlike, and Mumbai’s tired boy’s eyes.